Walden Summary and Analysis
Chapter One "Economy"
Thoreau opens his book by stating that it was written while he lived alone in the woods, in a house he built himself, on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The book is a response to questions his townsmen have asked about his life at Walden, and as such, will focus on Thoreau himself and his experiences. Having seen other young men who have inherited farms enslaved and made a machine by the obligations of property, Thoreau sought to escape their plight through his life at Walden. He wanted to discover "what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life."
The narrator disputes the wisdom of old people, most of whom have not truly "tried life," and the value of tradition. A life lived doing what most consider "good" would in his eyes be wasted. Living "primitive or frontier life" will allow him to discover what he calls "necessary of life" for humans, food, shelter, clothing, and fuel, the latter three which he argues are not fundamental necessities, because the sun can provide warmth enough in some climates. Riches and possessions are responsible for the degeneration of the human spirit, and Thoreau addresses his words about their destructive power specifically to the discontented "mass of men" who complain of their lots in life.
Thoreau then recounts the cherished enterprises of his life, focusing on his joy in anticipating "Nature herself!" while working in various odd jobs out of doors. He compares his experience, realizing that the town would not vote him an allowance for his contributions to that of an Indian, who offered baskets he had woven for sale to a local lawyer and found that he had not made it worth the man's while to buy from him. Therefore, Thoreau decided to go immediately to Walden Pond, without saving money first, to reflect privately without outside distraction. In order to do so, he found his strict business habits, which require personal oversight of every detail no matter what the business, to be indispensable.
Eschewing public preoccupation with fashionable clothing, which he considers to be "false skin," Thoreau expresses his surprise that something as noble as patched clothing should be so publicly abhorred and notes his tailoress's surprise when he asked for a suit of plain and simple clothing. He finds this ridiculous when he considers fickle public propensity's to laugh at old fashions and devotedly seek new fashions, and expresses his belief that the factory system is only a way to make corporations rich and not to "well and honestly" clothe people.
Shelter has become a "necessary of life," though it has not always been; Thoreau reflects on examples of seemingly instinctual seeking of shelter, as by children entering caves and Indians building wigwams. In considering building a house that would not become an elaborate trap for him, Thoreau took inspiration from a six foot by three foot box he saw by the railroad, in which a man could sleep comfortably and compares it to an $800 house in town for which an unmarried laborer would have to save for ten to fifteen years to purchase. Most farmers in his town have inherited their farms and mortgages that go with them and are thus trapped in their slaving to pay for their houses. Others are "needlessly poor" because they compare their homes to those of rich people rather than to what is necessary. Comparing the rich to pharaohs who spent their lives building their tombs, Thoreau wishes people could live with the simplicity of the Indians in their wigwams or the early American settlers who built dugouts in hillsides.
In March 1845, Thoreau himself bought an axe and went to the woods near Walden Pond to cut down pines for timber. In these "pleasant spring days," as the ice of the pond melted and birds sang, he continued cutting wood for the house he would build. He compares a half-frozen snake he saw to men who remain in their "primitive and low condition" because they haven't been aroused by spring to rise to a "higher and more ethereal life." He becomes a friend of the pines, eating his bread-and-butter lunch in pitch-coated hands, while reading the newspaper at noon. By mid-April, he has framed his house. For $4.25, he has also purchased the shanty of James Collins, an Irish laborer, for boards which he transports to his hillside, in which he digs a cellar. In early May, a few friends help him raise his house, and after that, he boarded and roofed it. He moved in on the fourth of July, built the chimney in the fall, baking his bread on an open fire outside before then.
Thoreau suggests that if men built their own homes, as birds build their own nests, "the poetic faculty would be universally developed." The profession of architect he finds to be an unnecessary division of labor, for it is natural for a man to build his own house and allows him to think for himself. The appearance of a man's house would mean something if he made it himself and put his spirit in it; without his spirit, it is only a coffin.
By winter, Thoreau had a "tightly shinged and plastered house, ten feet wide by fifteen long, and eight-feet posts, with a garret and a closet, a large window on each side, two trap doors, one door at the end, and a brick fire-place opposite," all for a cost that totals $28.12 _ -- a lifelong dwelling, Thoreau boasts, in an era when a man would pay $25 to $100 for rent and less than the cost of a student's room at Cambridge College ($30 a year). Students would have more real wisdom if they built their own houses and tried the experiment of living rather than studying it from afar. Thoreau remarks on his own surprise at realizing he had studied navigation in college when he would have learned more if he had gone out once in the harbor. Likewise, students in college are taught political economy rather than the economy of living and thus put their fathers in debt.
