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Thoreau's choice to title his first chapter "Economy" is a nearly perfect one, since this first section primarily extols the virtues of a simple, uncluttered life. Over and over again he asserts that he did not go to Walden Pond simply to save money or to suffer inconvenience. Instead, he says, "My purpose in going to Walden Pond...(was) 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 and foolish." In other words, he wanted to live free of the trap set by society--that trap being the constant desire to earn and possess more. Had he stayed in town, Thoreau believes he might never have had the opportunity (or time) to reflect on mankind, or even his own life.
Thoreau's primary focus in the text is the development and realization of the self. Since the story he tells is about his own life, it is natural that he uses the first person point of view and puts himself at the center of the narrative. He apologizes, however, for perhaps seeming self-centered, but explains that he knows no one as well as he knows himself. Nonetheless, the tone of the opening chapter seems somewhat self-conscious with an attempt on his part not to appear boastful.
In the chapter, Thoreau reiterates that each man is an individual; as a result, each man's growth comes by different processes. Thoreau carefully tries not to set himself up as an example for others or convince everyone to go and find himself in the woods. Neither does he set out to prove his philosophy or justify his idealism. The whole purpose of his Walden Pond experiment is to better his personal life and thinking and to reach a perfect communion with self and nature.
Thoreau's self-development is metaphorically expressed in terms of building a new house and beginning a new life. The natural surroundings also play their part in setting up a congenial mood-a fresh spirit and new enthusiasm. The changing of the seasons, the snake shedding its skin, and the cycle of the sun are some of the major images he uses to symbolize a new birth or beginning; like the snake, he wants to shed his old being and rise anew like the sun. Thoreau seeks self-actualization at Walden Pond.
Thoreau's extensive discussion about his furniture and clothing serves two functions: first it lends authenticity and realistic detail to his experience, helping the reader to see how the philosopher has lived. Second, it proves that Thoreau has managed to free himself from the "social evil" of excessive property. His belongings are the most simple and utilitarian possible.
There is an intended and gradual development of thought as the narrative of Walden progresses. Thoreau begins with long, descriptive passages of the material, objective world, detailing even building materials and garden produce. As the book progresses, Thoreau shifts to a more subtle and subjective world of self-reflection and analysis, with each chapter moving Thoreau into a successively more introspective analysis. This gradual journey inward is a key reason for the long-term success of Walden.