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Walden Study Guide Questions
Terms in this set (68)
Why do you think Thoreau singles out individual groups of readers as he begins his first essay?
Because he wants to answer specific questions that they ask. Walden is all about a single person, he wants to show everyone their singleness.
What does Thoreau mean when he says that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation?" Is that still true today?
"What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things" (6). Most people today chase after the luxuries, which they cannot attain, on the inside men are desperate for them. On the outside, men are quiet about it.
What does Thoreau's story about the Indian basket weaver illustrate about his views on capitalism?
"I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them" (17). He must think it is a bad thing because capitalism is for a private profit, and that only leads to getting the (as perceived by the attainer) "warmth" of luxury, which is in fact an "overheating". Luxuries corrupt men, so Thoreau would dislike capitalism, as it stands against everything he stands for, on the idea of luxury.
What does Thoreau mean by saying "I am sure there is a greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and un patched clothes, than to have a sound conscience"?
"Most behave as if they believe that their prospects for life would be ruined if they should have a patch or flaw" (19). People only care about the external luxuries and how they look on the outside. They have gone so corrupt on the endless search for the unattainable luxuries, that man is now more worried about how they look to others, how warm they can get, etc. that they have forgotten that it is on the inside what counts, not these harmful luxuries.
Thoreau says it is an interesting question "how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes". Why do people need to tell others their rank simply by their clothes? Do ideas such as wearing uniforms help curtail some of this snobbery?
When someone is wealthy they usually have really nice and expensive clothes because they can afford it. But if you are poor, one tends to use their money for more important necessities such as food. Yes, when people wear uniforms they are bonded and equal.
People think that showing off their luxuries make their rank higher than others, often this luxury is in the form of clothing. Wearing uniforms, such as certain schools do allow everyone to display an equal amount of luxury, therefore no one is thought of to be better or worse.
What is Thoreau's opinion of the manner in which American people approach home ownership versus renting?
"You could sit up as late as you pleased, and whenever you got up, go abroad without any landlord or house lord dogging you for rent" (26). Someone doesn't have to command you at all times.
Thoreau asks, "Would the savage be wise to exchange his wigwam for a palace on these terms?" What do you think his answer might be?
I think Thoreau would say "If we suppose him to pay a rent instead, this is but a doubtful choice of evils" (28). No, because of the rent, and an added meaningless, unnecessary luxury.
Why does Thoreau say, to a painter, that the most interesting dwellings are the homes of the common poor rather than the greater architectural feats?
"But a man as no more to do with the style of architecture of his house than a tortoise with that of its shell" (43).
Explain what Thoreau means by the following statement "The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience which alone can make leisure fruitful".
"I mean that they should play life, or study it merely while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end" (47). Live the life, everyday.
Explain Thoreau's philosophy on farming as expressed in his sentence, "I believe that [I did] better than any farmer in Concord did that year".
"All things considered, that is, considering the importance of a man's soul and of today not withstand the start time occupied by my experiment, nay, partly even because of its transient character, I believe that that was doing better than any farmer in Concord did that year" (51).He was better, because the others were doing it for power and profit.
Why did Thoreau react harshly when his young acquaintance wants to live life as he does?
"I desire to speak impartially on this point, and as one not interested in the success or failure of the present economical and social arrangements" (51).
How does Thoreau obtain his furniture?
"My furniture part of which I made myself, and the rest cost me nothing of which I have not rendered on account, consisted of a bed, a desk, three chairs, and etc" (60).
During the previous five years, how did Thoreau support himself?
"For more than five years I maintained myself solely by the labor of my hands, and I found, that by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living. The whole of my winters, as well as most summers, I had free and clear for study" (64).
How does Thoreau feel about philanthropy and why does he choose not to participate in it?
"I have made some sacrifices to a sense of duty, and among other have sacrificed this pleasure also. However, when I have thought to indulge myself in this respect, and lay their Heaven under an obligation by maintaining certain poor persons in all respects as comfortably as I maintain myself" (67).
How do Thoreau's expectations of morning echo his expectations of his life in general?
"Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity" (83).
The crux of this book is explained in the following passage: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately... And to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived". Why do you think Thoreau believes that living in nature is the only way to truly "live"?
"I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan- like as to put to rout all that was not life"(85).
List some of the allusions from the chapter.
"I looked out on the pond, it impressed me like a tarn high up on the of a mountain" (81).
What according to Thoreau, is the difference between the orator and the writer?
"The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him, but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and heart of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him" (97).
Thoreau shows a somewhat elitist attitude of intellectual snobbery in this passage when he describes how few of his fellow New Englanders read great works. From where do you think his arrogance and dismay come?
"I aspire to be acquainted with wise men than this our Concord soil has produced, whose names are hardly known here"(101).
HE LOVES BOOKS!
What does Thoreau regard as his utopia world, with respect to reading and books?
"But it is thought Utopian to propose spending money for things which more intelligent men know to be of far more worth" (103).
