Thoreau begins “Walking” by saying he wants to “regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature.” Drawing from this essay, identify and discuss passages that demonstrate this...

Thoreau begins “Walking” by saying he wants to “regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature.” Drawing from this essay, identify and discuss passages that demonstrate this point of view.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the critical aspects of Thoreau's essay on "Walking" seeks to place human beings within the construction of the natural world.  Thoreau makes the argument that in his act of walking, he forges himself as a part of the world. As a human being, he is not distinct from it. Rather, human beings are an "inhabitant" or a "part of Nature."  One passage in the essay that shows this occurs when he describes his experience of walking and how Thoreau loses the emphasis on his subjective consciousness as a result of it:

In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations, and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses.

This passage conveys Thoreau's idea of being an "inhabitant" and a part of the natural world in the way he "forgets" "morning occupations and obligations to society."  The way in which Thoreau "loses his senses" reflects the point of view of seeking to make himself a part of the natural setting as opposed to standing out from it.

Thoreau sees this experience as recognizing that human construction does not overwhelm the natural condition.  Thoreau affirms the idea that "walking" in its purest sense does not include an exact direction or destination.  Rather, it is simply an act to blend in with the natural setting:

Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farm- house which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the king of Dahomey.  There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the three-score-years and ten of human life.

In order for the individual to view him or herself "as an inhabitant" of the natural world, Thoreau suggests that a "harmony" be established.  This unity in purpose ensures that individuals do not see property value as defining their walks.  Thoreau makes the argument that what is there has value in its intrinsic worth.  This is where individuals can see themselves "as an inhabitant" of the natural world.

Thoreau also suggests that walking in its purest form reconfigures the view of the individual.  For Thoreau, finding what is true and valid is a part of the experience to see oneself as the inhabitant of the natural world:

The farmers and their works are scarcely more obvious than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his affairs, church and state — and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures and agriculture, — even politics, the most alarming of them all — I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape.

Thoreau suggests that "the best part of the land is not private property."  Repudiating private property helps to minimize human construction. When individuals view themselves in this light, as an inhabitant, Thoreau takes it to mean that "the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom... To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it."  In the process of pure walking, Thoreau suggests that being able to view "man and his affairs" and construction in a natural light is one of the most essential elements.

One of the concluding passages of the essay speaks to how Thoreau believes that walking is essential in the process of regarding human beings as a part of the natural world.  When Thoreau walks, he is able to lose his own sense of self, something that he sees as essential to reconfiguring the view of the individual:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant. From many a hill I can see civilization and the abodes of man afar.

Thoreau's argument is that walking enables the individual to see the construction of man from "afar" as he blends into the natural world.

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