• Year Published: 9 August 1854.
  • Pages: 352.

Walden is undoubtedly Henry David Thoreau’s magnum opus. Even up to these present times, one can still learn priceless insights about life from this truly inimitable piece of American literature. It is a book that is essentially a journal and manual, and Thoreau wrote it for with these themes and purposes in mind.

  • The inherent corruption of the state.
  • The individual’s innate desire to attain spiritual awakening.
  • How nature reflects the feelings and emotions of human beings.
  • To find man’s place in nature.
  • To attain self-reliance.
  • To strive for a simpler life.

Walden Summary

Chapters 1 to 6

The book aptly starts with Thoreau laying out the reasons for writing the book, answering previous questions about his choosing to live alone in a cabin in Walden Pond, which was owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, for two years. He reiterates the seeming absurdity of most men’s inclination to conform and consign themselves to what is apparently a meaningless existence of consistent work and amassing as much wealth as possible.

In the first few chapters, he expounds on what he did to attain his goals: the building of the said cabin, the planting of vegetables for selling, and finding odd jobs to perform. It didn’t take long for him to realise that just through this simple routine alone, he was able to sustain himself already. On the side, he wrote about the fulfilment that he found when he immersed himself in nature.

He satirised people’s daily routines, criticised industrialisation (which had lead to the destruction of nature), the truly gratifying gifts of his solitude, and bemoaned the fact that most men choose to ignore the pursuit of a nobler life, which was advocated by history’s great thinkers.

He enjoyed the company of a Canadian woodcutter, who visited him occasionally, while he shunned those who question his endeavours, particularly men who are too engrossed in business and progress. That being said, he made the important conclusion that simplicity is the key to living life to the fullest.

Chapters 7 to 15

In chapter seven, he expounds on how he worked on his bean field. He also wrote about the unique fulfilment he felt from dedicating time in working on the field and how enjoyment of one’s work leads to happiness, regardless of the profits he earned from selling a portion of his harvest.

His visits to town weren’t exactly pleasant, though, as he became a consistent subject of gossip, and how their shops and stores only ever serve as temptations to him. He even recounts an untoward incident, which caused him to be jailed for refusing to pay his taxes to a government that is a known supporter of slavery.

Chapter nine marks the start of more in-depth reflections of his experiences in nature. He paints vivid geographic descriptions of his locale, and the succeeding chapter narrates his visit to an Irish blogger named John Field. Thoreau tries to convince him of being able to attain a simpler life with less work; a notion, which is seemingly impossible for the latter.

The next two chapters are more reflective and literary in nature. The former deals with Thoreau’s animalistic tendencies and his resolve to empower his spiritual self, while the latter is a kind of philosophical dialogue between a Hermit and Poet; both represent the author’s meditative and carnal tendencies, respectively.Chapters thirteen to fifteen return to the descriptive style of chapter 7, but this time, they deal with the onset of winter. He makes preparations for it and contemplates the freezing of the nearby pond. He also reflects on the people who used to inhabit the woods before, as well as the houses and implements that they left behind. He took regular walks in the snowy landscape as well. Chapter fifteen details his encounters with winter animals, such as owls, rabbits, and foxes, and their respective place in nature.

Chapters thirteen to fifteen return to the descriptive style of chapter 7, but this time, they deal with the onset of winter. He makes preparations for it and contemplates the freezing of the nearby pond. He also reflects on the people who used to inhabit the woods before, as well as the houses and implements that they left behind. He took regular walks in the snowy landscape as well. Chapter fifteen details his encounters with winter animals, such as owls, rabbits, and foxes, and their respective place in nature.

Chapters 16 to 18

The last chapters served to crystallise his discoveries about what nature is and how it works. He proceeds to cut holes in the frozen pond, and labourers begin to arrive to cut the ice for a wealthy man who has the intention of selling of them. This briefly angers the author, but he used the event as an encouragement to write about his life in Walden.

