“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
One of the things I love about this project is that it is getting me to think harder about why I read and how I read. I have challenged my way through a lot of books I haven't been to excited about, not because I had to finish them, but because I wanted to. I want to seek out what makes literature exciting, worthwhile, and cherished.
My experience with Walden is a perfect example of that. I was not the biggest fan of "Civil Disobedience," so I was wary of giving Thoreau's longer work a try. And at first, I wasn't a fan of this piece either.
When I finished Walden, I again irritated by what I perceived to be Thoreau's arrogance and stupidity. I mean really, are you being self-sufficient when you aren't really removed from society? I don't think so. Being able to go buy your groceries does not equate to flying solo in nature.
But, the more I thought about the book, the more I realized that I liked huge parts of it. And while I didn't understand Thoreau, I understood what he was trying to say and why it was important. That is proof enough that I have learned a great deal from this reading project.
On to discussing Walden...
Basically, Thoreau decided to take time away from society and its restrictions and rules to live on his own in a cabin by Walden pond. The book Walden focuses on the time he spent away from society. It speaks about Thoreau's ideas on various subjects; namely he discusses economy, reading, solitude, the reasons why he tackled this project, and many others.
The book is divided into sections based on topic and he explains and expresses his ideas.
So let me talk about what didn't work for me. While I understand the ideas and theory behind the idea of transcendentalism, seeing it in action makes me scratch my head. I like that the theory focuses on individual, self exploration. As evidenced by what I do here, you can see that I am all about exploring what is important to me and hopefully using that for the benefit of those I come in contact with.
But, what irks me about Thoreau is this overarching feeling of arrogance I get from his writing. Like I said, I get and understand the idea of what he is speaking about, but I don't like being told what I should be doing. I don't like the fact that Thoreau believes his way of thinking is the right and correct way, and that if you don't agree with his ideas, you're an idiot.
No, Mr. Thoreau, you do not need to lecture the masses on your ideas in an arrogant manner to make them understandable to the common person. It is that "tone" that bothers me throughout Walden and what drove me away from truly enjoying "Civil Disobedience."
So, what did I like?
All of Thoreau's ideas.
Okay, I know that is incredibly broad, but unlike "Civil Disobedience," the ideas here really spoke to me. I could spend hours writing about each of the topics he discussed, but I mainly want to discuss the two things that spoke to me most, and they happen to come from very early on in the book.
The first was his chapter on reading. I marked more passages in this short chapter than the rest of the book combined. I really felt like Thoreau understood the importance of reading for personal growth! It made my heart so happy to see his little gems of wisdom;
"To read well, that is, to read true books in a true spirit, is a noble exercise, and one that will task the reader more than any exercise which the customs of the day esteem," (81).
Oh yes! Thoreau gets me there. I agree that reading is truly an exercise, and as I continue to move forward in my project list, I am reading not only for fun and amusement, but also for the betterment of myself.
"Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations," (82).
Who doesn't agree that books hold everything? Reading this made me also think about the changes our world is undergoing, with an influx of ereaders, TV shows stealing reading time, and less and less kids feeling the urge to escape with a book. I will never forget telling my sophomores this year about their reading assignment for the quarter and having one of them tell me that books were for old people. THEIR generation didn't need to read because they have the internet at their fingertips. I wonder how Thoreau would have reacted to that statement-to know that reading is no longer seen as a privilege or a way for families to come together at night, but as punishment and torture.
I think Thoreau's heart would break, just as mine did.
The other section I really enjoyed was the second, called "Where I lived and what I lived for." It is in this passage that we really get to know Thoreau's heart. He discusses his purpose in going to the woods and living alone, isolated from society;
"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," (72).
This passage, more than any other, really spoke to me. I actually had to set the book aside after reading this. More than anything else I've read in the last few months, this connected directly to what I feel I am doing here and the direction my life is headed. It can't be any surprise to those of you who read my blog regularly to know that I have been in a low, low place for months. It has been a battle to remind myself constantly of what I do have and what I AM accomplishing.
And Thoreau spoke to that in this passage; "...and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." I know what he means. I am living what he means, and because of this single passage, I feel like I truly understand what Thoreau was trying to do.
Because more than anything else, these Transcendentalists were trying to forge a place for themselves in the midst of society. By reflecting on themselves and who they were, they were attempting to make the world around them better, one small conversation or letter at a time.
And I hope, that by pushing through, reflecting on myself, and continuing to share my thoughts and ideas, that I do the same. And that might not happen in a physical classroom, but I can continue to push on as a person and help those I come in contact with.
Please visit this post to see more info on Transcendentalist Month and posts by other bloggers.