I am not as familiar with nineteenth-century American literature as I feel I am with British nineteenth-century literature, especially Victorian fiction. In fact, I don’t recall studying many American classics from the era since my junior year of high school, and I struggle to name classic authors from various decades in American literature. Walden was one book I know I studied in depth in my high school class. I remember I did a group project in which we handed out fortune cookies. Other than that, I don’t remember much about Walden. When Jillian announced a Transcendentalist month (see more details here), I was willing to give this American classic another try.
As most people know, as a young man, Henry David Thoreau left his comfortable home in the village of Concord to live in the woods near Walden Pond. Walden, his collection of his thoughts about his years living a life of simplicity which he called “self-reliance,” has been called one of the greatest books in American literature. Apparently, while Emerson began the concept of finding truth within one’s self, Thoreau was one who put it in to practice in a real way by living the life. He is essential to the transcendentalist movement.
In my case, very little of Walden inspired me. I personally found Thoreau unbearably egotistical and opinionated. There were a few gems here and there, and I did enjoy the beautiful style in which he described the nature around him (to some extent). He certainly was a talented writer and a well-educated man. But I felt there were a few essential issues about his “self-reliance” that left me annoyed, rather than inspired. Because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding transcendentalism, I even found a few essays and a book about the era in American literature to make sure I was interpreting his concepts “properly.” I believe the entire philosophy is simply not one I can subscribe to, although I appreciate aspects of Thoreau’s way of life in the woods.Continue Reading