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Walden Themes

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

According to Thoreau’s transcendentalist philosophy, nature, humanity, and God are unified. His transcendent God is also immanent—present in every raindrop, blade of grass, and animal as well as in every human being. Further, one of the best ways for human beings to experience their own unity with God is to observe nature. In the woods one day, he writes:

I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me.

Explaining why he loves the company of nature, Thoreau writes, ‘‘Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself?’’ This theme of unity occurs throughout the book, often through metaphors, similes, and personifications that equate nature, humans and the divine. ‘‘I may be either the driftwood in the stream or Indra [a Hindu deity] in the sky looking down on it,’’ he declares. Watching hawks circle above him, he sees them as ‘‘the embodiment of my own thoughts.’’ Hearing bullfrogs, he thinks of them as ‘‘the sturdy spirits of ancient wine-bibbers and wassailers, still unrepentant, trying to sing a catch in their Stygian lake.’’ (In Greek myth, the River Styx is in Hades; the souls of the dead are rowed across it.) When whippoorwills sing, he writes that they ‘‘chanted their vespers,’’ attributing to them a knowledge of and reverence for God.

The goal of the transcendentalist is to experience God within. Thoreau exulted that living immersed in nature at Walden Pond allowed him to attain this goal often.

For Thoreau, living outside of human community is the complement to living immersed in nature. One must withdraw from human company to truly experience oneness with nature and, therefore, with God. ‘‘I love to be alone,’’ he declares.

Thoreau sometimes had visitors at his cabin and sometimes walked into the village to hear news and observe people (much as he observed animals; in one passage he compares watching people in the village to watching muskrats in the woods). But, he writes, ‘‘I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating.’’

Human society moves too fast for Thoreau and centers around things that are of no interest to him: acquiring large homes and luxuries, giving fancy dinner parties, gossiping, and working long hours to pay for things. He sees most people as being spiritually asleep,...

(The entire section is 650 words.)