Thoreau\'s Walden

Henry David Thoreau was a rebel. Walden can be seen as an account of his
rebellion. By the 1840\'s, life had changed throughout New England, even in the
heart of America\'s rebellion, Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau wrote that "I have
traveled a good deal in Concord" (Krutch 108). He knew what he saw there, and
what he saw, he began to despise. "The mass of men lead lives of quiet
desperation" (111). In 1775, ordinary men had dared to take up arms of rebellion
and strike a blow for independence and freedom (Bowes 123-124). Yet, in the
space of few decades, the combined forces of materialism and technology had
subdued the children and grandchildren of these freedom fighters and reduced
them "to slave-drivers of themselves" (Krutch 110). Henry rebelled and
deliberately sought a new life in which he could be free and independent. He
decided to leave Concord and seek answers to the mysteries of life in the solitude
of the woods and the beauty of the pond. On July 4, 1845, the anniversary of the
proclamation of the United States\' independence, Thoreau went to Walden pond to
proclaim his own independence (Literary 397). If the people of Concord had been
swept up by the speed of technology and the lure of money and property, Henry
would separate himself from these attractive deceptions and seek out the reality of
nature\'s truths, and "not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did
not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear, nor did I wish to practice
resignation, unless it was quite necessary" (Krutch 172).
The quality of life throughout America was rapidly changing when Henry
cast his critical eye on Concord. Where others saw progress and prosperity, he
saw wastefulness and poverty. "We live meanly, like ants" (173).

The transcendentalists were deeply concerned about the quality of life
in America. A great tide of material prosperity, checked only
temporarily by the crises of 1837 and 1839 and the ensuing
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depression, had overtaken the country. Everything was expanding by
leaps and bounds. Virgin territories were being opened to settlement
from Illinois to Oregon. Turnpikes, canals, steamboats, railroads were
rushed into being. The fur trade, overseas commerce, whaling, the
cotton culture of the South, the factories of the North were bringing
wealth to a happy nation. It was an era of good feeling, a time when
the common man seemed to be getting his share of creature comforts.
Yet sensitive observers feared that all was not well. It appeared not
likely that care for man\'s intellectual and spiritual nature might be
submerged into the rush for easy riches. What would be the profit in
all this material advance if it were not matched by an equal progress in
humanity? So the transcendentalists pondered (Damrush et al. 6-7).

Thoreau\'s response was to awaken from the deadly sleep brought on by the
hum of the machine and the pillow of the dollar bills.

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to
count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten
toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let
your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead
of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb
nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the
clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be
allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the
bottom and make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a
great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of
three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred
dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. (Krutch 173)

Thoreau believed life to be too complicated and such things as internal
improvements to be nothing but furniture cluttering up a room. Americans were
being confused and believed the illusions of luxuries of life to be beneficiary to
their happiness, but the people of New England could not tell what an illusion
looked like. They hadn\'t the time to notice nature or to distinguish illusions from

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the real thing (173). Unlike Thoreau, New Englanders lacked "a passion for
observation" (Literary 394) for focusing in on nature. Life in New England moved
too fast to notice anything. Thoreau\'s answer to these