"Modern improvements," Thoreau says, are illusions. A telegraph across the Atlantic would only aid in the transmission of gossip. A railroad around the world "is equivalent to grading the surface of the planet." These improvements are only comparatively good; it would have been better to dig in the dirt.
Before finishing his house, Thoreau planted two and half acres with beans, potatoes, corn, peas, and turnips. From the eleven acres he had purchased, Thoreau used deadwood from the woods, driftwood from the pond, and stumps from his vegetable patch for fuel. After paying for a team and a man to help plow the field, Thoreau ended up making $8.71 _ by selling those vegetables he didn't eat himself. The next year, he spaded only a third of an acre and realized if he grew only what he would eat, he could get by spending odd hours on it without needing oxen. Farmers, he believes, are less free than oxen. It is the oxen who have the biggest building in town, and Thoreau wishes there were as many halls for free worship or free speech.
From doing odd jobs as a surveyor, carpenter, and day-laborer in Concord, Thoreau made $13.34 during the year, spent $8.74 on food over eight months to supplement what he grew, and with the costs of clothing, his house, farmland, and oil, spent $61.9 _. From day labor and selling his produce over two years, he made $36.78 total, leaving him with a balance of $25.21 _, which is about what he had to begin with.
Through his experience of two years at Walden, Thoreau realized how simply and easily he could eat sometimes just boiling a wild herb called purslane for his dinner or some ears of corn. Even yeast for his bread, which he made of his own grain, and salt for seasoning he ultimately found to be unnecessary luxuries. Therefore, he could avoid "all trade and barter" except to get clothing and fuel. He offers his "experiment" eating only vegetables to those who believed it wouldn't be possible to survive that way.
Thoreau made some of his own furniture and got the rest for free from people's attics all together he had a bed, a table, a desk, three chairs, a looking glass three inches in diameter, a pair of tongs and andirons, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan, a dipper, a wash-bowl, two knives and forks, three plates, one cup, one spoon, a jug for oil, a jug for molasses, and a japanned lamp. Excessive amounts of furniture, Thoreau also sees as a sort of trap, which should be burned as the Mucclasse Indians do annually with their possessions, instead of an opportunity for increasing possessions, as when a dead man's furniture is auctioned off to his neighbors.
Thoreau worked for five years supporting himself by his own labor and found that he could support himself working only six weeks a year, giving himself plenty of time for study and thought. Previously, he had tried schoolteaching and trade but was unsuccessful. He values freedom above all else and found being a day laborer was the most independent occupation. He urges everyone to pursue his own particular way of living and not his parents' or neighbors'. Furthermore, he expresses his preference for the solitary life and his belief that most cooperation is superficial and only possible if a man has faith and does not depend on the ways of his community.
In response to his townsmen who have criticized his solitary way of life for excluding philanthropy, Thoreau says he cannot forsake his calling to do "good" for society even if it meant he could save the universe from annihilation and says that he is suspicious of those who attempt to do "good" for him, for it is unnatural and often hypocritical. As for the poor, he believes their problem is not necessarily a lack of possessions since he has shown he can live without them but a lack of "taste," in deciding how to spend the money they have.
In conclusion, Thoreau wishes for some straightforward praise of the gift of life, rather than overblown praise and cursing of God and urges people not to endeavor be "overseers of the poor" but instead "worthies of the world." He ends by referencing the Gulistan, or Flower Garden, of Sheik Sadi of Shiraz, who compares the cypress, the only tree called azad, or free, because it bears no fruit, to religious independents, who are always flourishing "if it affords nothing to give away, be an azad, or free man, like the cypress."
Thoreau's classical education is very much in evidence in the first chapter of Walden. He uses a multitude of classical allusions to mythological figures, comparing his neighbors' endless work to the labors of Hercules or personifying the dawn in the form of goddess Aurora. From the breadth of his references -- from Sir Walter Raleigh to Indian folktales to Eastern philosphy -- it is evident that Thoreau is an intellectually well-rounded man. This is somewhat ironic because of Thoreau's critical attitude towards education. He criticizes universities for teaching students about life when they would learn more by living life and says that young men often run their fathers into debt by reading Adams Smith's economy. Nonetheless, despite his criticism of Harvard for having considered him a student of navigation when he had never even taken a boat out on the harbor, Thoreau makes extensive use of his education through the literary, historical, and philosphical references which abound in this chapter.
