Thesis in Walden
Thesis Examples in Walden:
" be an azad, or free..." See in text (Economy)
The English poet Thomas Carew's (1595–1640) poem "The Pretensions of Poverty" concludes Thoreau's first chapter. The poem criticizes the poor who have forgotten what it means to strive for virtue and who have become lazy in their mediocrity. Although Thoreau has called his lifestyle at Walden a kind of "voluntary poverty," he includes this poem to make it clear that he believes not all poverty is necessarily virtuous, and that everyone, despite circumstances otherwise, must strive for self-reliance and the good life.
"be an azad, or free man, like the cypress..." See in text (Economy)
In this last section, Thoreau advocates for people to find their own spiritual paths instead of relying on organized religion. According to Thoreau, organized religion focuses on consoling fears, not nourishing hope. Thoreau quotes Saadi to show how people must live as simply as nature and strive to be like the cypress tree because of its ability to live without encumbrance, work only as much as is necessary, and thrive without excess effort.
"I would not subtract anything from the praise that is due to philanthropy, but merely demand justice for all who by their lives and works are a blessing to mankind..." See in text (Economy)
Thoreau has been trying to establish the different ways that people unknowingly cause themselves harm and distress. Philanthropy, in his view, also spreads despair because one's desire to be philanthropic comes from one's own fears and pains, so providing others with help cures one of such ailments. This is inherently selfish, according to Thoreau. A better model, Thoreau claims, is for philanthropists (and everyone) to take care of themselves and spare others. This will help foster self-reliance.
"If I were to preach at all in this strain, I should say rather, Set about being good..." See in text (Economy)
Thoreau claims that charity and philanthropy are not helpful practices, stating that setting out to help others actually harms them because it compromises their self-reliance. Such a statement would earn him some ire from many due to how celebrated charity work typically is (not to mention encouraged by many religions).
"In short, I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely..." See in text (Economy)
One of the angles that Thoreau takes in his overall argument from self reliance is to prove that people work far more than is necessary or healthy. While he believes that work can provide a path to good if it is done correctly, he believes that many people work too much to support themselves for things they do not need. Notice here though that even while he gives advice, Thoreau cautions readers to not take him at his word, but they need to figure out what works best for themselves: "...but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or his mother's or his neighbor's instead."
"I found that, by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living..." See in text (Economy)
Thoreau starts this section with this time frame to provide readers with context for his argument about labor: it should not be done and loved for its own sake. Labor and supporting oneself ought not to be difficult. Thoreau wants to show readers how it is possible to work enough to support oneself while still maximizing personal freedom in order to live the good life.
"this being very nearly the means with which I started, and the measure of expenses to be incurred..." See in text (Economy)
While readers may have wondered why Thoreau bothered with such detailed record-keeping, his efforts to do this provide proof for his philosophy of self-reliance and simplicity: we can be self-reliant and live simply. The records take the abstract idea and show how Thoreau was able to actualize his plans, showing that he was able to live well and enjoy his time.
"Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?..." See in text (Economy)
Thoreau proposes this rhetorical question to further develop his claims regarding self-reliance. He suggests that if we built our own houses, we would not distinguish between work and leisure and enjoy this labor as a kind of spiritual richness. If we are self-reliant, Thoreau claims, we will be able to experience beauty of this kind.
"Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?..." See in text (Economy)
Thoreau encourages others to live for themselves, to live simply, and to rely on their own beliefs. This statement reinforces the importance of Thoreau's argument because he shows how many people see what others possess and decide that they must have the same. They do this without questioning why they need such things or the value of them, and this is what causes them such unnecessary strife.
"voluntary poverty..." See in text (Economy)
Thoreau names this way of life "voluntary poverty." Since he is looking to solve the problems of how to live, both practically and theoretically, he suggests that voluntarily living in poverty provides the best way of observing the lives of others. Hoping to have his experience at Walden Pond serve as an example to others, Thoreau hopes that his solitude and poverty will inspire others to change their lives.
"No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof..." See in text (Economy)
This line and the following support Thoreau's theme of self-reliance. He claims that knowledge from others should not be accepted as truth without rational proof, and that everyone should trust their own moral compass in determining what works best for themselves. Note how Thorea strongly advocates questioning authority, power, and received "wisdom."
"When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man..." See in text (Economy)
Thoreau has set out to provide insight into perhaps one of the most important and basic questions about human life: "What is the chief end of man?" Thoreau has provided support for his claim that the answer can be found in self-reliance and one's own moral compass rather than blindly accepting the received wisdom of others.
"All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be...." See in text (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.
"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..." See in text (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..." See in text (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?..." See in text (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...." See in text (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.
Where I Lived, and What I Lived For
"the exact state or ruin of things in Spain..." See in text (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)
Thoreau is referring to the political issues that were taking place in Spain and Portugal during the 1830s and 1840s. He uses this international example in order to further state his opinion that such news is unnecessary, like the post office, because events like this and yearning for more information on them take people away from more important things.
"and talk through a telegraph..." See in text (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)
The telegraph transmits electrical impulses through wires which are then interpreted through a communications system known as Morse Code. The telegraph was considered modern in Thoreau’s day, and the speed at which it delivers information causes Thoreau some discomfort: he wants the world to simplify and slow down, making the telegraph a modern representation of “so-called internal improvements” that “[live] too fast.”
"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...." See in text (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..." See in text (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.
"As I have said, I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up..." See in text (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)
Walden is prefaced with the line that follows this selection. Thoreau stands true to this sentiment, expressing his desire to "wake" himself in this chapter. Additionally, this sentence serves a rhetorical purpose by detailing his purpose for writing the book.
"As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail..." See in text (Where I Lived, and What I Lived For)
This statement reinforces Thoreau's claims about the necessity for self-reliance. Possessions act as commitments to one's time and can also act as a burden on one's financial status. This can lead to debt or other troubles, and Thoreau believes that avoiding such things can help one live a freer, more truthful existence.