Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Brief Review of 'Walden' by Thoreau

Finally finished it. Holy crap it feels like it took forever to read.

We're talking 'Walden', written by Henry David Thoreau, published in 1854.
It is required for a political science course on American political thought. Not a bad class overall, but heavy on the workload when it comes to reading requirements.

So, we read it. Much like any other classic literature, while a recognizable name, we remained unfamiliar with the works of Thoreau. It's hard to say if we're any better off for having read it.

He's got some really good philosophies, honestly - if you care to pick them out between all the incessant meanderings. For instance, pages of descriptions of things like him sitting on a stump or log in the forest watching two types of ants (one red, one black) fighting to the death, or him chasing a loon around a lake in a boat, and him basically being a self-righteous ass to his poor (as in money poor) neighbor.

It's probably not recommended for people who have a difficult time reading what amounts to 1800's "poetic" and high-flown writing, or those with a short attention span.

The important things he does talk about though, like that the desire to accumulate things makes you a slave and imprisons you, are surely revolutionary for his time; and perhaps even now to people who have never thought about it. He goes on to say that without that desire, that desire to have "stuff", and by living an honest life, secured with the basic necessities of life: basic food, shelter, clothing and fuel, free of excess and needless material possession, only then can you be free, and have freedom to be creative and live a more natural life, and not be caged and enslaved by yourself.

If anything his work is also meant to illustrate the necessity of self-discovery through inner reflection, critical evaluation of the world around you, and the importance of time alone unburdened by obligations. Which, as you can imagine, is a philosophy we've come to appreciate, and continue to strive for, for its mental health benefits alone.

He managed to gain clarity in a mundane day-to-day life, intentionally reserved to a 10' x 15' structure in the woods, thinking about the world in which he lived, shut off from most of society for the better part of two years. If only he could have boiled it down, tossed away the flowery attempts at poet-speak that come with waxing philosophic in his time, and removed the occasional sanctimonious undertones. If he'd just gotten to the dirt of it, it would have been more to the style of what he went about preaching in 'Walden'.

But it is Thoreau. Who are we to criticize him. Everybody is supposed to praise him, no? That's the way it works with esteemed authors of the past (who couldn't manage to get many people to buy their writing in their own time), right? *shrugs*

Reading it was a lesson in...perhaps determination. We could have easily skipped it and just listened to the lectures about it, but it would have felt wrong.
And hey, at least we got a good Tweet out of the experience. ;-)


  1. I love the principles of "Walden", not so much the drudgery of "Walden". And isn't it so ironic how a piece of literature that thematically emphasizes simplicity and a nakedness of life is so heavy-laden in verbiage? Ugh.

    And why doesn't anyone ever mention that our Henry David always went home to Mother for dinner almost every evening?!!?

  2. Yeah, he conveniently left out the part where he was just a spoiled privileged prat belittling people, all the while being able to return to a job and complete comfort. He had so many astute ideas though.