Walden Analysis

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Thoreau begins by matter-of-factly outlining his two-year project at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts (on land owned by his spiritual mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, although Thoreau does not mention this detail). He says he lived there for two years and two months, and then moved back to “civilized society”—thus acknowledging right away, and quite honestly, that this was not a permanent lifestyle choice, but only an experiment in living. He describes the reactions of people to news of his project, noting their concern for his well-being out in the wilderness, their worry about his health in the winter, their shock that anyone would willingly forsake human companionship, and occasionally their envy. Thoreau moves quickly to the moral of his experiment: to illustrate the benefits of a simplified lifestyle. He tells us he is recounting the rudimentary existence he led there so that others might see the virtue of it. He argues that excess possessions not only require excess labor to purchase them, but also oppress us spiritually with worry and constraint. As people suppose they need to own things, this need forces them to devote all their time to labor, and the result is the loss of inner freedom. Thoreau asserts that, in their own way, farmers are chained to their farms just as much as prisoners are chained in jails. Working more than is necessary for subsistence shackles people. Faced with a choice between increasing one’s means to acquire alleged necessities and decreasing one’s needs, Thoreau believes minimizing one’s needs is preferable by far. Thoreau identifies only four necessities: food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. Since nature itself does much to provide these, a person willing to accept the basic gifts of nature can live off the land with minimal toil. Any attempt at luxury is likely to prove more a hindrance than a help to an individual’s improvement. Thoreau describes the construction of his small house as an application of his faith in simplicity...
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