Quotes in Walden

Quotes Examples in Walden:

Economy 9

"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.

"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things..."   (Economy)

Here again Thoreau emphasizes simplicity over progress by stating that the items we create are less likely to truly serve us spiritually and enable us from leading the good life.

"All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be...."   (Economy)

Part of establishing his view of what a good life entails involves criticism of society. In this passage, he has targeted clothing as a representation of how society's social restraints cause more harm to those within it. Slavishly following new fashions, Thoreau claims, is one of the problems that so many people face in society because it takes them away from their true selves. Clothing emphasizes social differences and exacerbates financial difficulties. This creates distance between their inner self and desires.

"A man who has at length found something to do will not need to get a new suit to do it in; for him the old will do, that has lain dusty in the garret for an indeterminate period..."   (Economy)

Thoreau claims that Clothing does far more harm than good; many people fear that they will be judged on the basis of their clothing. He says that this worry makes pristine clothing more valuable than a clean conscience. In this passage we see Thoreau propose that people should choose their clothing based on utility and simplicity rather than fashion. These claims not only support his theme of seeking the Good Life, but they also support the theme of preferring simplicity over so-called "progress."

"My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be hindered from accomplishing which for want of a little common sense, a little enterprise and business talent, appeared not so sad as foolish..."   (Economy)

Thoreau most clearly states his purpose in this first section. Having explained much of the theory behind Walden and his motivations, he now asserts his claim that his time in the woods served a transactional purpose; that is, to provide him insight into the philosophical and practical necessities of humankind.

"With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor..."   (Economy)

Thoreau begins to advocate here, and throughout Walden, for the value of simplicity in achieving what he will call the "Good Life." This statement exemplifies this idea, that the wisest of people have even less than the poor. Thoreau arrived at this statement by saying that all of the luxuries of life do more than their basic function; rather than keeping us warm, they "cook" us. This fire metaphor describes how damaging Thoreau believes unnecessary things to be to the well-being of humankind.

"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.

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation...."   (Economy)

According to Thoreau, the quiet desperation that afflicts so many people occurs because they have forgotten that they can choose how to conduct their own lives. He builds on this claim shortly by saying that people trust the wisdom of older generations, but that received wisdom doesn't apply to everyone. Being open to change and finding the right way to live for oneself is paramount to Thoreau's views.

"What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate...."   (Economy)

Thoreau claims that many people needlessly work to the point that they cannot enjoy life. He specifically addresses the poor in this passage and compares worrying about one's debt and fear of money to slavery. Claiming that "self-emancipation" is necessary, Thoreau states that self-reliance and simplicity are ways to achieve this. These calls also reveal his criticism of the nature of work for many, establishing that people must rely on themselves and their self-perception to better understand life's purpose.

"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...."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

Thoreau extends one of his main claims in Walden in this passage: simplify life in order to better it. Thoreau spends much in “Economy” on what is necessary and what is extraneous. Here, he reaffirms his commitment to the simply life with a memorable, and quotable, statement.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

This statement and paragraph captures the very essence of Walden, particularly considering what Thoreau sought to find there. It builds on the foundation he established in "Economy" and combines those notions with the power of Nature and the importance of self-reliance. Characteristic of his style, it includes many metaphors because (as we've seen is often the case with Thoreau) he cannot quite express his wishes directly, preferring to have his readers come to their own understanding through his experiences.

"The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it..."   (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)

This quote speaks volumes to Thoreau's intention in writing Walden. The meaning of "morning" should be carefully considered, as the metaphor Thoreau invokes here reinforces why he went into the woods to live at Walden Pond: to discover self-reliance, and to be closer to nature.