Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 6 : Visitors | Summary

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Summary

In "Visitors," Thoreau states, "I love society as much as most, and am ready enough to fasten myself like a bloodsucker for the time to any full-blooded man that comes in my way." This is hardly a rapturous description of having company, but Thoreau wants his readers to know that he enjoys receiving regular visitors: "I had more visitors while I lived in the woods than at any other period in my life; I mean that I had some."

Among them is one of his favorite people: a woodchopper whose "stout but sluggish body" belies his natural nobility. This man's happiness and novel observations cheer and intrigue Thoreau. But Thoreau also finds him more animal than human: "I did not know whether ... to suspect him of a fine poetic consciousness or of stupidity."

Thoreau's "best" room is the woods behind his house; if he doesn't have enough food for his visitors, he simply avoids mentioning meals. But guests keep turning up. Other visitors are "half-witted men from the almshouse"; bores who overstay their welcome; nosy housewives; children, who are welcome; and runaway slaves. He's always happy to see any "honest pilgrims, who came out to the woods for freedom's sake, and really left the village behind."

Analysis

This chapter proves untrue the proposal that Thoreau was a hermit. Thoreau comments that he is glad to see guests, as long as he can welcome them on his own terms—preferably outside and not standing too close. Nevertheless, Thoreau never uses the word friend in this chapter. His favorite visitor, "the woodcutter," seems to Thoreau as much a subject for scrutiny as for friendship. After an enthusiastic description of this man's many virtues, Thoreau dispassionately adds that his intellectual and spiritual sides "were slumbering as in an infant." Still, "I occasionally observed that he was thinking for himself and expressing his own opinion."

Yet Thoreau risked serious penalties for helping runaway slaves escape to Canada, something he did repeatedly. His cabin was too small to hide anyone, so he took the runaways to his mother's house under cover of darkness.

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