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Wells !


Abby Wells

Mrs. Norton

AP Language

September 30, 2016

Analysis Paper

Henry David Thoreau set out on his woodland cleanse, over which he later wrote his

classic novel Walden, at a trivial turning point in his life: a point at which he devoted himself to

studying human nature and discovering his life’s purpose. Walden and the journey it depicts

document in detail the spiritual, emotional, and linguistic maturity Thoreau received from his

time spent with nature. This maturity is displayed through the novel’s complex themes of

economic independence, spiritual enlightenment, and a minimalist lifestyle. Thoreau uses his

novel as a platform to expand on these universal themes he dedicated his life to studying, and to

use his experiences in the woods as examples of the themes in action. Given the utterly

materialistic culture of the era Walden was written in, it is clear that Thoreau’s voice served as a

protest against society’s obsession with excess possessions.

Although Thoreau’s relation of Walden’s themes to experiences he encounters while in

the woods can make it seem to readers that his themes are specific to a woodland setting, truly,

the messages Thoreau conveys though Walden are universally applicable. For instance, when

illustrating the pride he took in being economically independent, Thoreau admits that he “did not

pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and

children, like cattle at the door of its senate-house” (Walden 156). Here, Thoreau is developing

and promoting his theme of economic self-sufficiency by asserting that he refused to provide
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monetary support to inhumane practices of the Concord government such as slavery. This

amplifies the theme of economic independence’s application from just one decision of inaction

made by Thoreau to encompass the entire tax paying Concord community.

Further, Thoreau utilizes his time spent alone with the environment to philosophically

reflect upon human nature and the role of divine spirits in human lives. Often capitalizing nature

in his text, stating it as “Nature,” Thoreau looked to the natural world that surrounded him for

answers to his questions of spiritual enlightenment. He adamantly believed that humans could

only strive to understand the spiritual universe that surrounded them, that human “notions of law

and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which [they] detect” (Walden 234), and

that divine beings held constant power over the lives of humans. Although Thoreau held with

conviction that human minds could not possibly comprehend the full breadth of the spiritual

world, he remained fruitful in his study of divine energies and his search for spiritual

enlightenment in nature.

Arguably the most prominent theme of Walden that sparks conversations and inspires

people still today is that of Thoreau’s ideal minimalist lifestyle. Throughout his novel, Thoreau

makes clear to readers his determination to live only by necessities nature can provide and seek

his happiness and validation outside of the possession of material things. Thoreau’s commitment

to reliance on minimal possessions arrises from his observations of men who depend so much on

their own labor or material that they become a slave to it. Put simply, after a close study of

Concord civilization, Thoreau reports, “men have become tools of their tools” (Walden 64). This

clear, concise assertion encompasses the full purpose of Thoreau in his pursuit of a minimalist

lifestyle: he wishes for himself, not his possessions, to be the one in charge of his life.
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Henry David Thoreau, through his novel Walden, which documents his famous two year

retreat into woods surrounding Walden Pond, develops and fully dissects the themes of economic

independence, spiritual enlightenment, and a minimalist lifestyle. He takes great care in crafting

his themes to be universally applicable, even though they are all evolved and detailed through

situations Thoreau encounters while in the woods. Additionally, for people in nearly every 1840s

American society, Walden took the role of a voice against the culture of material obsession that

dominated the nation during that time. Thoreau’s purpose in writing Walden was therefore

successful; just as he intended, his novel spread his beliefs throughout society as new themes of

life ready to be adopted.
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Works Cited

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden, Or, Life in the Woods. London: Signet Classics, 1908. Print.