Historical Context in Walden

Historical Context Examples in Walden:

Economy 4

"be not afflicted, my child, for who shall assign to thee what thou hast left undone?..."   (Economy)

Thoreau is quoting from the Vishnu Purana, one of the eighteen Maha (or great) Puranas, a genre of ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism. This Purana primarily centers around the god Vishnu and is one of the most studied Puranas, containing controversial details of the genealogy of various dynasties. As mentioned earlier, Thoreau and other thinkers in the 19th century took a strong interest in exploring Eastern religions and philosophies.

"Bramins..."   (Economy)

"Bramin" (spelled "Brahmin" or "Brahman") refers to a member of the priestly caste of the Hindu faith. During the 19th century, many philosophers looked to the dominant religions in parts of Asia for new perspectives on spiritual enlightenment. Thoreau will later talk of the influence such faiths had on the transcendentalist movement.

"When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again..."   (Economy)

In Walden, Thoreau builds on the philosophy of transcendentalism that was most famously described in Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance." In that essay, Emerson established a set of ideals for living that combined abstract philosophy with practical advice. Walden builds on these ideas. Interestingly, Emerson owned the land that he allowed Thoreau to built his house on. The ideals that both of these men espouse in their works is for people to have unfailing trust in themselves and confidence in their abilities, preferring individuality to conformity.

"Is it impossible to combine the hardiness of these savages with the intellectualness of the civilized man?..."   (Economy)

Thoreau uses this rhetorical question to challenge assumptions of knowledge regarding behavior and the function of certain necessities. His aim is to demonstrate that the toughness of a "primitive" life can be combined with the intellectual aspects of "civilization." It is worth noting that Thoreau, like others at the time, viewed Western civilization as more advanced and intellectually superior to other cultures around the world. Consequently, many writers like Thoreau exoticized and romanticized native cultures outside the European experience.