- Does simply breathing qualify as living? Or does living require far, far more? InWalden, Thoreau examines his fellow man, and finds him wanting, lacking, unfulfilled: laboring day in and day out, trapped by the desire for wealth and material comforts, unable to distinguish between luxury (like butter and a house with more than one room!) and necessity. Most men, according to Thoreau, are trapped in a kind of living death that suppresses everything that is natural and wonderful about being human. Talk about darkBut Thoreau is trying to rescue us through Walden. This book is an attempt to break past all our misconceptions about the true meaning of life, and get to some understanding of what real life is. Life isn’t just about going through the motions in your daily grind, but enjoying all the faculties for thinking, imagining, and feeling that are unique to each and every one of us. Some people saw these developments as signs of progress and modernity, but Thoreau, always the contrarian, worried about the excessive commercialization and materialism of society. Simply put, everyone was too worried about making money and too dazzled by technological innovation to stop and think about their moral well-beingThoreau identifies his location,
- Where I live part Emersonian self-reliance is not just a matter of supporting oneself financially (as many people believe) but a much loftier doctrine about the active role that every soul plays in its experience of reality. Reality for Emerson was not a set of objective facts in which we are plunked down, but rather an emanation of our minds and souls that create the world around ourselves every day. Thoreau emphasizes the work of reading, just as he stresses the work of farming and home-owning; he compares the great reader to an athlete who has subjected himself to long training and regular exercise. He gives an almost mystical importance to the printed word. The grandeur of oratory does not impress him as much as the achievements of a written book. He says it is no wonder that Alexander the Great carried a copy of the Iliad around with him on his military campaigns. It is in this chapter that Thoreau’s social background is most fully felt, especially the advantages of a Harvard education and a familiarity with the classics and with ancient languages. Earlier in the work, his words do not betray his origins; in discussing home construction or domestic economy, he is simply a fiery thinker and a practical man. But when he discourses on the necessity of reading Aeschylus in the original Greek, disdaining the contemporary translations offered by the “modern cheap and fertile press,” we feel that he is a member of the elite speaking to us. Although he calls out at the end of the chapter for “noble villages of men” in which education is spread broadly through the population instead of thinly over the aristocrats, we feel he must realize the impracticality of expecting woodcutters to read Aeschylus in Greek. This tension introduces the dark subject of Thoreau’s snobbism,
- Thoreau may sincerely appreciate the merits of poverty and values the lifestyle of common laborers, but his lofty words about the classics recall that in fact he is a Harvard-educated man slumming in the backwoods, and that his poverty is chosen rather than forced on him by circumstances.
- Walden Pond, as being a) a pond (surprise surprise) and b) a mile-and-a-half from Concord. It may be within walking distance of civilization, but to him it’s an unexplored corner of the universe.
- He explains that he chose this place because he “wished to live deliberately,” to simplify everything in his life to the barest of necessities so that he could reallylive.
- Nowadays, the world moves too quickly; he wants to slow down and really enjoy life.
- To understand what is wonderful and sublime about life, you don’t have to go off into distant corners of the earth. The sublime is right here, right now, in the everyday. Whoa.
- Newspapers never tell us anything new, according to Thoreau. He wants to dig “through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance” and get to reality. Journalist, indeed.
- Thoreau begins his conclusion by explaining that you don’t have to go exploring distant lands when you yourself are an undiscovered country that you can discover through thought. It’s abstract, but he kind of has a point.
- Why the stink did he leave, then? Well, Thoreau wonders that himself. He guesses that he wanted to discover other ways of living, even though he knows that he doesn’t want to live in the “ruts of tradition and conformity.” He’s learned from his personal experience that the more you simplify your own life, the clearer you can see the universal laws of life, common to everyone.
- Thoreau takes this moment to defend his writing style. He doesn’t understand why everyone wants a certain kind of plain, common-sensical writing. If everybody is unique, why can’t there be equally unique styles? Amen, brother!
- Thoreau once again champions (argues for) uniqueness over worldly success.
- As an example, Thoreau relates the story of an artist from the city of Kouroo, who discovered that ages had passed while he was carving the perfect staff.
- Again (and again and again), Thoreau champions truth and simplicity. He doesn’t think we should be so quick to modernize everything, when we still have to learn to slow down and understand ourselves. He probably wouldn’t have invested in Google.
- For one last anecdote, Thoreau tells the story of an insect that hatched from an egg that had been buried in the wood of a farmer’s table for years. How’s that for slowing down?
- And finally, in one last attempt to get through to us, Thoreau ends with an appeal to all of us to just wake up.
He laments the downgraded sensibility and cheapened lives of contemporary Americans, wondering why his countrymen are in such a desperate hurry to succeed. He urges us to sell our fancy clothes and keep our thoughts, get rid of our civilized shells and find our truer selves. Life near the bone, says Thoreau, “is sweetest.” Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only, and “[m]oney is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.” He reflects on the dinner parties taking place in the city, the amusing anecdotes about California and Texas, and compares it all to a swamp where one must seek the rock bottom by oneself. Thoreau reflects that we humans do not know where we are and that we are asleep half the time.
This hint of American equality is heard in his command to accept poverty or riches without concern: “Love your life, poor as it is.” The rich may not love their lives any better than the poor: all are equal. At times there is even a direct echo of American rhetoric in Thoreau’s words, as when he says, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth,” echoing the American revolutionary slogan, “Give me liberty or give me death.” In these intense and intimate addresses to us that emerge at the end of the work, replacing the meandering rhythms of the first chapter, we sense the urgency of Thoreau’s final message to us. The work he has written is meant to mobilize us to start working to live our lives differently.
As more factories sprang up in the North, more workers were needed to tend to the machines. Rather than learn a trade skill, these day laborers worked alongside scores of others for as many as sixteen hours a day, six or seven days a week, for a meager hourly wage.
1850 life to 58 he died at 45