Describe Thoreau’s attitude toward individuality and conformity in "Walden".

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timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thoreau was a friend of Emerson who provides some great language for understanding Thoreau's attitude.  In "Self-Reliance" Emerson puts it succinctly:  "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist." [somehow translating "man" to "human" or "person" doesn't work ... so we'll leave the word and extend the meaning].  You will pay a price for this: 

"For nonconformity, the world whips you with its displeasure." 

But it is the only way we can find out who we really are.   This quote will use up most of my words, but it's famous and always worth re-reading:

   "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 did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. 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, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next ."   Thoreau

Read the study guide:
Walden

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