*Author’s note: These are being published to provide students with a fresh perspective on some frequently-studied works of American and British literature. Feel free to play around with my point of view but please do not plagiarize in part or in whole. Consider my text a stepping stone and allow your thoughts to flourish in your own writing.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer,” Henry David Thoreau wrote this famous line in his most recognized novel Walden in 1854. It was during this time that the Transcendentalist movement was in full swing, and Thoreau’s wonderful memoirs easily fit into this fascinating literary category.
There are a few different elements and qualities that set Walden apart from other popular readings – both in Thoreau’s time and today. These specific qualities also put Walden dangerously on the border of either being a novel or non-fiction. It is difficult to distinguish which category would best fit this classic. Even though Walden is based on Thoreau’s true-life experiences, thus making it a non-fiction read, however the style in which Thoreau tells us of these experiences would characterize Walden as a novel. Walden does in fact tell a story – a story of the spiritual awakening inside himself.
One of the more obvious elements is found in the setting of the book. Thoreau spent two years living “deliberately” at the now famous and ironically over-industrialized Walden Pond. Before Thoreau, no other author had attempted to write a book in the same conditions he did, and after Thoreau, no one did it with the same amount of notoriety or success.
Probably the most unique element In Thoreau’s story is that he is giving is the story from a first person point of view. Thoreau explained this best by saying, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.” – an excellent point.
Thoreau uses an abundance of symbolism in Walden which helps place the reader in his shoes to help us be in the moment. Walden Pond is single-handedly the source of all symbolism which gave Thoreau his spiritual rebirth. For instance, Thoreau describes the pond’s color as being blue mixed with the yellow sand, “Such is the color of its iris.” On a deeper level this suggests Walden Pond is a large eye, similar to an Indian Bindi, with which he can look into the depths of himself and human nature. He does so many times throughout the entire book as he becomes one with nature. Also, Thoreau repeatedly writes of the purity of Walden Pond, one example being, “This water is of such crystalline purity.” It is pure because none of Thoreau’s enemies, for example, industrialization, are located within the water. Perhaps ahead of his time he can sense how industry has the means to harm both the environment and the way of life that he has come to love or even his sense of peace.
All of these elements and qualities tie into the book’s main themes, one being the transcendentalist view of the cycle of life. The cycle of life theory can be embraced by both theists and atheists as the theory suggests how nature ultimately gives birth to people and when they die, they once again become part of nature. It’s a simple concept yet a peaceful one. At Walden Pond, an uninterrupted Thoreau believed this cycle is why one should not take nature for granted, a thought commonly shared with Japanese Shintoists who are very much in tune with nature, seasons and find peace in this cycle.
Another main theme is the importance of non-conformity and individualism in one’s life. This was Thoreau’s driving force for leaving his rather contemporary, comfortable and predictable life and embracing this newfound “different drummer.”
Over the years readers and authors alike have been fascinated with Walden as his self-discoveries remain valid over a century and a half later and still gives clear insight of the faults of today’s society. This novel will continue to reign as one of America’s best literary works as long as there are individuals who understand the way of life taken from Walden Pond and Thoreau’s epiphanies stay near and dear to readers’ hearts.