Notes on Walden Themes

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Walden Topic Tracking: Intellectual Space


Intellectual Space 1: Thoreau compares actual distances to intellectual distances, saying that no matter how far apart two bodies are, their minds can be in unison. On the other hand, no closeness of being can bring two arguing minds together.

Intellectual Space 2: He separates himself from his thinking mind, saying that the part of the self that is reflected inward can be made external to the self. The tasks and events of life are external to us. Most importantly, this external part of the self belongs to no one; it is entirely independent. In this environment, solitude is relative and not lonely. Society, on the other hand, is cheap and interferes with our sense of ourselves, because we do not have the space to think. We get in each other's way. We do not need to touch people to understand their value or importance to us. In the woods, God and Mother Earth are his company, which is plenty for him.


Intellectual Space 3: Thoreau begins this chapter by stating his need to be farther away from a visitor once they began a conversation together. When they had "big thoughts" during these conversations, they needed space for the thoughts. It was sometimes necessary to put the pond in between two people during a conversation. Besides which, real "intimate society" comes with silence and space. You can only be truly close to someone when you are silent together.

The Ponds

Intellectual Space 4: While fishing, Thoreau began to ponder great thoughts when suddenly he caught a fish. He describes the feeling of returning to earth from your thoughts as "very queer."

Higher Laws

Intellectual Space 5: After Thoreau gives his thoughts on higher laws and standards of being, he tells the story of John Farmer, who heard a flute one evening as he had sat down to think. The flute awakened a different part of himself than his work, about which he was struggling not to think. The flute brought him away from that sphere entirely, and he began to think about universal truths, which had the effect of "redeem[ing] his body."

Former Inhabitants

Intellectual Space 6: Many of the people in this list were former or freed slaves, people at the end of their lives or careers who were hanging on to their former glory, or people on the fringe of society.

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