Three Basic Ideas in Thoreau’s Walden

By Trudy A. Martinez

The three basic ideas (Experience, Self-reliance, and Worship) in Thoreau’s Walden deals specifically with one theme: “Simplicity”.  To Thoreau, simplicity in experience, simplicity in self-reliance, and simplicity in worship breeds the finer things in life.  In contrast, Thoreau sees complexity breeding only dissatisfaction.  For example, a farmer might “get his shoestrings” [by speculating] in herds of cattle.  But in the process the farmer does not “solve the problem of [his] livelihood”, he just complicates his life more than needs be.  As a result, complexity becomes a complicated man’s tomb.

Simplicity in experience to Thoreau means learning to live without complication.  To accomplish this, he suggests, “[reducing]…things in proportion”.  In other words, he suggests getting rid of details so that your accounts can be “[kept on] …your thumb-nail”.  Thoreau says: “An honest man…  [needs only]…to count…his ten fingers, or in extreme cases…his toes”.  By operating in such a manner, a man remains in control of his own life and “life [is driven] into a corner”.  Consequently, disparity is removed from life.  Life becomes an experiment.  The result of experimentation brings experience.  Moreover, as a direct result of simplicity in one’s experience, one learns what life has to teach.

In order to learn what life teaches, Thoreau suggests one must learn to be self-reliant.  To Thoreau simplicity is a major factor in this aspect too.  Through the development of his self-reliance, he gains “the seeds of [his] virtues.  This is seen by “the results of [his] experience in raising beans”.  He did not rely on “horses or cattle, or hired men or boys” as the gentlemen farmer’s did. Instead, he loves his rows of beans; they bring him closer to nature; they helped him achieve self-reliance through simplicity.  “Daily the beans saw [him coming] to their rescue armed with a hoe . . . “.  Consequently, he gains reward for his endeavors.  As a result, the expense of his endeavor is slight in contrast to the “gentlemen farmers”.  In addition to earning enough to meet his necessary expenditures through the growth of his self-reliance, he attains character: truth, simplicity, and faith.

Through truth, simplicity, and faith Thoreau worships the flourishing life of the wilderness.  He worships by responding to nature and nature’s miracles.  For instance, Thoreau sees “Walden [as] a perfect forest mirror”.  The lake serves as the “earth’s eye”.  In the earth’s eye, the refection of both “heaven and earth” is seen through the colors of both blue and green.  He sees Spring as the season of the year where rebirth occurs.  It is as if the creator is playing around with both variety and unity.  The exposed banks of the railroad cut sport this concept.  “The whole bank . . . [was] overlaid with a mass of foliage or sandy rupture . . . the [product] of one spring day.”  As a result responding to the rapture of nature, Thoreau is affected by the scenes he sees.  The scenes cause him to feel “as if . . . [he is standing] in the laboratory of the Artist who made the world and [him] . . . ” It is as if he “–had come to where [the creator] was still at work, sporting on [the] bank, and with excess of energy strewing his fresh designs about.”

Consequently, it is understandable why Thoreau relies on “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity” in all his endeavors.  Simplicity is the means he uses to experience life.  Simplicity is the method by which he gains self-reliance.  In addition, simplicity supplies the clarity of his response to the beauty he worships in nature and with nature.  As a result, he breeds oneness with nature and sees the beauty of his own experiments.

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