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MonkeyNotes-Walden by Henry David Thoreau
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Chapter Five: Solitude

Summary

Thoreau's life at Walden Pond is characterized by solitude, which is aptly chosen as the title for this chapter. At Walden Pond, he experiences blissful peace, feeling enriched by the sounds of animals in the woods and wind in the trees. In one passage, he describes the coming of evening as a time when he feels as if he is becoming a part of Nature itself; his whole body absorbs and enjoys the beauty of the natural world. He feels the cool breeze and listens to the sounds of the croaking frogs, the rustling leaves, the lapping waves of the lake, and the whippoorwills. Even after it becomes dark, Thoreau senses the beauty of the things he can no longer see.

Thoreau's cottage is located about a mile away from his nearest neighbor; therefore, he rarely sees another human. Sometimes, however, when he has been out walking, he returns home to find that someone has come calling and left behind "a bunch of flowers, or a wreath in evergreen, or a name in pencil on a yellow walnut leaf or chip, (or)...a willow wand, woven into a ring, and dropped on (the) table." These small offerings are reminders to Thoreau about the pleasures of friendship.

Thoreau reflects that Nature offers the "most tender and sweet and encouraging society" to men. Even in his solitude at Walden Pond, Thoreau feels no more alone than a tree in the woods, the sun in the sky, or the grass on the ground. In the company of Nature, he feels surrounded by companions. When he thinks that he needs the company of other men, he tells himself that physical space does nothing to close the distance between two minds or hearts. People are connected not by physical proximity but by the strong connections of their spirits.

In all of his experiences, Thoreau tries to stand apart from his actions and observations and seek to analyze them objectively in order to better know himself. He sees this ability as a doubling of himself -- as a simultaneous participator and observer. Since observation is an individual action, even in a crowd he sees part of himself as being alone; but for Thoreau, being alone is a happy and healthy state. By contrast, being in the midst of others can quickly become tiresome. Ironically, being amongst people can make a person feel more alone than when the person is by himself.


Notes

This chapter further expresses some of Thoreau's philosophies about the relationship of man to Nature and man to man. Although he rarely sees another human being, he still feels close to his friends in spirit; he knows that physical distance does nothing to separate two kindred hearts or minds. He also appreciates the fact that friends occasionally come to call on him, and if he is not at home in the cabin, they leave him small, natural presents. Thoreau also feels he is never alone in nature. He feels a oneness with the sun, the sky, the trees, the grass, and the wild animals.

In the pleasant company of these natural things, he feels as surrounded and occupied as a man among his closest friends. He rejects the possibility that a man could ever be lonely when immersed in the wonders of the natural world. Instead, man often feels lonely when he is in a crowd, observing the rules of etiquette and politeness.

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