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never read it
Walden opens with a simple announcement that Thoreau spent two years in Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts, living a simple life supported by no one. He says that he now resides among the civilized again; the episode was clearly both experimental and temporary. The first chapter, “Economy,” is a manifesto of social thought and meditations on domestic management, and in it Thoreau sketches out his ideals as he describes his pond project. He devotes attention to the skepticism and wonderment with which townspeople had greeted news of his project, and he defends himself from their views that society is the only place to live. He recounts the circumstances of his move to Walden Pond, along with a detailed account of the steps he took to construct his rustic habitation and the methods by which he supported himself in the course of his wilderness experiment. It is a chapter full of facts, figures, and practical advice, but also offers big ideas about the claims of individualism versus social existence, all interspersed with evidence of scholarship and a propensity for humor. Thoreau tells us that he completed his cabin in the spring of 1845 and moved in on July 4 of that year. Most of the materials and tools he used to build his home he borrowed or scrounged from previous sites. The land he squats on belongs to his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson; he details a cost-analysis of the entire construction project. In order to make a little money, Thoreau cultivates a modest bean-field, a job that tends to occupy his mornings. He reserves his afternoons and evenings for contemplation, reading, and walking about the countryside. Endorsing the values of austerity, simplicity, and solitude, Thoreau consistently emphasizes the minimalism of his lifestyle and the contentment to be derived from it. He repeatedly contrasts his own freedom with the imprisonment of others who devote their lives to material prosperity. Despite his isolation, Thoreau feels the presence of society surrounding him. The Fitchburg Railroad rushes past Walden Pond, interrupting his reveries and forcing him to contemplate the power of technology. Thoreau also finds occasion to converse with a wide range of other people, such as the occasional peasant farmer, railroad worker, or the odd visitor to Walden. He describes in some detail his association with a Canadian-born woodcutter, Alex Therien, who is grand and sincere in his character, though modest in intellectual attainments. Thoreau makes frequent trips into Concord to seek the society of his longtime friends and to conduct what scattered business the season demands. On one such trip, Thoreau spends a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax because, he says, the government supports slavery. Released the next day, Thoreau returns to Walden. Thoreau devotes great attention to nature, the passing of the seasons, and the creatures with which he shares the woods. He recounts the habits of a panoply of animals, from woodchucks to partridges. Some he endows with a larger meaning, often spiritual or psychological. The hooting loon that plays hide and seek with Thoreau, for instance, becomes a symbol of the playfulness of nature and its divine laughter at human endeavors. Another example of animal symbolism is the full-fledged ant war that Thoreau stumbles upon, prompting him to meditate on human warfare. Thoreau’s interest in animals is not exactly like the naturalist’s or zoologist’s. He does not observe and describe them neutrally and scientifically, but gives them a moral and philosophical significance, as if each has a distinctive lesson to teach him. As autumn turns to winter, Thoreau begins preparations for the arrival of the cold. He listens to the squirrel, the rabbit, and the fox as they scuttle about gathering food. He watches the migrating birds, and welcomes the pests that infest his cabin as they escape the coming frosts. He prepares his walls with plaster to shut out the wind. By day he makes a study of the snow and ice, giving special attention to the mystic blue ice of Walden Pond, and by night he sits and listens to the wind as it whips and whistles outside his door. Thoreau occasionally sees ice-fishermen come to cut out huge blocks that are shipped off to cities, and contemplates how most of the ice will melt and flow back to Walden Pond. Occasionally Thoreau receives a visit from a friend like William Ellery Channing or Amos Bronson Alcott, but for the most part he is alone. In one chapter, he conjures up visions of earlier residents of Walden Pond long dead and largely forgotten, including poor tradesmen and former slaves. Thoreau prefers to see himself in their company, rather than amid the cultivated and wealthy classes. As he becomes acquainted with Walden Pond and neighboring ponds, Thoreau wants to map their layout and measure their depths. Thoreau finds that Walden Pond is no more than a hundred feet deep, thereby refuting common folk wisdom that it is bottomless. He meditates on the pond as a symbol of infinity that people need in their lives. Eventually winter gives way to spring, and with a huge crash and roar the ice of Walden Pond begins to melt and hit the shore. In lyric imagery echoing the onset of Judgment Day, Thoreau describes the coming of spring as a vast transformation of the face of the world, a time when all sins are forgiven. Thoreau announces that his project at the pond is over, and that he returned to civilized life on September 6, 1847. The revitalization of the landscape suggests the restoration of the full powers of the human soul, and Thoreau’s narrative observations give way, in the last chapter of Walden, to a more direct sermonizing about the untapped potential within humanity. In visionary language, Thoreau exhorts us to “meet” our lives and live fully.
