What is the main theme(s) of Walden?

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I think the theme, or main claim, of Henry David Thoreau's book Walden can be best summed up by his sentence "Simplify, simplify." If we live simply, then we will live truly, according to Thoreau. If our home is simple—only as big as we need and containing only the...

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I think the theme, or main claim, of Henry David Thoreau's book Walden can be best summed up by his sentence "Simplify, simplify." If we live simply, then we will live truly, according to Thoreau. If our home is simple—only as big as we need and containing only the necessary furnishings (a bed, a desk, a chair)—then we will be happier for it. If I buy a huge house, then I will have to work more to pay for it, to maintain it, to furnish it, to heat and cool it, and so forth. So I will spend all my time working to maintain a home that I am rarely in! However, if I buy a small home, and only the necessary things to fill it, I can work less and spend more of my time doing the things that make me truly happy: reading, hiking, swimming, sleeping, and so on.

Further, one does not need a ton of clothes. One suit, for Thoreau, was enough. He could patch it and fix it, and if people judged him for it, who cares? Clothes are there to serve a purpose: to protect our skin and keep us warm. Again, if I spend a lot of money on clothes, then I have to work more to earn that money, and I have less time to do what I want. Over and over, Thoreau proves that a simple life can be the most fulfilling, because it provides the individual with more time to do whatever it is that makes them feel happy and fulfilled rather than trapped and resigned. And the height of simplicity is to go out into nature, to get away from the trappings of society completely and to simply enjoy life.
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Perhaps the most significant theme of Walden is that of the divine potential of solitude. According to Thoreau, the appeal of his rustic lifestyle is "its complete retirement." Thoreau argues that, by removing himself from society, he can get closer to the divine present he feels in nature. So, more than just peace and quiet, a break from the tumult of town life, Thoreau feels that his solitude is almost a religious reverie. He says his surroundings become a "sweet and beneficent society," one that greets him with an "infinite and unaccountable friendliness."

Another theme is the necessity of frugality, or simplicity. Much of the first part of the book is devoted to a discussion of the amount of money he spends to become mostly self-sufficient. He says that he pities his fellow townsmen who have inherited wealth and responsibilities—they are "digging their graves as soon as they are born." Part of Thoreau's purpose in recording the lengths he goes to in order to become frugal is to criticize what he perceives as rampant materialism.

One final theme is that of the power of nature. Again, Thoreau, in common with many other transcendentalists, like Emerson, believed that God was to be found in nature and that by retreating to the countryside to live in solitude, he could get closer to a purer relationship with the divine force that exists in the world.

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The main theme of Thoreau's Walden is very simple. It is that life can be easy and pleasant if your wants are simple. We create many of our own problems by wanting things we don't really need. He thought his neighbors were foolish to complicate their lives and create so much stress for themselves. In the first chapter of his book Thoreau offers many examples of the ways in which his neighbors make themselves exhausted and careworn so needlessly.

I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost say, as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign form of servitude called Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both North and South. It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself.

Most of Thoreau's book is thus about how to live simply and the benefits to be derived from doing so. He describes the pleasures of communing with nature, which costs nothing. A lot of his text is about his enjoyment of everything he did, including the small amount of work he had to do in order to raise most of his own food. One chapter is devoted to the pleasure of reading, another pastime which costs little or nothing. Of course he spent a great deal of his time in writing as well.

One thing Thoreau does not talk about is marriage. It is really fairly easy for a single man to live cheaply, even today. But most people want to get married and end up doing so, which usually results in having children. We don't know how Thoreau could have coped with family life. It would appear that he never married because he never found a woman who would share such an austere life as he considered ideal. It is the ideal life for a philosopher or a religious mystic, but not a life that every man or woman could follow. Reading Walden today is somewhat like reading Robinson Crusoe. It is temporary escapism from reality.

 
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The main themes inherent in this work are related to a quest for a good and useful life. Thoreau believed that a close relationship with nature was necessary to human existence; this was reflected in his frequent insistence that living simply was also of paramount importance. Being removed from the life of the city, from unnecessary social events, allowed him to reflect upon what was truly important and to create a coherent and reasonable philosophy of living. Thoreau believed solitude and simple every day rituals were the essence of a fulfilling life and Walden exemplifies these two ideas as well.

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