Literary Review Of Walden By Henry David Thoreau

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, there are four main themes he wanted readers to take away including knowing the value of simplicity, mans need for solitude, the importance of self-reliance, and definitely nature being complete with God. Walden is an example of a transcendentalist work which highlights the importance of nature and examining how nature works, including yourself, first hand in order to truly understand and appreciate it. Transcendentalists believe God is everything and everywhere, wisdom comes from experience and not schools, self-reliance leads to true happiness, and a humans’ intuition always leads them toward the right direction in life. Thoreau’s main themes are basically the definition of transcendentalism which allows for a clear message for the readers to understand.

Perry D. Westbrook wrote “Believing that ‘our life is frittered away by detail,’ Thoreau at Walden Pond attempted to simplify his own existence to the utmost in order to free it from the conventions and concerns that in his opinion deaden the spirit”. Walden believed simplicity was the best way to live due to man becoming blind towards the routines that modern-day society looped you into. Throughout his life he observed men working miserably every single day to barely get by and never truly be happy with the life they live. Thoreau said “Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born?” (Thoreau, I). He describes modern life as robotic meaning men are born to work their whole lives to ultimately die in the same condition and lifestyle as they began with no improvement or positive steps. In order to “fit in” with society you have to keep a certain image that the world desires, therefore making it impossible to be comfortable in your own skin which leads to self-disappointment. He wrote “But men labor under a mistake. The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost” (Thoreau, I). Thoreau describes men’s labor in society is hated because it is misinterpreted and overused along with the true meaning of human life. This modern way of life doesn’t make sense for the human body and is in a sense rejected, therefore it causes self-hate. A critic wrote “He objected to a man wasting his mind and soul in incessant labor which was intended, ironically enough, to provide for a fuller life” (Schwaber, I). To be truly happy Thoreau believed man must strip away the wants of society and experience life in the simplest form to find his true self and thoughts within the world. He described simplicity as being one of the keys to living a peaceful and meaningful life. Thoreau wrote about solitude being a very crucial part of leading a simple life cutting out judgment and/or outside opinions to fog the true meaning of happiness.

Thoreau preferred solitude over being accompanied by any man because he believed it leads to disappointment and no man values another man as they do nature which leads to disrespect. In the end, only God and nature can make a man truly happy and Thoreau believes very little men ever experience this in their lifetime. Henry Thoreau described being alone in the woods as very therapeutical in multiple positive ways. Being alone allows the human mind to be conscience of self-thought because they are lacking feedback from other men. It is normal for a human conscience to take in the information that overpowers everything else; so, when you have society yelling for you to be a certain way it makes man want to conform because it is “desirable”. It is obvious Thoreau wanted to be isolated and honestly seemed like he lost all hope in mankind. Schwaber explains that “What becomes clear through the course of the book, and what commands our respect for the man and the lessons he would teach us, is that he slowly, patiently, even arduously, attains that life he values and by which he judged the lives of his neighbors to be insufficient models for him to follow.” Thoreau decided he didn’t want to follow this same routine every depressed man in society chased because he wanted to follow his own model of life and avoid living in others’ shadows. Schwaber follows by writing “A self-reliant man can bear to be free, and only such a man is ready to love and respect other men: ‘I am wont to think that men are not so much the keepers of herds as herds are the keepers of men, the former are so much freer.’ ‘Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluous coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them. . . Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day by day; he cannot afford to sustain the manliest relations to men.’” This describes how men are so busy working their lives away that they don’t even get to enjoy life’s greatest leisure’s and moments. Men are so worried about doing their daily routine that are normal to society to have time to truly care for himself, much less another person. Thoreau constantly referenced man needing self-reliance and individualism to know his true purpose.

Self-reliance is usually when someone only depends on things they can do or give to themselves which is basically what Thoreau defines as part of the true meaning to life and happiness. He believed others will always let you down and disappoint when you need them the most which causes deceit in men. Thoreau truly wants peace and happiness in life and believes this is a big reason why he was able to gain some from it. He is however critiqued not being completely “self-reliant” due to the reasoning behind him being able to live in solitude. Furui explained “Thoreau’s solitary residence at Walden was in fact reliant on the presence of the railroad… Thoreau’s engagement with the newspaper in Walden exposes his anchorage and participation in the present time”. Due to the railroad being built for modern purposes, it helped blocked Walden Pond off from the community allowing him to have his solitude as well as he did. Thoreau also reported to the local newspapers while he was at Walden which shows he wasn’t too much against modernizations if he even cared one bit about reporting or reading the news. Even though Thoreau highly praises solitude during this time, a critic stated “Thoreau also notes his close encounter with insanity due to his solitary life: ‘Once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be alone was something unpleasant” (Furui, pg.336). Thoreau did try to give realistic thoughts of regret and didn’t try to make the world believe it was as simple as saying it and believing it. He had to have a lot of desire and urge for believing solitude will help him accomplish something he felt was necessary, especially since he regretted it and still managed to stick through it. Thoreau mentioned throughout all of Walden his drastic love and bond with nature; it is very possible Thoreau hated the thought of leaving nature and giving up on what he set his sights on more than he dreaded being alone.

