Course Hero. "Walden Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Oct. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Walden/>.
Course Hero. (2016, October 13). Walden Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved April 14, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Walden/
(Course Hero, 2016)
Course Hero. "Walden Study Guide." October 13, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Walden/.
Course Hero, "Walden Study Guide," October 13, 2016, accessed April 14, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Walden/.
Of his Harvard education Thoreau once said it was "all the branches and none of the roots"—trivial subjects with no basic fundamentals to sustain them. Thoreau's themes in Walden are roots, not branches; they are clearly and emphatically stated. In keeping with his "simplify" message, he revisits them regularly and does not feel the need to add new ones. He varies the imagery used to convey the themes, but he's not fanciful.
Thoreau is strongly influenced by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance," published a few years earlier. Clearly, Thoreau moves to Walden Pond in part to become as self-reliant as he can. He prides himself for growing his own food, for living apart from his fellow Concordians, and for guiding himself by his own moral compass, not the laws of the State. As Thoreau says,
I was more independent than any farmer in Concord, for I was not anchored to a house or farm, but could follow the bent of my genius.
After following this precept, Thoreau works hard at improving his understanding of the world and what it means to experience an aware and full life. The following are central to his concept of independence:
As a Transcendentalist, Thoreau feels compelled to better himself—not in worldly status but in wisdom. When Thoreau builds his cabin on the edge of a pond surrounded by woods, it is a valuable, life-changing learning experience: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front [face] only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Thoreau argues that meditatively focusing inward allows him to elevate his life and understand his place in the universe.
Thoreau speaks proudly of other skills than just his intellect:
Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! ... Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five.
Thoreau casts aside materialism and simplifies his life with the bare necessities, thus showing that less is more. On Walden Pond, he has everything he needs and nothing that he does not need. As Thoreau rejects materialism, he can also reject following conforming social norms that go hand in hand with material needs. It could be argued that building a cabin in the woods is a roundabout way of living simply or minimally compared to, say, sitting in a rented room in a boarding house. Thoreau wants the kind of simplicity he can appreciate.
Thoreau makes it clear that he locates the divine in nature rather than in a conventional Christian deity: "We are enabled to apprehend at all what is sublime and noble only by the perpetual instilling and drenching of the reality that surrounds us." Thoreau asserts that by living in this world, in the present, rather than looking to an afterlife, a person can realize the sublime: "Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself." Thoreau's close observation of his environment demonstrates the Transcendental axiom that Nature is the eternal guide and teacher for human beings if they only open their eyes and learn. Like other Transcendentalists, he sees Nature as the great spiritual benefactor.
Ways in which nature instructs in Walden: