Walden Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

Walden book cover
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In Thoreau's Walden, what are the three phases of character development?

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Walden is Henry David Thoreau's most famous book and a study in transcendentalism, the movement created by Thoreau's mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

During Walden, Thoreau attempted to bring himself into equality with the natural world by living simply and without modern distractions. Emerson described three stages of personal development in transcendentalism:

  1. Knowledge of the past
  2. Harmony with nature
  3. Renewal of society

Thoreau considered his earlier education and mentoring by Emerson to be the completion of the first stage.

The second stage was the experiment of living on Walden itself; by relegating his lifestyle to straightforward sustainability instead of city life, Thoreau attempted to find balance between his humanity and nature's primal laws.

The book Walden is itself the completion of the third stage; Thoreau writes:

...I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.
(Thoreau, Walden, eNotes eText)

His purpose here is to inform society of his success in transcendental living, and to "wake [his] neighbors up" to the realities of their own stifled lives vs. his personal transcendental awakening.