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ConnieAnnKirk
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Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

Many readers of Walden think Thoreau's experiment of going to the woods to simplify his life is a good way to "find one's self."  Others think Thoreau was a dreamer who kept no foot in reality.  Still others see him as having good intentions but being unrealistic, or perhaps even arrogant, in arguing that everyone should do something similar to what he did. 

 

What are your views about Henry David Thoreau and his experiment in the woods?

~ConnieAnnKirk




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Everyman
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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

Can one answer the question "both"?

 

One thing that struck me was that while he keeps advocating this lifestyle, he depends on others not following it.  The axe and other tools he borrowed and needed to build his home were made by people who weren't themselves off in the woods communing with nature but were mining and smelting iron, forging tools, etc.  The boards he bought weren't milled by people in huts by a lake, but by people working in sawmills.  The nails he used ... and on and on.  His ability to go off in the woods (not very far!  He only went a few thousand yards from town) depended on others who were part of a much more complex society.

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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

I wonder whether, when he wrote his journal about how wonderful simplicity is, he realized that if people actually followed his advice, there would be no one making the paper and ink for him to write it on in the first place, nobody manufacturing and running the press to print his book, and few people with the spare dollars to spend on a book even if it got printed.  His ability to get across his message about simplicity relied on a complex society making the printing and publication of his book possible.

 

I see no suggestion so far that he understood this disparity between what he preached and his ability to preach it. 

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ConnieAnnKirk
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Re: Walden: Full of Contradictions

[ Edited ]

I agree with this contradiction, Everyman!  The book is full of contradictions and invites thinking and discussion about them. 

 

~ConnieK

Message Edited by ConnieK on 09-02-2008 12:33 PM
~ConnieAnnKirk




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Nadine
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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?


ConnieK wrote:

Many readers of Walden think Thoreau's experiment of going to the woods to simplify his life is a good way to "find one's self." Others think Thoreau was a dreamer who kept no foot in reality. Still others see him as having good intentions but being unrealistic, or perhaps even arrogant, in arguing that everyone should do something similar to what he did.

 

What are your views about Henry David Thoreau and his experiment in the woods?


I recently read the book Into the Wild about a young man who was strongly influenced by Thoreau and Tolstoy. He walked into the Alaskian wilderness ill prepared and determined to follow Thoreau's advice. He died there. It is a true story.

 

There are about 50 customer reviews of this book, quite exceptional for B&N. Many of them very positive but mainly remarkable because many found his oddessy inspirational. The young man died because he was a "civilized" person trying to survive in the wild on Thoreau's model. But as everyman pointed out, Thoreau did not really have a hazardous wilderness experience. I wonder how many other people may have or may follow this model and thinking it is an ideal existence and underestimates the hazards of a true wilderness experience.

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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

Welcome, Nadine!

 

Thanks for your post.  Did you see the film, Into the Wild?  It's based on the same story, I think?  Thoreau might argue that you need to be better prepared for the experiment than perhaps this person was.  Others point out that Thoreau's certainly was not, in actuality, a true "wilderness experience."  He was not far at all from the village, and he built his cabin on land owned by a friend.  Still others might point out that Thoreau's "wilderness" was more in the mind--with a little woodsy actual experience and solitude thrown in--whereas the other man had more harsh, true physical realities to deal with. 

 

I wonder whether the Into the Wild person (sorry--I've neither seen the film nor read the book) really understood Thoreau's experiment, if that's what he was out to replicate.  It sounds like he may have missed a big part of it, or perhaps taken things a bit too literally?

 

~ConnieK

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Nadine
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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?


ConnieK wrote:

Welcome, Nadine!

 

Thanks for your post.  Did you see the film, Into the Wild?  It's based on the same story, I think?  Thoreau might argue that you need to be better prepared for the experiment than perhaps this person was.  Others point out that Thoreau's certainly was not, in actuality, a true "wilderness experience."  He was not far at all from the village, and he built his cabin on land owned by a friend.  Still others might point out that Thoreau's "wilderness" was more in the mind--with a little woodsy actual experience and solitude thrown in--whereas the other man had more harsh, true physical realities to deal with. 

 

I wonder whether the Into the Wild person (sorry--I've neither seen the film nor read the book) really understood Thoreau's experiment, if that's what he was out to replicate.  It sounds like he may have missed a big part of it, or perhaps taken things a bit too literally?

 

~ConnieK


Yes, I did see the film and I think it was excellent--better than the book. I think the young man took the model of Thoreau, Tolstoy and London quite literally, and other's do as well. He was very idealistic and carried more books than food into the wilderness (not War & Peace but other works of Tolstoy). Actually, it was quite remarkable that he survived as long as he did.

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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

Nadine,

 

My oldest son read the book Into the Wild for a college class when he was about 19 or 20, and it had a profound effect on him.  He told me the story in detail, and even though it has been a few years, I haven't had a chance to read it.   From what he told me I think that this young man was on his way back into society, but weather conditions kept him in his bus without enough supplies.  Krakauer seems to make the point that isolation is fine for a while, but people can't be truly fulfilled without the society of others.  SInce HDT reentered society, I assume he came to the same conclusion.

 

(Everyman- I heartily agree - Thoreau did not exist on his wits alone in the "wilderness" - he begged and borrowed, for there were many things he appeared not to want to do without!)  

 

Stephanie
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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?


Stephanie wrote, in part:

 

Thoreau did not exist on his wits alone in the "wilderness" - he begged and borrowed, for there were many things he appeared not to want to do without!)  

 


Oh, yes--books and pencils being among them!  Ha.  :smileyhappy:

 

~ConnieK

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goat123
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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

I agree with your assessment...II have to take a Social Justice class at school and one of our assignments is to "Live Simply". It reminded me of this experiment and how no matter how idealistic a goal or how great the outcome is expected to be, sometimes you have to live in reality. Exactly why communism did not work when it is tried. The idea of treating everyone equally may have good connotations, but taking away a persons incentive to work hard to better themselves does not lead to a better society for all. While Thoreau went into the woods for the right reasons, the fact is that he could not have survived in the woods without those products that had been made for him by the not simplistic economy.
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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

This message has been moved to a more appropriate location. This helps to keep our boards organized.

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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?

I found this interesting link talking about how Thoreau's careful and detailed observations of nature are being used even by scientists today.  (Link may require free registration.)
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Re: Walden: Is Thoreau wise or foolish?


Everyman wrote:
I found this interesting link talking about how Thoreau's careful and detailed observations of nature are being used even by scientists today.  (Link may require free registration.)

 

His survey of Walden Pond, using a simple boat and plumb line technique, is said to be remarkably accurate.

 

~ConnieK

~ConnieAnnKirk




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