Walden | Study Guide

Henry David Thoreau

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Walden | Chapter 8 : The Village | Summary



"The Village" opens with Thoreau's description of a typical day. After a morning's work, he often walks into Concord. Thoreau views the townspeople as oddities, objects of study as unfamiliar as prairie dogs would be, and the town itself resembles "a great news room." Thoreau says that in town everyone is up for spectacle, and people process gossip as efficiently as grain in a mill. Stores, taverns, and friendly invitations seem to be traps that lie in wait for the unwary visitor.

Thoreau happily escapes from town and "[launches] myself into the night" for his "snug harbor in the woods." He knows the woods by instinct now and can find his way home on even the darkest night. Thoreau also feels completely safe in the cabin next to the pond, while he finds the village threatening. On one trip into town, officers arrest Thoreau for refusing to pay a poll tax: "Wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions," Thoreau states.


Note the wonderfully expressive language Thoreau uses to describe the Concord men who stand around outside and gossip. Note, too, that his lively details make it very clear how little kinship Thoreau feels with his fellow Concordians.

In one paragraph, Thoreau praises the value of getting lost in the woods; in the first sentence of the next paragraph, he's "seized and put into jail." Because he doesn't prepare readers for the arrest, it jumps out in the same way it must have surprised Thoreau. Thoreau is not concerned with describing his night in jail, but he's indignant enough about the experience that he determines to tell his readers about the incident.

His intent is to show that the State is more treacherous and evil-minded than nature. After all, the reason he has refused to pay the poll tax is that he does not want to support the slavery that is still legal, even in the Northern states.

Thoreau ends the chapter by saying that he himself has so little concern for the security of his property that he never locks his door. He wants readers to notice his twinned virtues here as well as his safety in nature. Unlike the pernicious State, Thoreau trusts people and the natural world. In addition, he lacks materialism or anything of value to steal.

A small point: "The Village" reminds readers that until very recently, darkness had much more power than it does now. Thoreau tells about visitors who thought they knew the familiar way home yet became lost in the darkness and wound up drenched in a rainstorm: "I have heard of many going astray even in the village streets." Thoreau describes darkness as "so thick that you could cut it with a knife." Nights were really dark before the advent of electric lights. However, even the darkness has a bright purpose: "Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations."

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