Wilderness as cruel.

 Wilderness, as told by Thoreau in “Walden,” is presented as a temperamental, cruel supplier and controller of the inhabitants put to live on the Earth. It is a difficult place to sustain oneself in, requiring that an individual provide for themselves the necessities to prevail in its harshness. Both directly and indirectly, the people depend on the wild and it’s elements to survive.

“The accidental discovery of the warmth of fire, and the consequential use of it, at first a luxury, arose the present necessity to sit by it” (Thoreau 12). While humans may have come across this source of heat “accidentally,” it has become something the humans depend on. In the same paragraph, Thoreau goes on to say that humans use their man-made shelter and clothing to maintain their own internal heat, but are benefitted much more by using this source of warmth made possible by nature’s resources.

With that said, think of this…

Thoreau says nature is “as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength” (Thoreau 11).  Nature, or the wild, knows precisely what humans need to survive. It can bring on a cold harsh winter and wipe out all resources, leaving humanity with nothing to live on.  Taking away the warmth of fire we have grown accustomed to, would leave humans cold. A harsh winter season can deplete wild animals hunted for food and other necessities mankind depends on.

On the other hand, while the wild can attack our weaknesses, it can also cater to our strengths.  In the wild, he explains how man finds a way to conduct business, build a home, establish relationships, and learn to live efficiently with all resources surrounding us.

Even with the negative critique Thoreau points out concerning the wild, he says “when you think of getting a farm, turn it thus in your mind…the oftener you go there the more it will please you…” (Thoreau 60). The more thought and analysis one gives the wild, and the more one likes the idea; the more “pure” and “comforting” it becomes. The wild can present problems, but it is man’s job to find a way for nature to cater to his strength rather than weakness.



Thoreau, Henry D. Walden Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walden; Walking p. 5-70. pub. WW Norton 2008

2 responses to this post.

  1. Thoreau contradicts himself many times throughout Walden, as you have displayed here. But these wilderness troupes are not uncommon in other eco-critical writing. People tend to have a love/hate, give/take type of relationship with nature. We need it to survive, but it can be our downfall/death as well.

  2. Thoreau does depict nature as cruel towards humans which I think is a truthful portrayal, because the wilderness was not created to center around people. The wilderness was not created to be perfect for humans and make everything easy for them. People have find sources of food and shelter and they have to search for ways to survive such as the discovery of fire. People were created to survive in nature rather than nature was created to survive people, therefore humans have to discover ways to survive. Nature is the controller of inhabitants on earth because it is where the inhabitants live, what they eat, what they observe all around them, and what they breath. Nature is cruel at times towards humans and sometimes benevolent, but its not because the inhabitants are humans but rather the fact its simply doing whats best for it.

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