Henry David Thoreau’s “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” is an example of how one person can improve the way they interact with their environment, their society, and improve their own well-being. It describes one man’s way of existing or being alive and his attempt to persuade his readers to live as he did to create a better world. Thoreau includes themes in Walden that are timeless and relevant today and that exist throughout many cultures, and different societies.
Thoreau made the decision to live in a cabin near Walden Pond because he “wished to live deliberately” (Thoreau 1028). Walden is not about Thoreau trying to isolate himself from society or becoming a hermit. He wanted to create an “experiment” to see if it was possible to live the way one wished rather than the way society expected one to live (1025). Thoreau did not live in the woods to be self-sufficient, but to be self-reliant. He wanted to learn more about himself rather than focus on the material gains of his crops. While looking at some local farms he was interested in the landowner told Thoreau, “its bounding on the river, which… protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me” (1024). Thoreau was clearly not interested in making a fortune in agriculture or isolating himself from people. Walden Pond was only a couple miles from Concord, Massachusetts and he often visited friends and family. The land the cabin sat on belonged to Thoreau’s friend Ralph Waldo Emerson (1026).
Thoreau made multiple references to the Revolutionary War in Walden which adds the theme of civil disobedience to his writing. He moved into the cabin on Walden Pond on July 4, 1845 and it was only a short distance from the Concord Battle Ground (1026). While he did not wish to isolate himself completely from society Thoreau did feel that there was something wrong in the way that people in society lived their everyday lives. He wanted to “wake” Americans up and he decided to do this by leading by example (1028). And he even went so far as to compare the cultural norm to a disease, “We have the Saint Vitus’ dance and cannot possibly keep our heads still,” saying that people were moving uncontrollably and without reason (1029-1030). He wanted to put a stop to senseless action and endeavors reveal a path towards conscious living. It did not necessarily have to be separate from society, actually Thoreau wanted to see this change in society.
While Thoreau preferred to write about America and his homeland he did incorporate some global values into Walden which are shown in his references to Hinduism Greek mythology. He quotes the Hindu triad when he says, “from the circumstance in which it is placed, mistakes its own character, until the truth is revealed to it by some holy teacher, and then it knows itself to be Brahme”(1031). Thoreau was using this text from another culture to show how he wanted to be a spiritual leader to his readers and show them the way to learning about themselves.
We are reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden because it encapsulates one man’s perception of a world that existed hundreds of years ago. While the lifestyle has changed, from the day Thoreau wrote his famous text to today, the themes and ideas still remain relatively similar. Studying this text is gaining insight from a man who views the world with a sense of purpose and that embracing the moment of time that you’re in is all we can do and all we should do. Thoreau intends his readers to come from all fragments of time and apply his outtake to their own lives in order to keep society afloat.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden: Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” Comp. Abby Goode. Currents In American Literature. N.p.: LAD Custom, 2016. 95-158. Print.