In Walden, why does Thoreau compare himself to a rooster trying to wake his neighbors?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry David Thoreau's 1854 book Walden is considered one of the defining works in the transcendentalist genre, and recounts how Thoreau spent two years living in a cabin on Walden Pond, searching for his own meaning to life.

In the introduction, Thoreau writes:

...I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.
The present was my next experiment of this kind, which I purpose to describe more at length, for convenience putting the experience of two years into one. As I have said, 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)

The first is part of Thoreau's central thesis, that of individualism and purpose beyond that of the world around you. Thoreau refers back to the fables of Reynard the Fox, a European folkloric character who was often opposed by Chanticleer, a rooster who would crow to warn farmers that Reynard was after their livestock. Thoreau therefore compares his book to a warning or realization for his "neighbors," who are "committed" to their urban lives, uncaring of the wider world and of their own deeper desires. Thoreau wants to "wake up" all those people who are self-absorbed in their repetitive daily lives, showing them what else is available, and warning about the dangers of "commitment" as a mode of living.