analysis of the 2nd chapter of walden

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"In considering this chapter, the first thing the reader should note is the similarity between the image of the narrator at the beginning of the chapter and that at the end. At the beginning, he described the poet — himself — who had the ability to "skim off," from the landscape that which was of value to his soul. He did not buy the Hollowell farm, but he did retain in his mind the landscape; "and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow." At the end of the chapter, we find him mining reality, digging out of life those values that make him complete. Throughout Walden, we will see the narrator acting thus: approaching books, animals, sounds, and all the aspects of life in terms of their value to his process of self-growth. In effect, anything in the world exists for the sake of what it can contribute to his quest for perfection. As he states midway in this chapter, "I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life."

This chapter dramatically illustrates the success of the narrator's attempt at "mining," "skimming off," and "sucking out" that which is of spiritual value. As in "Economy," the narrator's growing state of inspiration is signaled by the songs of birds; again Thoreau's special symbol of inspiration appears as "the wood thrush sang around, and was heard from shore to shore." As the narrator bathes in the pond, we discover still other symbols of spiritual purification, that of water and the religious ceremony of baptism. The narrator is careful to make this allusion clear: "I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did." That this symbolic action takes place in the morning is also significant. As the new day is born, the narrator believes that with each dawn a new life begins for him: "Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me." The narrator believes that he daily moves further out of the spiritually asleep state that he once shared with the majority of men, the "sleepers." He is no longer like the half-thawed snake of "Economy" that slumbered on the bottom of Walden Pond.

At the conclusion of "Economy," the narrator announced that the first step to personal reform is the act of turning inward to discover one's potential for greatness. As this chapter indicates, one thing that the narrator found within himself was the faculty of imagination which enabled him to see himself and the world in a new, more spiritually perfect way — hence his discovery that his hut near the pond was actually a palace, in terms of its value to the development of his spiritual life. The most noteworthy imaginative act that the narrator performs is to create a new definition of his relationship to the world. When he declares, "Wherever I sat, there might I live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly," he is making a declaration of independence even more significant than his act of moving to the pond. He is reversing a view of man's nature which had enjoyed currency for centuries. The narrator rejects the old, specifically the eighteenth-century, vision of man's relation to the universe. For centuries, the popular idea of this relationship was that an individual was supposed to fit into his preordained place, or "slot," in the world — that is, conform to a pre-established plan for his role in life. Theoretically, this "slot" was assigned by God, who had arranged a tight order in the universe in which all forms of existence had a definite place. Practically speaking, the individual's "slot," then as now, was determined by tradition and authority. The narrator dramatically reverses this scheme by announcing that he, his consciousness, is the center of the universe. He will not fit into the world; rather, the world will fit around him. He will not exist in relation to the world; because he is the center of all existence, the world will exist in relation to him. He chooses not to fit into a particular place in life and be limited to it — which would have occurred if he had bought the Hollowell farm; instead of having his life ordered for him by the routine of farm life or the laws of society, he will give his order to his life and to the world around him. In effect, he is creating not only a new inner self, but also a new world as well, his world. By placing himself at the center of his universe, he once again emphasizes the primary significance of the "I" voice of Walden; again the reader's attention is directed to the subjective entity in the process of moving toward perfection." (1)


(1) http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/literature/Walden-Summary-Analysis-and-Original-Text-Chapter-1-Economy.id-159,pageNum-16.html