Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Walden is an account of the two years during which Henry David Thoreau built his own cabin, raised his own food, and lived a life of simplicity in the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau’s idea was that one’s true self could be lost amid the distractions of ordinary life. His experiment consisted of stripping away those distractions, living deliberately instead of automatically, and following the inclinations that arose within him in the solitude, silence, and leisure of his simplified life. He retreated from nonessentials to explore what remained as the core of human identity, assuming that human identity is not based on one’s profession or possessions or social connections.
Thoreau was a faithful, lifelong journal-keeper, and Walden is an artful reworking of journal entries from his time in the woods. It is a masterpiece of one of the master writers of Transcendentalism. One reason that Walden is exemplary as a work of Transcendentalism is that the book makes the idealistic assumption that there is a true self to discover. Walden is also a Transcendentalist work in other ways. It is the record of an eclectic intelligence considering life from many perspectives. Thoreau observed and appreciated nature keenly; Walden details a naturalist’s perceptions of the animals, plants, and seasons of the Concord woods. Thoreau was also a witty and merciless social critic. Walden is laden with his...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Early in the summer of 1845, Henry David Thoreau left his family home in the village of Concord, Massachusetts, to live for two years by himself in a rude house that he had constructed beside Walden Pond in a far corner of Concord township. While there, he wrote in his journal about many of the things he did and thought. Thoreau was not the owner of the land on which he settled, but he had received the owner’s permission to build his house and to live there. His objective was really to live simply and think and write; in addition, he proved to himself that the necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and fuel could be obtained rather simply for a man who desired only what he needed.
As early as March, 1845, Thoreau went out to Walden Pond and cut the timber he needed for the framework of his house, doing all the labor himself. When that was done and the framing was in place, Thoreau bought a shanty from an Irish railroad worker. He then tore down the shanty and used the boards for the sidings of his house, even making use of many of the nails already in the boards. By July, the house was ready for his occupancy. Before the advent of cold weather the following fall, Thoreau built himself a fireplace and a chimney for cooking and heating purposes. He also lathed and plastered the interior of the one-room house so that it would be warm and comfortable during the cold New England winter.
Having done all the work himself, and having used native...
(The entire section is 1205 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In 1845, when he was twenty-seven years old, Thoreau built a one-room cabin on Emerson’s land in the woods on the shore of Walden Pond, less than two miles from Concord. He borrowed an axe, bought the boards from an Irish railroad worker’s shanty, and erected a ten-by-fifteen-foot building. He moved into his new abode on the symbolic date of Independence Day.
There he lived austerely, growing beans and doing odd jobs, living on a simple diet, and spending less than nine dollars for food during the first eight months. His plan was to simplify his life, to “live free and uncommitted,” working about six weeks a year in order to have the remaining forty-six weeks free to read, write, live in intimate relationship to nature, “affect the quality of the day,” and demonstrate the Transcendental belief in “the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.” He summed up his experiment by writing: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. . . . I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close; to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean . . . to get the whole and genuine meanness of...
(The entire section is 912 words.)
In Walden Thoreau records both his experiment in self-sufficient natural living and his ideas about nature, human society, and the proper way for people to live. In a series of essays, linked by themes and the progression of the seasons, Thoreau describes building his own cabin and living alone in the woods beside Walden Pond. The result is a blend of Transcendentalist philosophy, autobiography, biting social commentary, and superb nature writing that is unique in American literature. As modern life has become increasingly urbanized, complex, and isolated from nature, Thoreau's insistence that people should simplify their lives and interact with nature has appealed to a growing number of readers.
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Chapter One: ‘‘Economy’’
Thoreau begins by telling readers that he is writing to answer why he chose to live alone for more than two years in a small, simple cabin near Walden Pond. Much of the chapter is devoted to explaining that the way most people live, spending all their time and energy working to acquire luxuries, does not lead to human happiness and wellbeing. Thoreau writes that he prefers having time to walk in nature and to think much more than working long hours to pay for big houses, large tracts of land, herds of animals, or other property. He goes so far as to say that the ownership of such things is actually a disadvantage, as one who owns them must take care of them, while one who owns little has more freedom to do as he or she pleases. This is why Thoreau chose to live simply and cheaply in a house he built for himself: in simplicity and economy he found freedom. Finally, Thoreau describes how he built his house. He includes exact figures showing how much he spent on materials (twenty-eight dollars and twelve and one-half cents).
Chapter Two: ‘‘Where I Lived, and What I Lived For’’
Continuing the idea set forth in the first chapter, Thoreau writes that he once considered buying a farm. He realized, though, that a person did not have to own a farm to enjoy those things about it that are most valuable, such as the beauty of its landscape. Thoreau concludes: ‘‘But I would say to my fellows, once...
(The entire section is 1970 words.)