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MonkeyNotes-Walden by Henry David Thoreau
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Chapter Seven: The Bean Field

Summary

In this chapter, Thoreau shares the rewarding experience he had in preparing and planting a field and describes in detail the fine art and science of growing beans. After having planted numerous rows (whose sum total would have been seven miles if laid out end to end), he began to devote himself completely to the care of the growing bean plants. Each morning he carefully hoed and weeded the bean-field and tended individual plants. To amuse himself, he started to think of his care for the beans as a kind of loyal protection. Each day he fought the enemies of weeds, worms, and cold weather; but finally he has a crop. It is obvious he took a great deal of pride in his productive bean field, which at first seemed to have lost its ability to bear food. Thoreau feels he has won an important victory.

Sometimes while Thoreau is hoeing in the field, he finds arrowheads from past battles -- real battles; such treasures make him reflect on the nation's history. Sometimes he hears the celebrations in nearby towns - - usually patriotic celebrations with cannon fire and military music; such sounds fill him with pride for what the country has accomplished.

In the final passages of this chapter, Thoreau explains that he has not raised the beans merely to eat himself; instead, he takes his crop into town and sells the beans in order to earn the money he needs to continue living at Walden Pond. He does some calculating to see how much money he has made from his battle in the bean- field. He has spent $14.725 in supplies and makes an income of $23.44, giving him a profit of $8.75. He takes great pride in the fact that he has made money off the labor of his hands, while enjoying the work that has made him feel closer than ever to Nature. He then bemoans the fact that most farming is not pursued with haste and an overriding concern for profit. Most farmers no longer feel close to the earth and love their profession.


Thoreau uses his farming experience to contemplate the nature of cultivation. When a farmer grows a good crop and turns a profit, the next year he must plant again; hopefully, he will have learned from all of his past experiences and develop an even better crop and receive more profits. Thoreau then compares sowing seeds in the ground to sewing spiritual and intellectual crops. Man must constantly replant the seeds of virtue; hopefully, with each new sowing, man will learn from his past and grow a better crop. He pleads with his readers to create a better future for the children of tomorrow and warns that spiritual fertility matters most. Unfortunately men are often more concerned with material profits than spiritual gain.

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