One noteworthy thing that sets Thoreau's system of referents apart from other American writers that proceeded him is his reliance on Eastern philosophy as a means of considering the divine. As an inhabitant of Puritan-influence Massachusetts and a graduate of Harvard, where men trained for both the Congregational and Unitarian ministry, Thoreau was quite familiar with conventional Western religious tradition. By the mid-nineteenth century, Puritan Congregational dogma and its adherence to Calvinist doctrine, had ceased to hold a monopoly on religious life in Massachusetts. The more recently formed Unitarian Church, in contrast to the Puritans, held that God could only be understood rationally and apprehended through the five senses.
Thoreau's friend and townsman Ralph Waldo Emerson, in creating the Transcendalist movement, sought to bring a more immediate and personal connection with the divine back into spiritual life. In shaping his own particular form of Transcendentalism, Thoreau went beyond Emerson -- who saw nature as a symbol of the divine -- and claimed that the divine could be found and experienced directly through nature. Thus, his references to "Hindoo," Arab, and Chinese texts provide Thoreau with an alternate system of meaning, very different from the Christian tradition, in which man is a part of nature and in which man can connect with the divine through nature. The story to which Thoreau refers to in the last paragraph of the chapter from an Arab text, the Gulistan of Sheik Sadi of Shiraz, emphasizes this link between man and nature in its comparison of a cypress tree, seen as free because it bears no fruit, to the "azad," or free man. Additionally, Thoreau's use of a foreign language provides a symbolic means of breaking with tradition. He is creating new meanings and realities by using new language.
One recurring theme and image throughout this chapter is that of the slave. Repeatedly, Thoreau makes reference to men trapped and enslaved by their employment or possessions. Images like that of the poor man carrying all his possessions on his back or the wagonloads of furniture which look poor even when they belong to a rich man repeat throughout the chapter and illustrate Thoreau's emphasis on economy through simplicity. The image of the slave was particularly powerful in Thoreau's time, when the debate about slavery in the South was continually escalating and during which the abolitionist movement was powerful in Massachusetts. Thoreau's suggestion that people stop arguing about Southern slavery and consider how a Northern man enslaves himself is primarily a rhetorical move, meant to emphasize the spiritual enslavement all people face and not to de-emphasize the horrors of slavery. Thoreau, in fact, would go on to write an abolitionist tract and to speak out in defense of John Brown.
The dawning of the Industrial Revolution influenced Thoreau's opinions regarding society and civilization. Another theme that recurs throughout this chapter is that of the contrast between simple, "primitive" ways of life and the modern day-to-day life of Concord. Indians, Egyptians, Sandwich Islanders, and at times, even the Irish all at times appear as representations of a new version of the noble savage. On a pragmatic level, Thoreau uses them as examples of those able to live only with the "necessaries of life" and uses the ability to go without clothing, or furniture, or elaborate shelter as an example for those of his townsmen who are enslaved by theirs and feel them to be a necessity. Thus, Thoreau attempts to combat the negative influences of the Industrial revolution -- such as factory-produced clothing or houses built and designed by architects, neither of which have a meaningful connection to an owner who did not engage in their creation -- by absenting himself from society and thus discovering apart from influences and values that are not his own.
Some detect a thread of egotism in Thoreau's work, especially in this chapter, because of his constant references to himself and his observations. In reading it, we must remember that Thoreau's books began primarily as a series of journals he kept for himself. What's more, he addresses this narrow focus at the start of the chapter by noting that it is necessitated by the narrowness of his experience. It is also important to remember that Thoreau attempts life at Walden as an experiment and does not promote it as an example to necessarily be mimicked by others. Rather, he urges others to follow the example of his aims, to seek to know themselves, not to simply follow his behavior. At the start of the book, he makes it known that he is publishing it in response his townsmen have asked about his life in the woods. Though his book is well-known today, his thoughts and behavior were quite radical for his time, directly confronting and questioning the cherished traditions of New England and American life and seeking answers on a wholly different plane of meaning.