With the end of winter, Thoreau begins to describe in great detail how everything in his surroundings is beginning to thaw. Soon summer arrived, and after a span two-year duration in Walden Pond, the author departs. As a closing statement, Thoreau encourages the reader to conduct deeper self-reflections, live life on his own terms, shun conformity, and to immerse himself more in nature. He expressed his desire for human beings to undergo such an awakening through a brief narration of a bug that has emerged from a wooden table after decades have passed.


Walden Characters

Walden characters are really very serious and much renowned figures considering any literary work. There are so many characters who are referred by Thoreau in the work but it is Thoreau himself who can be considered as the centrepiece of this work. Here are the major Walden characters that you should know.

Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau is an amateur in the field of poet, loves solitude, essayist and also a naturalist. Thoreau was the student as well as protégé of Ralph Waldo Emerson who was a great philosopher in America. Thoreau has constructed hut on the land of Emerson at the Walden pond symbolising his intellectual debt towards Emerson. Thoreau was strongly under the influence of transcendentalism by which he believed the process of mankind getting near to perfection through education, self-exploration as well as through spirituality. These are the views which can be seen prominently from the writings of Thoreau even when they are trivial or mundane. Even when Thoreau had a great value for a poor and their state but his writing was nothing that could reach them. The tough and intellectual way of writing that he had was meant for the educated and the underprivileged cannot even get a clue of what is that.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson is the strong character among the Walden Characters who has influenced and turned as a mentor to Thoreau himself. He is an essayist, poet and one of the leading figures who promoted transcendentalism. He had played a major role in creating Walden as he allowed Thoreau to stay as well as build on the property that he own which is near Walden pond. There is much amount of symbolism associated with this construction site. Thoreau was building the work with so much of transcendentalist ideas in it as there was a significant influence of ideas of Emerson. Thoreau, later on, retreated to the private life of his own while Emerson still remained with the public figure with all that he loves by delivering lectures. Two of them but later on developed so many disagreements on public conventions and this can be found when you go through Walden as Emerson has not got much attention in it. Thoreau even has not mentioned the owner of the land is Emerson while he had given details on some very minute things related with it.

Alex Therien

Alex is the laborer who is nearing thirty and works near to where Thoreau lives. He is a Canadian and Thoreau considers him as the simplest and very natural human being. He is not a reader but the intellectual depth and the powerful conversation that he has given him the image of backwoods sage in among Walden characters.

John Field

He is a laborer of Irish- American origin who lives with his family on Baker Farm that is there outside Concord. For Thoreau, he is the symbol of hardworking and honest human being who could not reach any heights due to the lack of social status and any unusual abilities.


Walden Topics

Walden is a memoir written by the transcendentalist and noted lecturer, Henry David Thoreau. The memoir reflects on simple living and describes the life experiences of the author during his stay at Walden Pond where he lived alone in a wooden cabin. The memoir also offers an insight into how the author interpreted his experiences, and the lessons he learnt.

Concord residents were the primary audience for the book, but the work is also aimed towards the residents of New England as a whole. As a result, the work explores and reflects upon the social-cultural norms of New England including their puritan heritage which has laid down the foundation for a piety, strong work ethic, respect for property, and a strong sense of self-worth. These reflections establish the themes of the memoir. These themes are the value of self-reliance and simplicity, as well as illusion of progress.

The themes and reflections of any work of literature provides the topics for literary study. Therefore, the main topics of Walden must revolve around the main themes. With this insight in mind, the following topics have been identified and selected for discussion.

Independence

Thoreau asserts that contemplation in solitude will allow a human being to reconnect with nature, and therefore break free from the bonds of desperate existence that is characterised by extraneous work and unfulfilled lives. The motif of independence is interlaced with social critiques of the consumerist society which prioritises material benefit over true independence.

Spiritual Awakening

According to Thoreau, the work ethic of the nineteenth century operated alongside reverence for wealth and property acquisition to trap man in a cycle of tiring work which left the worker either unfulfilled or discontented. This discontentment then created spiritual vacuum for both individuals and the general society as a whole.