With the opening paragraph of this chapter, it is apparent that Thoreau's depression and lethargy has ended. He represents this psychological struggle through the metaphor of sleep. He has been asking questions in his sleep looking only inward and only when he looks outward, at nature, does he cease questioning. He takes nature's example, asking and answering no questions but living serenely. In describing this realization as occurring when he awakens in the morning, Thoreau draws upon the metaphor of awakening to describe his increased spiritual awareness. The pond has long been a symbol for Thoreau's self, reflecting him in its depths. Now, as he awakens, shaking off the sleep which encased and surrounded him, he represents this process in the act of cutting into the ice which surrounds the pond. He compares the pond the hibernating marmot; it too "closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months." However, rather than accept this delaying of life, Thoreau struggles against it, metaphorically opening the pond's eyes his own perceptions by cutting into the ice. Therefore, Thoreau's attempts to study and understand the pond in a way no other townsmen have done before him, represents his ability to look into himself by simultaneously looking into nature. His findings about the pond's depth would surprise and contradict the assumptions of most people, just as his realizations in living at Walden about his own life run counter to common beliefs. The unexplored depths of the pond are also the unexplored depths of his own life that Thoreau went to Walden to study. The ice fishers, who instinctively know nature and who themselves could be a subject of study for naturalists, demonstrate the melding of society and nature for which Thoreau had been struggling. His favorable opinion towards them and description of them as a part of nature demonstrate his newly found optimism. In contrast, the ice men, who Thoreau describes as taking the "skin" off of the lake, are a part of culture on which he does not look fondly. Their actions are accomplished only for monetary gain, to fill the pockets of an already-rich man. In describing their effects upon the pond as he does, in the metaphor of skinning the pond as if it were a living creature, Thoreau demonstrates the violent conflict which inevitably arises between economic gain and natural life. Ultimately, Thoreau's outlook becomes yet again naturalistic. Nature seems to have the capacity to resist the encroaches of society. The ice blocks are left behind, melting back into Walden. Even before that happens, Thoreau is content knowing that the spring will come and with it unchanging appearance of his beloved pond.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau Walden, by Henry David Thoreau is written in first person about the events and ideas that came to the author during his time living at Walden Pond in the eighteen hundreds. Henry David Thoreau was a poet and a philosopher who lived a life of simplicity in order to make a direct connection between people, God, and nature. He viewed knowledge as an "intuitive force rather than a set of learned, logical proofs." His writing in Walden focused on many different themes, including the relationship between light and dark, the ideas and importance of nature, the meaning of progress, the importance of detail, and the relationship between the mind and body. He also developed many philisophical ideas concerning knowing yourself, living simply and deliberately, and seeking truth. In the first section of Walden entitled "Economy," Thoreau develops his ideas of living simply and deliberately. He believed that "it is best to want less," and that "there is no point of living if it is not deliberate." By living deliberately he meant giving each part of life attention, whather in observing humans or nature, and living during "all moments of life." He believed that humans had only four basic necessities: food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. The object of each of these necessities is to "conserve an individuals energy." He also believed that "gluttony is bad," and so we should "only content ourselves with possesions that we need." Thoreau focussed on living deliberately, and stated "to settle, and to feel reality in its fullness, is the point." Many of the next sections of Walden focussed on the relationship between the mind and body. In the section "Solitude," he explained that "sensations exist within our mind even when our body senses them." Thoreau felt that physical closeness does not translate into mental closeness, or vice-versa. He claimes that "it is not the physical possesion of the physical acts that caused one to take possession of a place, but rather the mental acts." he believed that we are our minds, and that our bodies are not as important. In the section "Highes Laws," he stated that "to truly live is to truly be aware of all that we can do, and then to ue all parts of ourselves." Thoreau truly believed that the mind should redeem the body. In the section Thoreau uses to conclude the book, he stresses the importance of knowing yourself. He stated that "truth means more than love, than money, than fame. He also advised that if you want to travel, you should explore yourself. He stated that "the world of nature is but a means of inspiration for us to know ourselves." He also believed that "it is the interpretation of nature by man, and what it symbolizes in the higher spiritual world that is important to the transcendentalists." Thoreau used his writing to show people what is possible, and to inspire them to find their own paths; to walk to a different drummer, rather than all being alike. The path that Thoreau took in Walden is just one way to reach that end.
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