Chapter Two "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For"
Thoreau speaks of how he has often imagined any spot he sees as the site of a house and imagined purchasing all the farms in his area, about which he knew so much his friends considered him to be a real estate agent. He has gone so far as to imagine where he would place orchards and pastures, what trees to keep and to cut, and what different seasons would be like in each house. Once, he almost bought the Hollowell place but the owner's wife convinced him not to sell it at the last minute. The owner offered Thoreau ten dollars to make up for it, but he did not accept it, reasoning he was freer with the ten cents he had and no farm.
Most farmers fail to understand what poet's get from farms. Thoreau was attracted to the Hollowell farm because of its seclusion, its proximity to a river, its dilapidated condition, and fields of hollow apple trees. He wanted to buy it before the owner fixed it up and ruined it -- "for I knew all the while that it would yield the most abundant crop of the kind I wanted, if I could only afford to let it alone." Though he's always grown a garden and had seeds ready for a farm, he thinks being tied down to a farm is tantamount to being in jail. He is more pleased to consider the place than to own it.
In describing his experience at Walden, Thoreau says he will condense two years into one for convenience. He reminds the reader he is not writing "an ode to dejection" but is "brag[ging] as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up."
By coincidence, Thoreau moved into his house on July 4, 1845, and found it fit to entertain a god or goddess. Before that, the only "house" he had owned was a boat, now gone, and a tent, rolled up in his garret. He has the outdoors air in his house and birds as neighbors. The house is above a pond a mile and a half south of Concord village, in woods between Concord and Lincoln. The house is so low, he can only see the opposite shore of the pond from it, but from up on a hill over the lake, where some trees have been cut down, he can see green hills nearby, further ones tinged with blue, and blue mountains distant in the northwest. From his door, Thoreau can only see a pasture, but it is enough for his imagination, which allows him to live in all different places in history and the universe.
A "worshipper of Aurora," Thoreau rises at dawn and swims in the pond. The morning reminds him of heroic ages and encourages him to truly awaken. He attributes men's lack of intellectual exertion and poetic or divine life to "drowsiness" that few can shake. "To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake." Thoreau believes we should endeavor to be awake because in doing so, we can create the "atmosphere ... through which we look" and make life beautiful.
Thoreau says, "I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I coudl not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." He wants to know life's true meanness or true sublimeness and give a true account of it, not be like men who live in uncertainty about the meaning of life. Here, he urges "Simplicity! Simplicity! Simplicity!," telling people to simplify their affairs and arguing that so-called "improvements" like railroads, which make life too fast and superficial. Here, with a play on words, he compares the "sleepers" on the railroad to the men who work on it, who are "sleepers" because they are not awake enough to appreciate life.
Thoreau wonders why people need to live with such hurry. He thinks that if he rang the bell for a fire in town, people would come rushing from miles around, not to save the burning property but really to watch the fire. Thoreau also sees no point in reading the newspaper, in which the same stories are told time and again with new details, and considers it gossip. He says he has never gotten anything worth the postage from the post office either.
Men should observe only reality, which is far more fabulous than the illusions they think are truth. Instead of perceiving unhurried, men give in to the illusion of routine and habit. New Englanders lead "mean lives" because their "vision does not penetrate the surface of things." If they were to truly describe any building in the town, no one would recognize it. Rather than thinking the truth is somewhere far away and distant in time, recognize that "God himself culminates in the present moment."
Thoreau urges everyone to "spend one day deliberately as Nature" and to push through all outer appearance and poetry and philosophy and religion all the way down to the hard ground of reality, to find out if it is life or death and really feel it. Considering the shortness of time in the course of eternity, he regrets the way his intellect has separated him from reality and hopes his instinct will lead him to it.
Thoreau reaches deep into the Transcendentalist philosophy in this chapter. In making such bold pronouncements, he is wise to shy from being deadly serious. In a sentence which in some editions appears as an epigraph before the text of the book, he emphasizes he is not writing "an ode to dejection" but instead crowing like a rooster to wake his neighbors up. In doing so, and in criticizing their accepted and unquestioned ways of living, he employees a dry humor, characterized by understatement, as when he says, "nothing new ever does happen in foreign parts, a French revolution not excepted."
