Student Question

What is the meaning of solitude in Walden?

Quick answer:

Solitude in Walden means time for contemplation and personal growth. It also means growing closer and more attuned to the natural rhythms of nature, as time is no longer "minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock."

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Thoreau praises solitude as an important component of his life at Walden Pond, devoting an entire chapter of the book to it. He associates it with contemplation. It is the opportunity to do nothing that the world would consider productive. Instead, it is a time to sit with one's own thoughts and experience personal inner growth. He says that when he was alone, contemplating,

I grew in those seasons like corn in the night.

At first, he notes that he felt some flashes of oppression from the solitude and wonders

if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life.

However, he then realizes that being freed from human company allows him to become part of the rhythms of nature and experience its companionship. He states that he became

suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature.

Thoreau experiences liberation from Western notions of time as he embraces solitude. Life is no longer made up of past, present, and future but an eternal present. He likens this to how what he calls "Oriental" contemplatives and "Puri Indians" experience time. He notes that his days were not

minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock.

Solitude offers Thoreau a serenity and oneness with nature that he could not experience in society, where life's activities were dictated by the time of day. Solitude also opens for Thoreau the freedom to live creatively, spontaneously, and thoughtfully, freed from the harried need to be productive.

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