The spiritual vacuum fostered materialism, which has forced people to live according to a rigid routine that does not allow people to ponder about the need for the existence of life in the cosmos. This has, in turn, led to proliferation of social ills and predatory individualism which have fractured society.

According, Thoreau proposes that spiritual rediscovery will help society to deal with social ills, as well as restore its balance with the universe. This rediscovery will pave way for general spiritual awakening that will save humankind from being reduced to automatons whose lives are regulated by a set of rigid routines.

Social Experiment

The memoir describes the social experiment done by Thoreau, who left community life and sought solitude in Walden Pond where he lived for 24 months. According to the reflections of Thoreau, his social experiment allowed him to meditate on what ails human society, and he was able to identify the root cause of social ills and lack of fulfilment. The entire memoir can even be considered as a commentary on this social experiment.

Satire

The memoir uses satire to criticize society for its degradation of human life and social relationships, to the extent that sacred values, such as religious piety, have been monetized and exploited for economic gains by so-called religious and spiritual leaders.

Self-Reliance

In Walden, the subject of self-reliance is given priority. Thoreau, though he recognises and acknowledges the value of human companionship; he still asserts that companionship is not that important for someone seeking freedom and self-sufficiency. However, even though the memoir discourages readers from idolising and placing such a high value on companionship, it still implores its audience to value interpersonal relationships as they form the fabric of society.


Walden Quotes

Ok, before we begin, I would like to make some things clear right off the bat. First off, I am not the most proficient reader, heck some of my closer friends would laugh at the idea of me writing a book review, which then brings me to my second point- this is not a book review. It’s merely a collection of quotes that I found intriguing from the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau. When I said I am not the most proficient reader, I might have lied a tad; I think a more accurate description is that I am a bit picky with what I read. That, however, did not stop me from absolutely falling in love with Walden. So I present you (in no particular order) a collection of Walden’s quotes that I found most intriguing. Enjoy.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

This doesn’t need much explanation, reflecting what Confucius said, if you love what you do, then you will never have to work a single day in your life. I think it’s a refreshing thought that following your dreams, even if it means going against society’s norms on what is or isn’t a successful career path would undoubtedly lead to success. Personally, it’s something I wish I had learned a bit earlier on in my life…but then again it’s never too late to learn something new.

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.

I know, I know, it’s kind of ironic coming from one who just admitted to not being the most read but hears me out. I think this particular piece of advice is not directed to a particular individual hence the irrelevancy in whether or not a person is a well-read individual. Instead, I think that it is directed to the society as a whole, that indeed books are a treasure and should be preserved and propagated, if not for our sake, then for the future generation’s sake.

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

Simply put- do not forsake your dreams. Instead, you should strive to make them a reality. Think about it, if not for our dreams then who are we? What would be our aspirations?

Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

In this modern age of social media and the internet of things, it is incredibly easy to lose ourselves. We are constantly trying (whether we are aware of it or not) to outperform each other…who has the most followers or likes on that cat video, who has the flashiest Instagram. Sometimes however all we need to do is look up from our smart devices and pause for a second- breathe in the fresh air, taste your food instead of taking pictures of it live in the moment.

I could go on and on expounding on some of Walden’s quotes but I don’t think I would be doing either of us a favor. If this article intrigued you, grab a copy, read the book, read a book. You’d be surprised what treasures lay yet to be uncovered.


Walden Outline

Origins

Walden is a noted work by esteemed philosopher and author Henry David Walden. The work centres on a narrative re-telling of Thoreau’s own experiences of solitude in a log cabin. By renting landing from a friend, Thoreau built his own cabin and retreated to it for a period of 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days. During this time he sought to come to terms with his own philosophical way of thinking, known as transcendentalism. To make this nuanced way of thinking more accessible to the masses, he then narrates his experiences and thoughts in Walden. The book is so-called due to the name of the land on which his cabin was built.

