Overview and Setting


In Walden Thoreau records both his experiment in self-sufficient natural living and his ideas about nature, human society, and the proper way for people to live. In a series of essays, linked by Themes and the progression of the seasons, Thoreau describes building his own cabin and living alone in the woods beside Walden Pond. The result is a blend of Transcendentalist philosophy, autobiography, biting social commentary, and superb nature writing that is unique in American literature. As modern life has become increasingly urbanized, complex, and isolated from nature, Thoreau’s insistence that people should simplify their lives and interact with nature has appealed to a growing number of readers.


The Setting of Walden is integral to its Themes, although Thoreau did not set out to write a book about nature. He wanted a quiet place to write, so he secured Emerson’s permission to build a cottage on his land near Walden Pond. The pond was only a mile from Thoreau’s mother’s house and within walking distance of town. Thoreau moved there in early July of 1845.

Thoreau’s first tasks, as recounted in Walden, relate to his survival-planting a garden so that he can sell the produce for money to build his cabin, then building the cabin, and finally winterizing it. He meticulously records this work in his writing and reflects on its meaning. What evolves during the two years that Thoreau lives at Walden Pond is a book about humankind’s relation to nature, and how self-sufficiency makes individualism possible.

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