As my journey through Walden progresses, the literary vs. ecological vs. sociopolitical paradigm continues to shift. There are times Thoreau focuses on the poetry and life of nature. For example in the chapter “The Ponds” where he describes Walden pond as “much more beautiful than our lives”. Subsequently, in “Baker farm” he spotlights the lower-class and their oppression from society. Although Thoreau connects these three motifs throughout his project, the overarching theme of each chapter is clear. It’s becoming evident that Walden was not simply created to document one man’s journey into the woods, but rather a collection of struggles during Thoreau’s life and how his physical isolation differs from society’s mental isolation.
Thoreau gives readers glimpses into society throughout the entirety of Walden. He describes them as empty minded and soulless. In the chapter “The village” he tells us one of the few reasons he goes into town is “to hear some of the gossip which is incessantly going on there”. It’s like Thoreau is saying everyone acted and thought the same way. Perhaps they were trapped in these cyclical ways of thinking, and even though they were surrounded by others, there was no uniqueness thus cementing the idea of mental isolation.
Not wanting to be in this type of isolation, Thoreau left society by physically removing himself from the situation. Later in “The village” Thoreau describes the spirituality of physical isolation when walking back from town in the darkness. He says, “through being lost, one truly comes to understand oneself and the infinite extent of our relations”. He uses the walk away from town to symbolize his distance from society, and how as that distance grows he finds out more about himself. When we are alone to ourselves our only company is our thoughts. There is no one to entertain or impress and in those moments we see who we really are. When we are pressured to mold our beliefs we lose pieces of ourselves.
“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Although I have read excerpts of Walden before, my reflection was focused solely on the environmental aspects of the story. Upon reading again, I have found this project is more than the ecological setting in which he writes. Walden touches on classism in the chapter “Baker farm”, the mediocrity of society and ascribing to some higher purpose. The way in which you approach the book greatly determines the attitude you receive from the writer.
In my previous blog post, I reticule Thoreau for his hypocrisy, and although I have not completely let go of this opinion, I’ve found the later chapters spiritual and political pull captivating. I have started applying his words into my life and through our contrasts I have found respect for his ‘courage’. Walden is a journey of self-reflection that makes the reader meditate on their own priorities.
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”