What is the significance of setting/place in Walden by Henry David ThoreauExplain the significance of setting/place in Walden

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walden is a collection of observations, in journal form, of the time Henry David Thoreau spent living in isolation on the edge of Walden Pond.  It's a small body of water located just outside of Concord, Massachusetts.

Place is important to the meaning of the writing, as it is a series of reflections on a life spent in  contemplation and simplicity.  As a Transcendentalist, Thoreau spent his time at Walden Pond reflecting on nature and the negative effects of a commercial, hectic world which glorified the accumulation of things and wealth rather than the ideas and philosophies and thinking which matter much more and will live much longer than any things.  He writes of the everyday happenings around him, such as two armies of ants doing battle or the look of the pond in winter.  Thoreau also promotes his thriftiness and his nearly meatless  lifestyle, among other things, as being closer to the true nature of man's existence compared to the wastefulness and greed of the modern world.  He spends his time pursuing higher thoughts through reading and meditation, as well.

Place matters, then, because he didn't have the distractions and duties of the "real" world to contend with in his time of contemplation.  I've always found it somewhat ironic that this pond was not so very isolated (note all his visitors and his closeness to Emerson's family home--since the pond was on Emerson's property--and his daily sojourn into Concord for the daily news).  It's also interesting to note that this journal/book was actually published years after his time spent at the pond, leaving time and opportunity for further reflection and revision--done in the world of busy-ness and consuming.  I'm also always struck by the irony of what Thoreau thought of as a world consumed with haste and materialism and lack of self-examination and wonder what he would have to say about our world if he were alive today.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a Transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau held that every indidual can reach ultimate truths through spiritual intuition, which transcends reason and sensory experience. This spiritual intuition came best when man was in communion with Nature, which is symbolic of the spirit.

Believing that God was present in every aspect of Nature, Thoreau went deliberately into the woods of Walden

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,, discoer tha I had not lived.

The woods and cabin of Walden provided Thoreau with the existential experience for which he sought.  Away from society and its corruptive devices, as Thoreau felt, he encountered the essential lessons of life such as realizing how one-dimenstional members of society had become:  "The mass of men....lead lives of quiet desperation."  Thoreau believed that if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands as he had done his cabin, they would develop the "poetic faculty" that nourishes the soul. 

In the woods of Walden, away from society, Thoreau perceived the existential core of life itself.  When Thoreau was dying of tuberculosis, his aunt reportedly asked him, "Henry have you made your peace with God?"  "Why, Aunt," he replied, "I didn't know we had ever quarreled."




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