Walden By:Thoreau, Henry David 1854 Type:NF Philosophy
84% : Personal account of someone who finds himself set apart from conventional society in terms of philosophy. I was surpised how close his views are to mine
Review : Not the easiest to read or best prose, but some of the most amazing enlightened of ideas, which seem to be the foundation for so many modern movements such as enviromentalism, permaculture, recycling and even anti-capitalism.
meaning :The popular philosophy and lifestyle is wrong it's better to lead a simple life. Society is stagnant it's not progressing to enlightenment, when it could be.
synopsis :He lived in New England USA 150 years ago. He evolved some views and ideas completely different from those accepted by society. Mainly that we shouldn't get wrapped up in materialism, but it would be better to lead a simple life. He decided that the culture was full of BS so he retired to the woods outside of town to get away from it and to find himself.
comments : An accepted literary classic. A very respected figure among liberals in the US. The area descibed in the book has now been turned in a National Park and President Clinton open the visitors centre. He was one of the most important figures in the abolition of slavery; he wrote the book On The Duty of Civil Disobedience". He was also imprisoned for refusing to pay poll tax.

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Synopsis and Analysis

Literature experts seem to be much more skilled at interpreting the book than I am see the links, but this is my analysis
Page Point
"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"
unconscious despair is concealed"
I agree they should feel despair, but I am not convinced they really feel it.
Seems to me the naive are often the happiest
Society is mad
the old teach us nothing
If they tell you something cannot be done then don't believe them
people think there is no choice in lifestyle. "No way of thinking or doing can be trusted without proof"
"the greater part of what my neighbours call good I call bad"
Live simply
People work themselves to death. Why ! when they only really need simple stuff
luxury is a hinderance
civilisation is based largely on lies (showing off); people buy stuff when they don't really need it; so the circle goes on
WE think the Indians are uncivilised, but they all own their own homes ..the simple wigwam... White people don't understand the value of things.
Civilisation Paradox, progress has made things worse when we think it's made it better
civilisation progresses, but many people lead lower quality lives than before
men live in an "enlightenment ice-age"; so progress slowly
We should all build our own houses, cos we'd learn so much
division of labour is wrong cos we lose touch, we don't want to end up with others thinking for us
Capitalism is badly flawed There is a fundamental problem with capitalism, the best things in life are free. Students are charged for the room but not charged for company of his fellows which is far more valuable.
In the same way the hardest jobs don't earn the most.

Practice is better than formal study

Sometimes it's cheaper to do something yourself rather than work to pay for it e.g. build your house.
He says capitalism is wasteful. People take a train one hour to Cambridge, but he walks in less than a day. In fact it takes them a whole day to earn the money for the ticket so his mode is faster.
Using animals is not labour saving, cos you end up being tied to them, all your expences feeding them; just like modern men and cars.
making stone buildings is a waste of time, how much more admirable the Bhagvat Gita than ruins
Go Your own way
He doesn't believe cooperation is a good way of working.
It seems a good idea but doesn't work out. You don't have to wait for other people.
Doing good is counter-productive. for both parties
"Philanthropy is the most overrated virtue"
"the powers using it for their ends"
is this a reference to businessmen exploiting people via missionaries in the world's far corners
get up early and do stuff
96 keep life simple
97 We are slaves to capitalism
BS buries truth in society
We don't realise how little we know of the world, even though we read the papers faithfully
"shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest truths"
ignore all the BS surface gossip and find reality
Read and learn! it's very good

Books bring enlightenment especially the classics
but most books are kak
most men are ignorant
why do they ignore the ancient wisdom
It's time our villages were universities, old people the fellows.
better to spend firstly on education for all ..better newspapers, public lecturers etc
nature is nice blah blah blah
Feels no solitude cos he is communing with nature


Find yourself from inside
most men are not worth talking to


-is he getting away from society to understand himself from the inside ?, by getting away from the distractions and gossip of men.
"makes indifferent all times and places"
He seems to be conscious of observing himself from the outside
Lonelyness is not a problem
"I love to be alone"
when a farmer is working in the field he doesn't need company, but seeks it when he is finished
but the student is always working ...by thinking ..even in the evening
is he trying to say if we have a sense of purpose we are not alone
We meet too often so have nowt of value to say, so we have etiquette
he thinks we live too close But I think cos he has little experience of real intimacy; he doesn't understand it. Also at his time rural without TV I imagine life was much less lonely.


On lonelyness; doesn't get lonely, thinks being alone is better, cos we bother each other ... he talks to ghosts
Nature is good; it keeps us sane, nature is healthy
Says he is not a hermit ; he loves company !
Has many visitors but sees himself apart from other men
"I fear the man harriers, is this a reference to missionaries ?
Ecological Values
"without manure", beans seem to be grown in an organic way
Talks about planting seeds ...Sincerity, truth, simplicity, faith and innocence
but says he was unsuccessful
culture/lifestyle is wrong too much avarice and selfishness
Man robs nature. It's better to accept it. live in balance with it Wow a very early understanding of ecology
Village - gossip in homeopathic doses is good
On Law and Crime
imprisoned for a day, he would rather be wronged by society, than wrong it
no locks, not robbed, nowt to steal
cos only get robbery where no equality

governments don't need punishments,
if they respect morality the people will be moral,
if your morals are superior then theirs will bend
15 pages about his love for the natural lake.
his neighbour Flint seems to a capitalist intensive farmer so Thoreau hates him for this and not respecting nature.
trees are beautiful - (a 200 word sentence)
He finds a poor hardworking family. Poor cos they won't live simply.
Vegetarianism and simple diet
His diet is almost completely veg; not thro'moral choice, but just cos it's cheapest.
220 He didn't like tea and coffee either.
"It's the destiny of people to stop eating animals just as surely as savage tribes have stopped eating each other."
True values from experience and conscience
"Enjoy the land, own it not"
"through want of enterprise and faith men buy, sell and spend their lives like serfs"
realises he has both a spiritual and savage side
"he who is only a traveller learns things at second-hand and by halves and is a poor authority"
gave up hunting thro' principle, but

"pity the boy who has never fired a gun;
he is no more human, while his education has been sadly neglected"

you can't understand why you should not hunt until you've done it
You are not an adult until you have been thro' this experience process
even feels he should stop fishing, through conscience, but he "mainly thro' uncleanliness". It's not worth the effort for the nutrition they provide
might aswell just eat more potatoes, the butterfly hardly eats at all compared to the caterpillar
speaks extensively in favour of vegetarianism
seems to say follow your instincts not that of mankind
"the greatest gains and values are the farthest from being appreciated"
"the facts most astounding and real are never communicated by man to man"
gems of enlightenment too difficult to explain ?
"we don't need the stimulation of tea, coffee, wine or even music
but says he doesn't practice what he preaches.
who is Theng-Tseu ?
don't understand. I think he is trying to attack religion in a veiled way
when we don't aspire higher, our baser reptile, sensual side awakens.
talks about remaining pure, but we are naturally destined to be unpure
he quotes "Can use his horse goat, wolf and every beast
And is not ass himself to all the rest"
exertion is good, sloth is bad *
again critisises people who think they are good just cos they are Christian
repression - people are afraid to talk about their natural bodily functions
if we were pure we wouldn't be ashamed of ourselves
"We are all sculpturers .... of our own bodies"
I don't really understand, but ends with
"practise some new austerity to let his mind descend into his body and then redeem it,
and treat himself with ever increasing respect"
was meditating and on the point of enlightenment when he got distracted by the poet
likes observing animals
Winter. Believes that wood is one of the most important things in life.
sad story of how area in the past had residents, but now they had all died and left, and the forest relaimed all. Is he trying to say the life of man is nothing compared to nature ?
In the deep winter quiet he was visited by the poet the philosopher and others
admires winter animals
goes on about measuring lake depth.
understanding lakes helps understand man
describes ice collecting
Man is by nature good; so we don't need laws and enforcers. Maybe when he is bad everyday his goodness is not apparent; he seems brute, but underneath he is good for he is a man.
Is he saying that people would be good if we let them ?
Goes on and on about the glories of spring. Cos it's a symbol of a new beginning
Then covers the next year and a half in one year.

Page His Conclusions
340 Animals are nomadic, why not man
but he thinks it's better to travel in our minds
"Direct your eye right inward and you will find,
A thousand regions in your mind
Why worry about knowing the world when we don't know ourselves
Is this the essential point ? . He went to the forest to find himself (to understand himself better)
".. coward run away and enlist"
the bravest say no to war
the laws inside us are superior to governments. e.g he refused to pay tax to support slavers cos he opposed slavery.
didn't stay in woods cos he didn't want to get in a rut, he wanted new experience.
Normal thinking is in a rut, we must rise above it.
Follow your dreams; so learn, expand yourself and understand more,
Conformist views are not necessarily the highest. We might look down on wiser ones cos we don't understand them.
The most important thing is to be more enlightened.
don't worry about others, past or present; be the best that you can.
"Different drummer", famous quote - it's no problem to be different
See the good that you have, even if you are poor the sun shines etc.

Truth is most important, be true
People think it's beneath them to be supported by the town. So often prefer to support themselves ...by dishonest means.
The poorest can be the happiest
"Humility like darkness reveals the heavenly lights"
"life nearest the bone is the sweetest"
Calls on society to wake up.
Light can come up thro' all the BS
What is the most important is the wealth of your mind not your money.
last paragraph I don't really understand it
Mankind is so naive, we have a long way to go to the height of civilisation. Enlightenment may come even if it's buried in the remotest of places we maybe blinded by the light, but prepare to recognise it.
It's upto you dear reader ?

General Points

The text appears to be composed of 3 parts -

  1. a truly factual history of his day to day life in the woods
  2. practical advice/observations usually ecological such as it's best to eat fruit straight off the bush
  3. Truly philosophical enlightenments

Full of intelligent references ..Confuscius, Wilberforce etc.
The text is not 100% clear, nor too obtuse maybe more enlightenments are hidden inside.
Is it an exercise like travel ? He separates himself from society and so can look at from the outside.
It's not perfect : there are some contradictions * he says we shouldn't be slothful we should get up and do things, a strange contrast with him saying people work too much and enslave themselves
Is he saying that nature is heaven.

My Conclusions

WOW! I am really surprised how closely I identify with him
Yes society is mad and swamped by BS, capitalism is flawed, simplicity is good, it's best to learn from experience, charity is counter-productive, read and learn.
but I also differ from him - I don't think solitude is good or find nature as fascinating

The ideas of that he expresses in the book seem to be the foundation for so many modern enlightenents. Movements such as enviromentalism, self-sufficiency (even permaculture), recycling and even anti-capitalism


H2G2: v good intro
Walden Express very good intro and overview
more detail
gradeserver a well written summary, but I don't agree with many of their points. Itt also seems to be longer than the original book
virginia U
The Beacon Press edition very good comprehensive notes aimed at teachers
background stuff
VCU short intelligent comment
owleys comprehensive links
VCU2 online text plus notes and reading list
do a search under Yahoo groups : Thoreau (serious), thoroughlythoreau (quiet), Deliberate-Living (mainly about building huts), waldenlist

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