Henry David Thoreau begins the chapter by outlining his two year experiment. He will live at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau explains that he lived at Walden Pond for 26 months and acknowledges that it was not a permanent lifestyle for him. Thoreau stated that other have concerns about him living in the wilderness. He also noted the occasional envy from others. Later he explains the reason for his experiment. He wanted to illustrate the benefits of simple living (minimalism). (This is the main reason I have decided to read Walden; it is essentially the basic principles of minimalism.)
Thoreau tells the reader that he is recounting his experiences so that others can see the value of it. He argues that having extra possessions requires extra labor to purchase them and they oppress us with worry. This an important point that still holds true today. Thoreau even constructed his own cabin by chopping down trees to show his faith in self-reliance. It is semi-ironic that Thoreau completes his cabin on July 4, 1845, because it is the day of his own independence from social norms held in society.
Throughout the process of building his cabin, Thoreau keeps detailed books accounting for all of his debts and credits. For agriculture, he states that he invested fifteen dollars and he was able to make a profit of nine dollars. Finally, he describes the diet of corn, peas, beans and potatoes that sustain him.
Thoreau uses many different styles throughout the first chapter. First a feeling of moral gravity to detailed explanations of his cabin and then a diary entry. Thoreau has little to no transitions throughout the chapter. He first tells us that men “labor under a mistake” and then tells us that nails needed can be purchased for about three dollars. The only thing tying these various ideas together is Thoreau himself. Thoreau is content to have acquired a house for very little money, relying mostly on his own labor.
Thoreau was very brave to have lived out in the wilderness on his own for 26 months. The fact that he built his own cabin and did some farming is very impressive. I know I would never be able to do anything remotely close to what he did. He went against the grain of traditional norms. The first chapter was a little jumpy, from one thing to the next. However the text had a certain vitality to it. I can’t wait to read the other chapters! I hope you enjoyed this post. Please post your thoughts in the comments!