• 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

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