What does Thoreau mean when he says he has had the advantage of a simple life over those who have had to "look abroad" for amusement?
"I had this advantage, at least in my mode of life, over those who were obliged to look abroad for amusement, to society and the theatre, that my life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel" (106).
How does Thoreau feel about the railroad?
"The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer's yard" (109). "I see these men everyday go about their business with more or less courage and content, doing more even then they could have consciously devised" (112).
How does Thoreau's description of the various forest and country animals reflect his feelings about the natural world?
"I feel more like a citizen of the world at the sight of the palm- leaf which cover so many flaxen New England heads the next summer" (113).
How does Thoreau feel about being alone?
"I have as it were, my own sun and moon and stars, and a little world all to myself" (123).
How do you think Thoreau's understanding of loneliness differs from the commonly understood definition?
"I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when for an hour, I doubted if the the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life" (124).
What does Thoreau compare to morning air?
"Instead of one of this quack vials of a mixture dipped from Acheron and the Dead Sea, which come out of those long shallow black-schooner looking wagons which we sometimes see made to carry bottles, let me have a draught of I diluted morning air" (131).
What type of host does Thoreau seem to be to his guest?
"Always ready for company" (133).
What does Thoreau like about the Canadian woodchopper who visits him?
"He interested me because he was so quiet and solitary and so happy withal, a well of good humor and contentment which overflowed at his eyes" (138).
What is interesting about the way the Canadian answers questions?
"He was so simple and humble" (139).
"To a stranger he appeared to know nothing of things in general, yet I saw in him a man whom I had not seen before, and I did not know whether he was as wise as Shakespeare or as simple as ignorant as a child" (140).
How does Thoreau feel about most of his visitors?
"There were very curious specimens among my visitors" (142).
"I found some of then to be wider then the so called overseers" (142).
"I could not notice some of the peculiarities of my visitors" (144).
How does Thoreau feel about the physical labor of hoeing beans?
"They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus" (147).
What analogy does Thoreau make to planting his bean seeds and working hard his first summer?
"But in the course of the summer it appeared by the arrow-heads which I turned up in hoeing, that an extinct nation had anciently dwelt here and planted corn and beats ere white men came to clear the land, and so, to some extent, had exhausted the soil for this very crop" (147).
How does Thoreau regard getting lost in the woods?
"I have thought that perhaps my body would find its way home if it's master should forsake it" (161).
"It is surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time" (161).
How does he feel about the advertising in the village?
"Signs were hung out on all sides to allure him, some to catch him by appetite, some were fancy" (159).
Was personal safety a concern in Thoreau's time, as it is today?
Not really. People went through there day as if nothing in the world could really hurt them
Thoreau describes the color of water in a manner which is different from most people's perception. How does he describe it?
"All our Concord waters have two colors at least, one when viewed at a distance, and another, more proper, close at hand. The first depends more on the light, and follows the sky" (167).
Explain the extended metaphor Thoreau uses to describe Walden Pond.
"Perhaps on that spring morning when Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden, Walden Pond was already in existence" (170).
"Obtained a patent of heaven to be the only Walden Pond in the world" (170).
When Thoreau speaks of his days as a boy visiting Walden Pond, does he seem to regret his time there?
"Many a forenoon have I stolen away, preferring to spend thus the most valued part of the day, for I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days, and spent them lavishly, nor do I regret that I did not waste more of them in the workshop or teacher's desk" (181).
Toward the end of his essay "The Ponds", Thoreau seems to become disgusted with humankind for something. What is it?
"Many men have been likened to it, but few deserve that honor" (182).
"What right had the unclean and stupid farmer, whose farm abutted on this sky water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to it?" (184).
After speaking to the Irish immigrant, what does Thoreau say about the immigrant's choice of work? How many people still behave like this Irishman today?
"He worked "bogging" for a neighboring farmer, turning up a meadow with a spade or bog hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use of the land with manure for one year" (192).
How does Thoreau compare the life of "ordinary" men to himself?
"Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street, where their household echoes haunt, and their life pines because it breathes it own breath over again"(196).
How does Thoreau describe his "higher law"?
"The governor and his council faintly remember the pond, for they went a- fishing there when they were boys, but now they are too old and dignified to go a- fishing, and so they no it more forever" (200).
What is the difference between English boys and the "Yankees"?
"They mistake who assert that the Yankee had few amusements, because he had not so many public holidays, and men and boys do not play so many games as they do in England, for here the more primitive but solitary amusements of hunting, fishing and the like have not yet given place to the former" (198).
Thoreau uses a very interesting analogy of worms within a healthy person's body to describe the fallen nature of man. What does he say about the fallen nature of man?
"The gross feeder is a man in the larva state, and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them" (202).
"It is reptile and sensual, and perhaps cannot be wholly expelled, like the worms which, even in life and health, occupy our bodies" (205).
What happens to John Farmer as he sits on his porch?
"He had not attended to the train of his thoughts long when he heard someone playing on a flute, and that sound harmonized with his mood" (209).
Which "brute neighbors" are Thoreau's subject in this essay?
