Thoreau And Transendentalism Essay, Research Paper
The mid-eighteen hundreds, 1820 – 1850, witnessed the birth of modern America. In
what was called the New Order America underwent several changes, both as a nation and
as a society. The introduction of capitalism and industry transformed America into an
aggressive, expanding nation constantly in search of a profit. A competitive and
fast-paced society sprang up. Rooted in materialism and self-interest, Americans became
driven to posses as much as possible. Their lives evolved into a less personal, less
orderly, future oriented blur. All these rapid changes were at times hard for the individual
to accept. Soon, people searched for methods to cope with these drastic changes in their
culture. Transcendentalism emerged as a new way of thinking, moreover, a search for a
?higher? level of life. Henry David Thoreau, a student of Harvard University and later a
journalist, emerged a great transcendental man of this time period. While on a contract to
write a book, he went to Walden Woods in Concord, Massachusetts and lived in rebellion
from the confusion of this tumultuous society where individualism and thought were
slowly decaying. Although people have interpreted it in many different ways, Thoreau?s
experience at Walden was a definite attempt at a monastic lifestyle, providing him with
order, freedom, and simplicity.
While at Walden Thoreau witnessed the establishment of an order in his daily life
closely affiliated with nature. Each morning he awoke early and bathed in the pond. He
referred to this as a religious exercise, and one of the best things he did while at Walden
Pond. Early in the day, while the dew was still on the ground, Henry tended to his nearby
field of beans – pulling the weeds first and hoeing the beans later. He referred to this
practice of tending to his bean field as his attachment with the earth, his curious labor all
summer. After his work in the field was done for the day Henry would go into town and
visit with his friends and family. In the warm evenings he frequently sat in his boat
playing the flute and listening to the sounds of the encircling forest. As his thoughts
would drift he would hear a sound on the water or feel a vibration on his fishing pole that
would bring him out of his dreams and link him once again with nature.
Henry?s involvement with nature played a very important role in his life at
Walden, giving him an immense sense of freedom. Henry says, ?I sat in my sunny
doorway from sunrise ?till noon…in undisturbed solitude and stillness.?(77) This is the
life he wished to live, not one of commitments and hassles. He believed that a man
should ?…as long as possible live free and uncommitted.? Society taught its people to
live their lives by greedy capitalistic principles, waking up in the morning and hurrying
off to work at the factory in order to acquire more possessions. This is what Thoreau was
escaping from, this is what he was freed of in the woods.
What Walden Woods did most for Thoreau was it granted him with a simplistic
lifestyle. ?Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say let your affairs be as two or three, and
not a hundred or a thousand…? ?Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?
We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.?(64,63) Henry was opposed to
the fast-paced lifestyle that emerged in society. Instead of being caught up in this
senseless drama he searched for a life free from all that which was not necessary. Henry
wanted to live a life with only the bare necessities so as to experience it in only its
essential elements. Being out in nature provided him with this sense. At Walden he had
a little world all to himself. He answered to no one, had no responsibilities, it was just his
shack, his bean field, his book and nature.
?I went to the woods because I wished 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.?(62) While in the woods at Walden Pond,
Thoreau truly did lead a monastic lifestyle. He had a life of order. He got up in the
morning and went swimming, he hoed beans in the afternoon, and he enjoyed the pond at
night. He had freedom from society. Living in the woods, he escaped the hassles of a
society taught to fill the shoes of capitalism. Also, he enjoyed a very simple lifestyle.
Living side-by-side with nature, he lived life down to its bare necessities, answering only
to himself. All these things gave him a new outlook on life, a new sense of direction, and
a new set of values – it?s almost as if he was a monk.