Walden

Origins and publishing history

There has been much guessing as to why Thoreau went to the pond, E.B White stated on this note, “Henry went forth to battle when he took to the woods, and Walden is the report of a man torn by two powerful and opposing drives—the desire to enjoy the world and the urge to set the world straight.”[3] While Leo Marx noted that Thoreau’s stay at Walden Pond was an experiment based on his teacher, Emerson's "method of nature" and that it was a “report of an experiment in transcendental pastorialism".[3] Likewise others have assumed Thoreau's intentions during his time at Walden Pond was "to conduct an experiment: Could he survive, possibly even thrive, by stripping away all superfluous luxuries, living a plain, simple life in radically reduced conditions?"[12] He thought of it as an experiment in "home economics". Although Thoreau went to Walden to escape what he considered, "over-civilization", and in search of the "raw" and "savage delight" of the wilderness, he also spent considerable amounts of his time reading and writing.

Thoreau spent nearly four times as long on the Walden manuscript as he actually spent at the cabin. Upon leaving Walden Pond and at Emerson’s request, Thoreau returned to Emerson’s house and spent the majority of his time paying debts. During those years Thoreau slowly edited and drafted what were originally 18 essays describing his “experiment” in basic living. After eight drafts over the course of ten years, Walden was published in 1854[12]

After Walden's publication, Thoreau saw his time at Walden as nothing more than an experiment. He never took seriously "the idea that he could truly isolate himself from others".[13] Without resolution, Thoreau used "his retreat to the woods as a way of framing a reflection on both what ails men and women in their contemporary condition and what might provide relief".[14]


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