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Walden Characters

(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 two fictional characters in the book and clearly represents Thoreau. The Hermit has a dramatic dialogue with The Poet, in which The Poet comes to visit The Hermit and tempts him to leave his solitary meditations and go fishing. The Hermit succumbs to this temptation and goes fishing with The Poet, temporarily allowing his desire for worldly and sensual pleasures to overcome his desire for spiritual experience.

Cato Ingraham
Cato was another former slave who lived in Walden Woods before Thoreau. His former master had provided him with land to live on and a house. Cato planted walnut trees on his land so that he would have an asset in his old age, but Thoreau reports that a white man somehow took Cato’s walnuts from him.

The Poet
The Poet is one of two fictional characters in the book and represents a visitor from the village. The Poet has a dramatic dialogue with The Hermit, in which The Poet tempts The Hermit to leave his solitary meditations and go fishing.

Hugh Quoil
Hugh Quoil was another past resident of the woods who had lived in the place once occupied by Wyman the potter. It was rumored that Quoil had fought at Waterloo. He had a certain sophistication but was an alcoholic. Thoreau says that ‘‘All I know of him was tragic’’ and describes what he saw when he visited Quoil’s cabin after his death: ‘‘His pipe lay broken on the hearth. . . . The skin of a woodchuck was freshly stretched upon the back of the house, a trophy of his last Waterloo; but no warm cap or mittens would he want more.’’

Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau is the book’s narrator. An eccentric...

(The entire section is 1,542 words.)