Ideals

Walden aims to espouse the philosophical thinking system of the author. Transcendentalism is a way of living your life that preaches self-reliance and only basing your beliefs on matters that cannot be readily disproven by the experiences of everyday life. This was an important step towards making a scientific way of thinking increasingly mainstream, in the face of long-established practices of Christianity in The United States. By lobbying the reader to think about the beliefs they hold, and to isolate himself from society to show the importance of self-reliance, Thoreau is showing the reader that they do not need to fit rigidly into the existing systems of the time The purpose was to liberate normal men and women from the tedium and long-accepted folklore of modern living.

Personal Improvement

One of the dominant themes throughout the work is that material progression is not a sign of the progression of the human spirit. This has never been truer than in the modern day. With millions of people obsessed by acquiring the latest iPhone and increasing their Facebook likes, Walden’s message to them that this is all well and good, but how do you feel inside yourself. By ignoring the inner-self, in favour of increasing your outward appeal to other people. Thoreau argues that you are merely tricking yourself, and no one wants to do that He goes on to say that real growth and progress comes from assessing and then working on the thoughts and feelings that most of us keep guarded and hidden away. This is a lesson that we can all take heart from as we seek to live happier lives in an increasingly materialistic age that is dominated by social media and smartphones.

Takeaway Points

Far from advocating a reclusive lifestyle that will somehow spiritually raise you up, Walden seeks to teach us the power and importance of introspection. Only by removing yourself from the peer pressures and a hum-drum existence of society can you truly get to know yourself and find out what really makes you happy. This is an important lesson on life for us all Whilst the book is set over an entire year. Thoreau rarely goes more than a couple of days in isolation. He leaves chairs out in his cabin to accommodate visitors, and travellers several times a week to the nearby village. Here he talks avidly to the locals and catches up on the latest village gossip. This is a great way of showing that the average person does not need to isolate themselves geographically from society to escape it Nor do you need to denounce the need for human interaction to further your own ends.

To progress as a person, all you really need to be able to do is take a step back and reason with yourself. Are you following the crowd too much, or are you following your convictions and what’s in your heart. This is a great question to ask yourself to ensure you are happy and remain true to yourself.


Walden Questions

Walden does form a very good part in literature and it is necessary for you to know Walden questions and answers so that you can score good marks in the exams. Here are some of the major questions that you may get from this part. These things can be asked by anybody who has read Walden. Walden questions are relevant and give you a better idea of the whole theme.

What is it Meant by the Quote: “Lide Deep and Suck Out All the Marrow of Life”?

Thoreau went to woods for living bare, spare and very essential existence. No modern conveniences could help him in making things much easier. He just went to woods for learning what is it about living the life in the way it comes. He just went to feel the life free from all the things that are man made. He wanted to live the life without any remote control. He believed that the things that have become part of our life to make it easier have stolen the real fun in life. He just wanted to relive it with all the spirit in it. He just wants to experience things as it comes in spite of them being a bit tough on him. He just wanted to feel the nature in all the forms as a naïve man. He just wanted to live exactly like how the creator might have meant us to live.

What Does it Mean “Starve Before You are Hungry”?

Walden from Thoreau is really a very thought-provoking work that has got so many things that you can learn. This quote says that people many times miss all or part of the meaning in their life and they do not take the time out for enjoying the life. They usually rush for being happy and can be unsatisfied. Rather than working yourself for filling the unhappy voids that are there in the lives, they spend their time complaining and claiming that life is miserable and is left without any hope. Even when most of the people live a pretty comfortable life, it will not stop us from complaining as if we are starving and can be dead soon. Human nature has become like to stay unhappy and being too lazy for figuring out why that is happening or to make changes in the lives which can help us in staying happy. Thoreau says that for us to fill the gaps that are there in the lives, we have to first have hunger towards the things that matters in life the most.

What is the advice that Thoreau have for Ownership of property and the ones who Lives in Complete Poverty?

Thoreau does give a great definition for the economy, as per him economy is much involved with the spiritual and moral being of an individual. It is really hard to find true economy in the civilized life. He does not believe in ownership or property but rather living in nature and the world enjoying the life.

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