Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 18 : Conclusion | Summary



"To the sick the doctors wisely recommend a change of air and scenery," Thoreau reports in the last chapter. Although Thoreau has consistently presented Walden Pond as the most curative of all settings, it would seem that living there did not cure him of whatever malady he has. Travel is what Thoreau recommends now, but not necessarily physical travel in the material world: "Home-cosmography" is even more educational. "I have more of God, [travelers] more of the road," he states.

This chapter is exceptionally wide-ranging and diffuse, and one of its most important points concerns what Thoreau learned from living at Walden Pond: "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." In the spirit of American Romanticism, the writer confirms the conviction and intuition of the individual.

In most respects, Thoreau has been successful at Walden Pond. He has shown extreme courage in his individualism. In simplifying his life and living alone in the woods, he has done something that others have not done, and he has done it well. What is more important, he has eloquently recorded his thoughts about his experiences. He has demonstrated self-determination in completing his primary reason for living at Walden Pond. He went there to live deliberately and to learn about himself, and he has done that.


Thoreau does not say exactly why he left Walden Pond: "Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live," he writes. In this chapter, he has closed the door of his cabin and returned to Concord. At the same time, he closed a chapter of his life and opened up a door to even more possibilities. Thoreau, like other Transcendentalists, saw life as an experiment, and living at Walden Pond was just one more experiment. If Walden has been the discussion of this experiment, Thoreau proposes the conclusion of the experiment without knowledge of the next destination.

Thoreau continues, saying that to find oneself one has to look inward and this self-realization opens up a universe of possibilities. Within the solitude of Walden Pond, Thoreau realized this himself: "Direct your eye right inward," he says, "and you'll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered." He eagerly seeks those regions.

He argues in concluding that the best way to live is simply, without materialistic encumbrances. In so doing, he questions the whole idea of pursuing success leading to materialistic gain: "Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises?" he asks. Richness of the spirit is more important: "Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul," Thoreau reasons.

He goes on to say that you must trust your own intuition to seek the truth in life. These truths are universal and eternal, and nonconformity is a key to understanding yourself and the universe: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer," he says. "Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

Finally, one way to view the "Conclusion" is to see it as Thoreau's blueprint for Transcendental enlightenment. In this final chapter, he has touched on the highlights of Transcendentalism: individualism, nonconformity, and self-determination. He also discusses inspiration from nature and the embodiment of spirituality. All through Walden, Thoreau has demonstrated to the reader that behind the forms of nature exists the divine and the meaning of human existence. At the end of this chapter, he describes looking down on insects crawling amid the pine needles of the forest floor. This direct experience with nature makes him humbly reflect once again of God: "I am reminded of the greater Benefactor and Intelligence that stands over me the human insect," he says.

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