What is the central idea of "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For"?

The central idea of the chapter "Where I Lived, and What I Lived for" in Walden is that one gets closer to a truly vital and awakened life by living simply. In this chapter, Thoreau discusses the reasons for which he decided to live in a cabin by Walden Pond and his hopes for what said experience might teach him.

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This key and very famous chapter of Walden could be called Thoreau's manifesto on why he went to live in the woods by Walden Pond. He says that he goes there to find solitude and strip his life down to its essentials or, as he puts it,

because I wished...

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This key and very famous chapter of Walden could be called Thoreau's manifesto on why he went to live in the woods by Walden Pond. He says that he goes there to find solitude and strip his life down to its essentials or, as he puts it,

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.

Thoreau intuits that the life he leads in society, run by its dictates, is filled with encumbrances that prevent him from living fully or living truly, or as he puts it, from "suck[ing] out all the marrow of life." These encumbrances to authentic living include too many material goods, which become a burden, too much socializing, and too much time spent working for money. Instead, he saves his money for five years so that he can afford to go off to nature, live a simple life, and discover what it has to teach him.

The chapter emphasizes simplicity, with that term, in various forms, repeated many times. "Simplify, simplify" is key to Thoreau's concept of finding what is important in life. By stripping away the nonessentials, Thoreau hopes "to reawaken and keep awake."

Going to Walden Pond will also bring Thoreau closer to nature and thus closer to the innocence of his true nature:

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself.

In sum, the central idea of the chapter is that stripping down to a simple life will teach Thoreau about the essential nature of life and what is most important in it.

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