The juxtaposition presented in the title of the chapter, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For," provides an excellent clue as to Thoreau's philosophy. For him, the physical circumstances of life an intrinsically and inescapably tied to a person's spiritual life. The appearance of his cabin, its size and furniture, even its placement on the shore of the pond all contribute to his spiritual awakening. Because of this connection between one's physical and spiritual life, Thoreau's retreat to the shore of Walden Pond is necessary; and it is because of this that he urges his townsmen to likewise reconsider their physical circumstances.
Thoreau's emphasis on the dawn in this chapter continues the theme of rebirth established in the first chapter. In that chapter, he described a snake, left "torpid" by the cold of the winter and only gradually awakening as the weather thawed. That snake was a symbol for the "sleeping" men who are likewise unaware of their surroundings and immobile in combating the chains of routine and tradition. It is noteworthy that Thoreau begins building his house, the physical counterpart to his spiritual awakening, in the winter, and does not move into until summer, when nature and his spiritual self is in full life. Both here and in the first chapter, Thoreau appeals to Aurora, goddess of the dawn. The dawning of the day comes to be a metaphor for the dawning of spiritual enlightenment and self-knowledge.
Sight is also another theme in this chapter. Thoreau compares the views from the lakeside hill and from the front of his cabin. From the hill, he can see all the way to the mountains in the northwest. From his cabin, his only physical vista is a pasture but with his imagination, he can see to the furthest reaches of history and the universe. Thus, it is important to emphasize that Thoreau's "reality" is not a historical or factual concept. The illusions of which he speaks are not creations of his imagination. Rather, he considers things like religion and philosophy to be illusory because they limit and distort a person's immediate experience of himself in the world.
The theme of sleep plays an important role here. Thoreau elevates the word sleeper to a symbol, comparing men who labor without thinking to the pieces of iron that gird a railroad. This use of sleep and awakeness as a spiritual metaphor has a long history, especially in the writings of New England. The Great Awakening, of course, was the name given to the Puritan religious resurgence of the late seventeenth century. Thoreau here attempts to rewrite and undo that awakening, to free New Englanders from the shackles of thought forged by traditional religion and to awaken them to a more spiritually fulfilling reality.
Chapter Three "Reading"
Thoreau believes that if men were more deliberate in choosing their pursuits, they would all become students and observers, because that is in their nature. When he reads an ancient philosopher, it is as if no time has passed, because truth is immortal.
He finds Walden a better place to read than a university. During his first summer, he didn't have much time to read because he was busy planting his bean crop, but he kept the Iliad on the table and sometimes flipped through it. The thought of having time to read it in the future sustained him. He also read a few shallow travel books but afterwards felt ashamed of having done so.
Even with the many translations of heroic and ancient epics, modern man is still placed at a great distance from the language of ancient times. Thoreau believes it is worth learning even a few words of an ancient language as a means of inspiration to transcend everyday life. The classics, "the noblest recorded thoughts of man," must be read deliberately.
There is a difference between spoken language, "the mother tongue," which is brutish and unconsciously learned, and written language, which Thoreau calls "the father tongue," which must be learned with maturity. Even at the time in which the classics were written, many of the common men who spoke the language in which they were written would not have truly understood them. Now only a few scholars do. Just as the orator speaks to the few people in the mob who truly understand him, the writer speaks to the few people across time who do.
Thoreau finds it fitting that Alexander the Great carried the Iliad with him in a "precious casket" because books are more universal than all other works of art. They can continually be translated and "breathed from all human lips" and are therefore "the work of art nearest to life itself." That is why they are kept in every cottage and are read by rich men striving for the "inaccessible circles of intellect and genius" when they retire.
Only the great poets and not the majority of mankind can truly read and understand the works of the great poets. Most great books "have only been read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically." Most people learn to read only for convenience. They feel satisfied with one great book, the Bible, and then waste their minds with "easy reading" mindless reading of novels and other unoriginal tales that Thoreau compares to a four-year-old with a copy of Cinderella.
Most of the so-called educated men in Concord don't even read the classics of English literature. They are like a French-Canadian woodchopper Thoreau knows who reads a French paper to keep up his knowledge of French only these college-educated people read English papers to keep up their English. Most men don't even know that sacred scriptures of other traditions than the Judeo-Christian exist and so forego great insight and knowledge. Thoreau wishes to know more educated men than these and compares having a copy of Plato's Dialogues on the shelf but not reading it to having a neighbor he never sees or hears him speak. "We are under-bred and low-bread and illiterate," he concludes.