One of Thoreau’s most famous quotes about nature states, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front 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, II). Nature is probably the main theme of Walden which really allows readers to understand the high pedestal and value Thoreau held it to. In Walden, Thoreau intensified nature to sound so beautiful and appealing trying to draw his audience in and persuade them to seeing his value of nature. He viewed nature as the basis for everything in life. He believed nature held significance with spirituality, body senses, health, how the world exists, and more. His views of the world by examination allow readers to believe Thoreau had some scientific theories based off his experiences with nature in Walden. A critic Sean Ireton wrote “Thoreau simultaneously worship nature as a divine entity that rises above their respective local ecologies. And each of these biotic communities, whether the forested mountains of Bohemia or the lowland woods of New England, shelters a lake that serves as a model of environmental integrity and further offers the promise of religious transcendence”. Ultimately, Thoreau viewed nature as God all together with God surrounding the world and every little piece of it individually being fully involved.

In the end Walden by Henry David Thoreau was a very great read and I highly recommend it to anyone that would like an eye opening towards self-reliance, like myself, or anyone that is just looking for something good and interesting to read. Thoreau left an impact on me throughout this whole book and really allowed me to vision the raw thoughts of how a forester views nature and how much they appreciate and value having it in life. Thoreau very much proved the more simple you can make life the more peaceful you will be because all the extra materials just clouds your time. Even though Thoreau didn’t have complete solitude, I believe he truly vowed solitude being the best thing for man to experience to find his true self and become more aware of life. Thoreau loved the thought of no outside opinions fogging his own, especially of himself. Thoreau’s’ idea of self-reliance, being important for one to not hold hatred due to trying to depend on other people, is portrayed correctly because humans will let you down if they are supposed to complete something and turn around and they don’t do it. Thoreau showed readers if you do everything on your own then you can only blame yourself if it doesn’t get done therefore there is no room for hatred. Thoreau was able to learn all of this through living with nature and not just in it like most of human civilization does. His experiences living with nature for two years, every day, all day long while working to keep his life safe and healthy allows for him to understand how nature works and gives him a very spiritual feeling while observing. His constant comments about God talking to him through nature allows readers to believe he has a close relationship with God by interacting with Gods creations. All together I enjoyed reading Henry Thoreau’s’ Walden because I really related to it and felt what Thoreau was trying to provide his readers with an understanding of the value of simplicity, as well as mans need for solitude, the importance of self-reliance, and above all nature being complete with God all around.

Works Cited

  • Furui, Yoshiaki. ‘Networked solitude: Walden, or life in modern communications.’ Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 58, no. 3, 2016, p. 329+. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A463754826/LitRC?u=tel_a_rscc&sid=LitRC&xid=4c0f41a0. Accessed 19 Apr. 2019.
  • Ireton, Sean. ‘Walden in the Bohemian Forest: Adalbert Stifter’s transcendental ecocentrism in Der Hochwald.’ Modern Austrian Literature, vol. 43, no. 3, 2010, p. 1+. Literature Resource Center,
  • Schwaber, Paul. ‘Thoreau’s Development in Walden.’ Nonfiction Classics for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Nonfiction Works, edited by David M. Galens, et al., vol. 3, Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1420040788/GLS?u=tel_a_rscc&sid=GLS&xid=76b3d771. Accessed 19 Apr. 2019. Originally published in Criticism, vol. 5, no. 1, Winter 1963, pp. 64-70.
  • Thoreau, Henry David. ‘Walden; Or, Life in the Woods.’ Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1893, p. 7. LitFinder, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/LTF3000697426WK/GLS?u=tel_a_rscc&sid=GLS&xid=8d7b8a5b. Accessed 19 Apr. 2019.
  • Westbrook, Perry D. ‘Walden: Overview.’ Reference Guide to American Literature, edited by Jim Kamp, 3rd ed., St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1420007963/GLS?u=tel_a_rscc&sid=GLS&xid=9ad3a67a. Accessed 19 Apr. 2019.
  • http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A237734007/GLS?u=tel_a_rscc&sid=GLS&xid=30fa9f98. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.


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