Henry David Thoreau's book Walden and his essay "Civil Disobedience" differ greatly in both scope and purpose. With Walden, Thoreau's focus is on presenting his experience of "living deliberately" in Walden Woods for two years, two months, and two days. In Walden, Thoreau focuses on the the major components of his anti-materialistic, Transcendental worldview. He spends chapters cataloguing a multitude of objects and events, including the supplies used to build his cabin (as well as the cost), his failed experience trying to grow beans, and his experiences with a groundhog. As he details his daily life, he also espouses his individualist philosophies, such as his disdain for property and man's laws.
It is the latter that is also the focus of "Civil Disobedience." In this essay, Thoreau rails against what he considers the evils of society and government. In doing so, his Transcendental, anti-materialistic views come into play once again, but this time they are directed toward his beliefs regarding the specific ways in which the American government strips rights from its citizens. He spends a great deal of time focusing on the ways in which he believes that organized religion and government commit injustices, such as demanding money in the form of donations or taxes, and the things that occur as a result of people giving into these demands. One of his central focuses is on the idea of unjust war. He expands on his philosophy of individualism by focusing on the ways that the common person can fight against these injustices in nonviolent ways. In the essay, he details his own experience spending a night in jail for having refused to pay his poll-tax. Thoreau believed his tax money would go toward funding the war with Mexico, which he did not agree with, and therefore refused to obey the law requiring him to pay the tax. However, he does not refuse to pay all taxes. Rather, he refused the ones that were tied to things he disagreed with. He states,
I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject; and as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow-countrymen now. It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with—the dollar is innocent—but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance.
While the two works both present Thoreau's worldview, the scope of "Civil Disobedience" is much more specific, and this allows Thoreau to focus in on the cause and effect of his feelings regarding the American government and the ways in which one might successfully disobey it.