There are probably books that would speak directly to these people's condition and explain and reveal miracles to them if they would read them. The village of Concord provides well for the education of children but accept for a Lyceum that is open in the winter, does nothing for the education of adults. Thoreau wishes to seethe village become a university, with the elder inhabitants as the fellows. He wishes to see the village take up the role nobility did as patron of the arts in Europe but people see spending money on something far more important as farmers and trade as utopian.
The town has spend seventeen thousand dollars on a townhouse, but Thoreau thinks that the hundred and twenty-five dollars spend on the Lyceum each winter to be its best investment. Nineteenth century New England has the ability to choose not to be provincial to skip the building of one bridge and force people to walk further to get around and have the ability to "throw one arch at least over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us."
In this chapter, Thoreau introduces the theme of immortality through literature. At first, he suggests the immortality of ideas and ideals of truth through literature. However, his invocation of individual writers, particularly Homer, author of the Iliad, immortalizes the human being in print. Thus, Thoreau implies the possibility of immortality for himself. If Homer can be made to live again when his words are read aloud, perhaps Thoreau can gain a degree immortality through his published words. In the nineteenth-century, traditional Christian beliefs regarding the afterlife had begun to crumble especially for people like Thoreau, who had sought alternate paths to spirituality. Faced with the death of his brother, Thoreau would have had to evaluate his own mortality and beliefs regarding life after death. Therefore, Walden is in part an attempt to immortalize himself through writing.
The final lines of Thoreau's reflections on reading have a counterpart in "Dover Beach," a poem by English poet Matthew Arnold, published in 1851, three years before Walden. Arnold too references classical writers particularly Sophocles in his lamentation of the loneliness born of a loss of faith, concluding, "And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night." For writers in the Victorian age, the loss of (Christian) faith provoked severe questioning of the individual's place in the universe. Both Arnold and Thoreau seek to align themselves with classical writers as a means of reestablishing stable roles for themselves in a changing, and seemingly chaotic, society. Whereas Arnold simply laments the growing darkness and confusion brought about by ignorance, Thoreau is more optimistic in proposing a solution to it reading.
Metaphors of stars and astronomy are prevalent in this chapter. Stars, in antiquity, were symbols of the unknown and of divinity. There are also eternal and unreachable. Thus, they provide an apt symbol for classic literature, which Thoreau perceives as elevated above the common world and possessing a meaning unattainable by the masses. Twice, Thoreau suggests the "great poets" who can really understand the meaning of this literature are astronomers, with the ability to accurately interpret the stars, while the common people are astrologers, who recognize some meaning in the stars but project false meanings onto them.
In making this assertion about great literature and the common reader, Thoreau risks charges of elitism. Without stating it, he implies that he understands great literature and therefore by his logic must be a "great poet" when his townsmen do not. According to later developments in literary criticism, such as Deconstructionism, which suggests there is no single stable meaning in a text, the "astrologers" who find their own meanings in the classics may be making as valuable readings of the classics as the "astronomers" who understand their "true" meaning. (Of course, it is quite possible that Thoreau would perceive these developments in literary criticism as evidence of growing ignorance in so-called intellectual circles.) However, it is very important to remember that Thoreau ultimately suggests that increased education of adults and more "deliberate and reserved" reading would allow all people to connect with the classics and thus become enlightened.
Another metaphor Thoreau employs in this chapter is that of "the veil." "The oldest Egyptian or Hindoo philosopher raised a corner of the veil from the statue of the divinity," Thoreau says, "and still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon a fresh a glory as he did." The idea of a veil of ignorance that exists between human perceptions of the world and between divine truth have their origins in St. Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 13: "For now we see as through a glass darkly but then face to face." For Paul, as an early Christian theologian, true and clear sight would only come when the resurrected soul came into contact with God after death. Thoreau, coming from Puritan New England, would of course be familiar with Paul's words. However, in the Unitarian belief system, human beings could only perceive the divine through their senses. Thoreau, as a Transcendentalist, suggests a more spiritual, immediate ability to recognize and connect with the divine, not intellectually but emotionally, through reading the classics.
Walden Essays and Related Content
- Walden: Major Themes
- Walden: Essays
- Walden: E-Text
- Walden: Questions
- Walden: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Henry David Thoreau: Biography
- Walden Summary
- About Walden
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1-3
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10-12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-15
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-18
- Related Links on Walden
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources