(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

The Canadian Woodchopper
The woodchopper does his work in Walden Woods, and he and Thoreau often visit. He is a big, strong, good-natured man who works hard and is content with his life although he makes little money. He knows how to read and enjoys reading the works of Homer even though he doesn’t understand them. After getting to know the woodchopper, Thoreau concludes, ‘‘The intellectual and what is called spiritual man in him were slumbering as in an infant.’’

James Collins
James Collins is an Irishman who works for the railroad and lives in a shanty near where Thoreau builds his cabin. Thoreau buys Collins’s shanty for $4.25 and disassembles it to use the boards and nails in his cabin. On the morning of the transfer of ownership, Thoreau sees Collins and his family on the road, with all their possessions wrapped up in one large bundle.

John Field
John Field is an Irishman who lives with his wife and children in a hut near the Baker Farm. During a rainstorm Thoreau goes to take shelter in the hut, which he thinks is vacant, but finds Field and his family there. Thoreau can see that John works very hard as a ‘‘bogger’’ (someone who turns the soil for farmers) to support his family and yet lives very poorly. Thoreau explains his own way of life, hoping that John will adopt it and thus live better while working less. He tells John if he would give up luxuries such as coffee and butter, he could give up his toil. He wouldn’t need to buy boots if he quit his job, Thoreau says, and he could easily catch fish in the pond and sell them for the little money he would need. John and his wife seem to consider this briefly but, according to Thoreau, they are unable to understand how they could live as Thoreau suggests. ‘‘It was sailing by dead reckoning to them, and they saw not clearly how to make their port,’’ he writes.

Brister Freeman
Brister Freeman was a former slave who lived on Brister’s Hill before Thoreau’s stay in the woods. He was an apple-grower. He is a character in the book because during the winter, when there are few visitors, Thoreau thinks about the woods’ former residents to occupy his mind. In effect, his past neighbors become present company. Thoreau reports that he has read Brister’s epitaph in the cemetery.

Fenda Freeman
The wife of Brister Freeman, Fenda was a fortune teller.

The Hermit
The Hermit is one of...

(The entire section is 1020 words.)

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Since Walden is, on one hand, a sort of spiritual autobiography, Thoreau himself is its central character. The narrator of Walden resembles Thoreau in many ways, but is also a distinct narrative persona. The real Thoreau was a much pricklier personality than the sunny tone of the book indicates. Thoreau as narrator is an apologist for Transcendentalist beliefs and for the rights of eccentric personalities to live as they choose. But privately, as entries in his personal journal have indicated, Thoreau did not always feel that nature held the answer to most social and spiritual problems.

I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited forms, houses, bams, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of.
The Transcendentalists believed that the human mind had sources of knowledge—such as conscience or an inner light—that were independent of or transcended the senses. Emerson became the foremost thinker among those who endorsed such views, and helped found the Transcendentalist Club, a loose, informal group that often met at his house in Concord. Like other members of this club, Thoreau believed that humans were basically good, and that nature was benign and favored humankind. By keeping themselves pure, and through a close relationship with nature, people could perfect themselves and grow in the knowledge already granted them through the inner light. Thoreau set out to live...

(The entire section is 522 words.)