Walden Plot Summary
Walden is Henry David Thoreau's account of the two years he spent living in a small cabin he built in the woods next to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The book roughly follows the seasons of the year, and uses the seasonal changes as a framework in which to talk about wealth, money, academic study, nature, and spirituality. Thoreau begins with a long chapter on Economy, stating his case for moving to the woods, not paying taxes (for which Thoreau was jailed briefly during his two years at Walden), and surviving only off what he grew on the land near his cabin. A life of simplicity, for which he argues in the first chapter, is a recurring theme throughout the book.
"My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some private business with the fewest obstacles; to be hindered from accomplishing which for want of a little common sense, a little enterprise and business talent, appeared not so sad as foolish." Economy, pg. 51
Over the course of the next 17 chapters, Thoreau considers many aspects of the world around Walden. He allows each thing he spends time examining to take his thoughts towards higher moral and intellectual standards, as well as towards a very honest and respectful celebration of nature. He is particularly excited about the character, appearance, and characteristics of Walden Pond, and spends much of the book both describing the pond and singing the praises of its uniqueness.
Not content to limit his observations to the natural world only, Thoreau chronicles his encounters with many hunters, loggers, and other manual laborers who come to the pond. An entire chapter is dedicated to people who once lived near the pond, but have since passed away. He also mentions some of his closest friends and intellectual partners, who regularly pay visits to Thoreau.
Although Thoreau places a higher value on natural observation than anything else, he also places great weight on knowledge, and thoughtful, careful intellectual argument, which he feels is best undertaken in a natural setting. Thoreau quotes from many spiritual books, including Hindu, Christian, Confucian, and Roman writings. He also treats many books on farming, botany, and other aspects of nature as if they were religious texts.
Thoreau concludes the book by writing about truth, which he feels can be found both in nature, and in people who fully live up to their potential. In addition, he reiterates his feeling that people should never presume to be important or exceedingly valuable until they have succeeded in exploring every part, not of the world, but of themselves. Thoreau says that he left the woods to explore other parts of himself.