Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in Review

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

With this series on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, we explored some of the major pillars which upheld Thoreau’s philosophy and mode of living.

In our first post, we learned that we spend too much time pursuing ends unnecessary to our existence.

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”

In our second, we discussed Thoreau’s conviction that we must live according to our own values, wherever they may lead.

“No man ever followed his genius till it misled him.”

In our third, that when we do so, we become capable of becoming the highest version of ourselves.

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.”

And, in our fourth post, we discussed that we are each philosophers and that we demonstrate our philosophy with the way in which we live.

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates.”

Walden is a timeless tale of a man who threw off convention and lived a life according to his own principles. Thoreau stresses that our time is finite, and out of respect for ourselves, we must live according to our own values rather than the opinions of others. Our apparent similarities and differences from this eccentric are moot. Thoreau serves as a role model for each of us, demonstrating the courage and conviction to act upon our private thoughts.

“Every path but your own is the path of fate. Keep on your track, then.”

Thoreau left behind a manual for self-discovery. With brilliant prose, he showed just how easily we are influenced by ideals which lie in contradiction to our own. The pages of Walden are filled with slights against his contemporaries, and Thoreau has received much resulting criticism, but I cannot help but read his words with the distinct feeling that he does so out of a desired service to his fellow man.

The tone of the entire text can be summarized with the following:

“I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.”

A man does not write a book without the intention that others will read it. A man does not outline his rebellion for freedom without the desire for others to do the same. We each struggle to understand ourselves in relation to our community, searching for the right balance of being an individual while being a part of a larger whole. We can’t help but be influenced by our surroundings, but that influence must come with the preservation of higher ideals.

Thoreau’s life serves as an example for the struggle we all face. Whatever our woods may be, we owe it to ourselves to go exploring.

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