What is the significance of a withdrawing room in Walden, by Henry David Thoreau?        

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Walden is the journal Henry David Thoreau wrote during and after the time he spent living in a cabin on Walden Pond. The reason he chose to live here for a time was to live differently than he had ever before lived:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."


A common misconception about Thoreau's time at the pond is that he lived in isolation; in fact, Thoreau both left the cabin occasionally and had all kinds of visitors. In chapter six, entitled "Visitors," Thoreau records some thoughts about his cabin and the visitors who came to see him. 

Though the cabin was small, he could have as many as twenty or thirty visitors without really being crowded (though they had to stand, rather than sit). Thoreau says his biggest concern was having too little space for him and his guests to share big ideas. He says, "You want room for your thoughts to get into sailing trim and run a course or two before they make their port."

Because of that need for room in which ideas can be expressed and discussed, Thoreau often saw his guests in what he called his "withdrawing room." He described it this way:

My "best" room, however, my withdrawing room, always ready for company, on whose carpet the sun rarely fell, was the pine wood behind my house. Thither in summer days, when distinguished guests came, I took them, and a priceless domestic swept the floor and dusted the furniture and kept the things in order.

Here, in the grandeur and roominess of the natural world, Thoreau and his guests could converse about weighty (or grand) philosophical matters in a setting which would not stifle or confine them. This is exactly why Thoreau chose to live on Walden Pond. 

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nikkim5050 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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This is a good question.  First, a withdrawing room according to the dictionary is a formal room where visitors can be received or entertained in someone's house.  Second, the point of Chapter 6, Visitors, is that Thoreau likes visitors like anyone else and always keeps three chairs ready for them.  His house is very small and has limitations when he receives more than 3 visitors or the conversations become lively.  He says, "My 'best" room, however, my withdrawing room, always ready for company...was the pine wood behind my house."    He goes on to say, there are "disadvantages to a small house...not enough room for big thoughts."  In other words, his house is small and when there are a multitude of people or the conversation requires room for thought and discussion, he moves people outside to what he refers to as his withdrawing room, the pine forest outside his door.  He believes that outside in this space is a better place to entertain guests and have good conversations that require room for "big thoughts".  He also refers to the fact that the pine wood is taken care of by Mother Nature herself just like a housekeeper would take care of the house.  Thoreau is saying in Chapter 6, that it doesn't really matter where conversation is because it is a mental process that could expand to fill the entire forest or possibly the universe if allowed.  This goes back to Thoreau's feeling about nature and its importance.  I also think his reference to visitors is  a reference to the fact that even though he does love his solitude, visitors and good conversation are important to mental processes.

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