"How now, Hermit, is it too soon?" (212).
Of what is Thoreau speaking when he describes the battlefield? What literary term is used?
"It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battlefield I ever trod while the battle was raging, internecine war, the red republicans on the one hand, and the black imperialist on the other hand" (215).
How does Thoreau feel about the various animals he observes in nature?
"A phoebe soon built in my shed, and a robin for protection in a pond which grew near my house" (213).
"It is remarkable how many creatures live wild and free through secret in the woods" (214).
What is Thoreau's view of being a house guest?
He calls the houseguests WASPS.
" I swept some of them out, but I did not trouble myself much to get rid of them, I even felt complimented by their regarding my house as desirable shelter" (226).
What is Thoreau's view of working men, as mentioned when he describes the art of plastering?
"Should not every apartment in which men dwells be lofty enough to create some obscurity over-head, where flickering shadows may play at evening about the rafters?" (228).
What does Thoreau's description of the ice at the bottom of the pond suggest about his personality?
"The first ice is especially interesting and perfect, being hard, dark, and transparent, and affords the best opportunity that ever offers for examining the bottom where it is shallow" (231).
Why does Thoreau say that the value of wood is more universal than gold?
"If they made their bows of it, we make our gun-stocks of it" (236).
"It is now many years that men have resorted to the forest for fuel and the materials of the arts" (236).
Do you agree with Thoreau's statement that "you can always find a face in the fire"?
"The stove not only took up room and scented the house, but it concealed the fire, and I felt as if I had lost a companion" (239).
Why does Thoreau spend time discussing the former inhabitants of Walden Pond?
"Within the memory of many of my townsmen the road near my house stands resounded with the the laugh and gossip of inhabitants" (241).
How is Thoreau's human side shown in the story of finding a man whose family cabin had been burned in a prank?
"He was soothed by the sympathy which my mere presence implied" (245).
As Thoreau finished his section on former inhabitants, what conclusion can we draw about his feelings towards the people that have lived in Walden?
He thought they were very interesting people and he really cared for them.
What does Thoreau mean when he says you cannot "deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love"?
He means that a poet loves his job too much to quit.
" A farmer, a hunter, a soldier, a reporter, even a philosopher may be daunted, but nothing can deter a poet, for he is actuated by pure love" (252).
Does Thoreau dispute William Gilpin's theory about Loch Fyne in Scotland?
"William Gilpin, who is so admirable in all that relates to landscapes, and usually so correct" (269).
How does Thoreau figure out mathematically the point that is most likely to be the deepest in the ponds surrounding him?
"In the deepest part there are several acres more level than most field which is exposed to the sun, wind, and plough" (270).
"The greatest depth was apparently the centre of map" (271).
What does Thoreau mean when he asks "Why is it that a bucket of water soon becomes putrid, but frozen remains sweet forever? It is commonly said that this is the difference between the affections and the intellect?"
"They told me that they had some in the ice- house at Fresh pong five years old which was as good as ever" (278).
What is Thoreau referring to when he writes about the "grotesque vegetation"?
"It is a truly grotesque vegetation, whose forms and color we see imitated bronze, a sort of architectural foliage more ancient and typical than any vegetable leaves" (285).
What are some of the examples that Thoreau gives of the everyday metamorphoses that occur on a daily basis in front of our eyes?
"If you look closely and observe that first there pushes forward from the thawing mass a stream of softened sand with a drop-like point" (287).
"It is wonderful how rapidly yet perfectly the sand organizes itself as it flows" (287).
What does Thoreau mean when he says that, "the Maker of this earth but patented a leaf"?
"Thus if seemed that this one hillside illustrated the principle of all the operations of Nature" (288).
What would happen to village life if the woods around it ceased to exist?
"Our village life would stagnate (not moving) if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wilderness" (297).
"We need to witness our own limits transgressed" (297).
What does Thoreau say about Mirabeau's defense of highway robbery that "honor and religion have never stood in the way of a well-conditioned and a firm resolve"?
"It is said that Mirabeau took to highway robbery "to ascertain what degree of resolution was necessary in order to place one's self in formal opposition to the most sacred laws of society" "(302).
"This was manly, as the world goes, and yet it was idle, if not desperate" (302).
Thoreau makes an interesting point when confronted with the opinion that ancient men were more intelligent than contemporary American men. He says that while this may be true, "a living dog is better than a dead lion". He goes on to say that people should try to be all that they can be, regardless of whether they can ever live up to the success of others who came before them. Do you agree?
"Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made" (305).
Thoreau makes another point: embrace your life, and do not wish you were richer, but make do with what you have. He says, "Most think they are above being supported by the town, but it oftener happens that they are not above supporting themselves by dishonest means, which should be more disreputable". Do you know any people like this? Would you agree with Thoreau on this point?
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer" (305).
"However mean your life is, meet it and live it, do not shun it and call it hard names" (307).
What does Thoreau say about the dinner party he attends where he goes away hungry?
"I was at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board" (309).
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