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"My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My...

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kareemoo | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted May 21, 2013 at 8:53 PM via web

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"My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing . . ." Explain what Thoreau means by this statement in Walden, and show its significance to the idea of his text.

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 21, 2013 at 9:37 PM (Answer #1)

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In the first Chapter of Walden, "Economy," Thoreau explains how and why he wanted to live alone and why simplicity ("economy") would help him to be more free. With less luxuries, less property, and less material things, a man is more free to do as he pleases. 

Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind. 

Such luxuries are distractions from other activities such as reading, thinking, introspection, and being in nature and coupled with thinking, in touch with the world.  

Thoreau continues his theory of living simply but with purpose in the second chapter, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For." Stripped of all superfluous and trivial distractions, of all useless materialism, Thoreau, in his simplest incarnation, is just himself. He wanted to live as genuinely and as naturally as he could. So, when he says that his best faculties are concentrated in his head, he means that his mind is his most natural, immediate, and yet most useful tool. Noting that his instinct tells him that his head is for burrowing just suggests a natural, animal instinct to use his head for something useful. The complete quote is:

My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. 

Here, Thoreau considers the simplistic efficiency of his head and limbs. Considering himself as natural as an animal in the woods, he supposes he would use his head for burrowing just as efficiently as another animal would use its snout and fore paws to dig, find food, etc. There is also a pun on "burrow" (and "mine") in that Thoreau is determined to mine this experience, to live and think deeply; thus, to burrow into the world of his new life of simplicity and purpose. 

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