But in fact Thoreau was closer to the popular mentality in more subtle and significant ways than these. Ordinarily Thoreau is distinguished from his contemporaries because of his harsh social criticism and his quirky paradoxical style, which is often seen as contrasting to a tepid popular style. F. O. Matthiessen typically called him a "violent" imagist who tried to "startle his contemporaries out of their complacent dreaminess." Thoreau's imagistic violence and stabbing irony, however, are precisely what bind him most tightly to his contemporaries, who were hardly complacent dreamers. Walden and the John Brown speech were Thoreau's most performances because of, not in spite of, their acidic attacks on conventions. By the early 1850s American readers were almost masochistically attracted to reform-minded writers of all varieties who used every weapon of invective and exaggeration to lay bare social corruption and propose ready-made solutions. Thoreau's contribution was to tighten the irony, sharpen the paradox, exaggerate the criticism, and, especially, broaden the proposed solution.