For what reasons did Thoreau write "Walden"?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the chapter titled, "Economy," Thoreau himself says that one major reason for his writing Walden is because so many people were curious about his life, specifically the two years and two months he spent living in the woods at Walden Pond. He writes that some "very particular inquiries had . . .  been made by [his] townsmen regarding [his] mode of life . . ." Further, many asked about what he ate while he lived alone in the woods, if he ever got lonely, what he did with his income, and so forth.  

Moreover, Thoreau writes that he "require[s] of every writer . . . a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men's lives." He says that he is confined to writing about himself because it is what he knows best. He hopes that his readers "will accept such portions as apply to them." In other words, Thoreau intends to write a book that he would respect were it written by someone else, and he hopes that he writes things that other people will find helpful in their own lives.

In addition, he is concerned because, as he says,

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of . . . Who made them serfs of the soil . . . Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born?

Put differently, Thoreau sees that most people live a life that they do not find fulfilling. They are tied down by their possessions when a life of simplicity would be more satisfying because a person wouldn't have to spend their entire life working to acquire more or to support and maintain those extras they do have.  

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Thoreauvian Ken Kifer, Thoreau's "Walden" was published to express his philosophy of life.  Rather than having the desire to live a life with a goal of the acquisition of wealth, Thoreau saw the goal of life to be the exploration of the mind and the magnificent world around people. His voyage through life was much more inward than that of many others:

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 ie had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.

Thoreau wished to find the "whole and genuine" meaning of life and not spend his life in frivolous details.  He offers an alternative solution to the consumer life, the dependent life.  The self-reliant man, Thoreau explains, has the strength to choose his own course in life, solving his own problems himself.  He did not live to acquire money; instead, he desired Life's experience and appreciation for the beauty of Nature.  He is tolerant to others around him and pure in mind.

However, Thoreau's observations and conclusions are often tangled with metaphors and hyperboles, paradoxes, sarcasm, and double entendres.  Because of the use of these literary devices, Walden is sometimes abstruse.  See the site listed below for help.