Summary of Thoreau

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Synopsis Economy: This is the first chapter and also the longest by far. Thoreau begins by outlining his project: a two-year and two-month stay at a crude cabin in the woods near Walden Pond. He does this, he says, in order to illustrate the spiritual benefits of a simplified lifestyle. He easily supplies the four necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing, and fuel). He meticulously records his expenditures and earnings, demonstrating his understanding of "economy," as he builds his house and buys and grows food. For a home and freedom, he spends a mere $25. Complementary Verses: This chapter consists entirely of a poem, "The Pretensions of Poverty," by seventeenth-century English poet Thomas Carew. The poem criticizes those who think that their poverty gives them some sort of unearned moral and intellectual superiority. Where I Lived, and What I Lived For: After playing with the idea of buying a farm, Thoreau describes his cabin's location. Then he explains that he took up his abode at Walden Woods so as 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." Reading: Thoreau discourses on the benefits of reading classical literature (preferably in the original Greek or Latin) and bemoans the lack of sophistication in Concord, manifested in the popularity of popular literature. He yearns for a utopian time when each New England village will support "wise men" to educate and thereby ennoble the population. Sounds: Thoreau opens this chapter by warning against relying too much on literature as a means of transcendence. Instead, one should experience life for oneself. Thus, after describing his ... ... middle of paper ... ...the geese winging their way north, and a hawk playing by itself in the sky. As nature is reborn, the narrator implies, so is he. He departs Walden on September 8, 1847. Conclusion: This final chapter is more passionate and urgent than its predecessors. In it, Thoreau criticizes Americans' constant rush to succeed, to acquire superfluous wealth that does nothing to augment their happiness. He urges us to change our lives for the better, not by acquiring more wealth and material possessions, but instead to "sell your clothes and keep your thoughts," and to "say what you have to say, not what you ought." He criticizes conformity: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." By doing these things, men may find happiness and self-fulfillment.
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