I have been a fan of Henry David Thoreau since I was a teenager, reading bits and pieces and quotes throughout high school and college (both for classes and not). But I had never actually read Walden, despite loving Thoreau and living in Massachusetts for two years. I think, if I’m being honest, that I was waiting for the right time to read it. I was afraid of reading it and not being able to fully appreciate it. Well, now is that time.
Walden is an autobiographical account of the two years Thoreau spent living in the woods surrounding Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. It is about returning to a simple life, surrounded by nature. Thoreau declares his independence from society, and embarks upon a social experiment, and, in part, spiritual journey. Along the way, he reflects upon society, and how it has shifted away from nature, away from self-reliance, and towards a much more frivolous, materialistic, and shallow place. Thoreau explores what it means to be a part of society, without having to sacrifice instinctual human values.
I knew I liked Throeau going in, so I did have pretty high expectations. But they were definitely met! I found it extremely interesting that Walden didn’t actually change my way of thinking, per se, but it did make me a more confident about the things I believe or like. For example, I love being alone. Like, really love it. And one of my biggest pet peeves is people who talk, but say nothing. I know so many people who love talking, but never about anything beyond what they did that day, or the funny thing that happened to them that one time. If I do talk to people, I want it to be about something (I hesitate to say important) a bit deeper, at least some of the time. Otherwise, I’d rather just be alone. Thoreau really experiences this, and I have to admit, I’m a little jealous.
I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean of solitude, into which rivers of society empty, that for the most part, so far as my needs were concerned, only the finest sediment was deposited around me.
I also strongly identified with his appreciation of nature. I am not an outdoorsy person (my skin only knows how to sunburn, and I’m terrified of spiders). But, I do still have a great respect for the beauty and integrity of nature. There is a relationship there, between every aspect of nature, and we’re screwing it up out of ignorance. In this respect, as in many others, Walden is just as relevant today as it was in 1854.
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.
There were parts of this book that were a little slow, and included things I didn’t need to know (like exactly how much it cost him to build a house and get food – seriously, there are charts), but, overall, I loved it. As I mentioned, Walden gave me a better understanding of some beliefs or habits I already have – vegetarianism, solitude, and reading, to name a few – so it was kind of the perfect book for me in a lot of ways.
This is more like 4.5 stars, because there were some sections I did skim a bit – I couldn’t make myself care all that much about fishing. But the message is fantastic, and it definitely gave me a greater appreciation for nature and made me a bit more wary of society. Like I said, my mindset was pretty similar to Thoreau’s going in (which surprised me a bit), so it wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was impactful. If you haven’t read it yet, I would highly recommend it! Just go into it with an open mind.
If you’ve read Walden (or any of Thoreau’s other writing), let me know your thoughts!