Questions on First Three Chapters of Walden

[To biography, ideas on reading Walden, and selected bibliography] Why does Thoreau decide to live at Walden Pond? To answer, you need to understand he means by a "sound economy," "business," "value," and "making a living" [Theoretically, economy means identifying and ranking needs; practically, it means satisfying needs sensibly and "economically."] How does he define needs and the value or worth of something?

What sort of "persona" narrates Walden? What is the relationship between the real person and the literary persona? How is his treatment of facts transcendental (in an Emersonian sense)?

 How does Thoreau feel about the "civilized" life of his time? Are his criticisms just as well as witty? Do they still hold in any respect? What does he mean by "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"?

 Though Thoreau is very serious, he is also humorous, ironic, and an incorrigible punster. What are some examples?

Paradox is essential to Thoreau's style, e. g. "How can he remember well his ignorance-- which his growth requires--who has so often to use his knowledge?" or "What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?" or the idea that the savage is more civilized and that the rich are poorer for their possessions. Find other examples, and consider the effect they have on a reader.

 How can the "necessaries" of life (clothing, shelter, food, heat) be supplied without endangering the higher values of life? What is his philosophy on each?

 Thoreau was evidently criticized for his lack of philanthropy. How does he justify it in terms of self-reliance?

 Having disposed of practical questions and critiqued life-smothering values of his society, what is Thoreau's basic philosophy (or philosophy of basics)? What are some memorable sentences in "Where I Lived and What I Lived For"? How does he redefine awakening? morning? the news? How can he travel most by living in one place? What is his attitude toward time? What is it that he is "mining" for in his experiment in living"?

 How are books and reading important to Thoreau? How does he say his own book should be read? How do his ideas on reading compare with Emerson's in "Self-Reliance"?

 Notes: as you continue reading, pay special attention to the kinds of meanings he teases from facts the sunrise, the house, the pond, the ant battle, the loon, the railroad, beans.


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