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Walden Study Text
Walden Study Text

Walden Study Text

Ann Woodleif and the American Transcendentalism Web has a Walden Study Text with some explanations, annotations, and food for thought about words, phrases, and ideas in Walden.

They explain well why we need a resource like theirs:

This book is not a novel, a narrative poem, or a play; there is no clear story line, no plot line. Nor is it autobiography, although much of it is based on Thoreau’s life at Walden pond. The question of its structure has puzzled many critics, with some focusing on the cycle of the seasons as symbolic death and rebirth, and others on whether it is unified in spite of the oppositions it contains. It is not an easy book for a reader — especially a first time reader — to sort out and to find order in.

Walden is a work of many gaps and contradictions, a work that seems to keep the reader off balance. Thoreau was just as interested in the process of forming ideas as he was in their final form; as Martin Bickman says, he wishes to record “volatile truths”: “Behind the structure of Walden and enacted within it, then, are two competing drives, one an immediate openness to flux, a responsiveness to a continually changing world, and the other a desire to rescue and preserve from that world something of permanent shape and beauty.” (47) Thus, for example, a chapter like “Reading” contrasts in many ways with its succeeding chapter, “Sounds.” Many chapters are paired in this way. “Economy,” then, is paired with “Where I Lived”: it speaks more of the way the entire American culture works, whereas “Where I Lived” focuses on Thoreau’s personal alternatives to the culture.  Yet it is rarely that simple, since “Economy” also has much about is personal values and activities and “Where I Lived” has much social criticism which would have been appropriate in the previous chapter.

Perhaps the most useful way to look at the form of Walden is to think of it as negotiating the cracks, not only between past and future but between all kinds of dualities: society and the individual, sounds and silence, body and spirit, form and flux, &c. As soon as you think you have him pinned down to an idea, he slips right out to play with its opposite! As Bickman says, “there are moments — moments that, with patience, receptivity, and luck, we can perceive — before spirit and matter, life and death, childhood and adulthood, flux and form split apart from each other, moments when they are not only credible to each other but embrace each other as well.” (59) It is Thoreau’s desire to create these moments, or at least arrange his words and chapters so they may spring up for his readers.

From: http://transcendentalism-legacy.tamu.edu/authors/thoreau/walden/index.html

Yes it is!! It is complex!! Thoreau was a well-educated scholar who knew Indian history and literature and religion and mythology, Greek history literature and religion and mythology, Roman history literature and religion and mythology, Chinese history literature and religion and mythology, European history literature and religion and mythology — and more.

And he used it in Walden. So be prepared for a dense read: have some tour guides and experts to help.

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