What is Thoreau's main argument for why he went into the woods in Walden?

2 Answers

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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For Thoreau, the rationale behind going into the woods was a desire to find his own voice.  This voice is one that must be heard by being away from a social setting.  It is here where I think that Thoreau's rationale is evident:

I went to the woods 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.

This desire to "live deliberately" looms large as to why Thoreau went into the woods.  The personification of the woods as an instructor whose lessons were to be taught to Thoreau helps to explain another reason why Thoreau goes into the woods.  The idea of "living life" to its fullest is identified with the woods, the realm away from the social setting.  In this, Thoreau understands clearly the motivation he has for going into the woods and rejecting the social settings and embracing the life in the woods.

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sciftw's profile pic

sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Knowing that Thoreau is a Transcendentalist helps a lot in understanding why he chooses to go out into the woods. Nature is supremely important to the Transcendentalists because they believe there is knowledge available that transcends what a person can acquire through classroom learning. That transcendent knowledge can be gained through a person's inherent connection to nature. The thinking is that because nature is a part of God, and people are a part of nature, God must be a part of every individual as well. By going out into the woods, Thoreau is trying to better experience and learn about God. To a Transcendentalist, busy and complex cities and societies simply get in the way of the natural and spiritual connections that can be found in nature.

Thoreau explains his intentions quite beautifully at one point.

I went to the woods 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.

In Thoreau’s opinion, there is no other place for him to go other than nature in order to learn about what is essential living. He further clarifies his intentions about living “deliberately” by explaining that he wants “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” In other words, he wants to live life to the fullest before he dies. It’s quite similar to today’s culture giving the reason of “you only live once” for doing something risky and spontaneous.

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