2. Analysis of the function of wilderness in “Walking”

In “Walking,” Henry David Thoreau uses the wilderness as a place in which he emphatically encourages people to seek refuge from their daily woes. Thoreau consistently describes the wilderness as an escape, somewhere a person can go to and simply be free. Thoreau highlights the wonder of the wilderness through “the art of Walking” (260) which he insists is an activity that one should partake in for a good four or more hours a day. For Thoreau it seems that the wilderness is merely a refuge, it offers to him no commercial value nor does he see it in that respect. This view of the wilderness as a haven from the every day is a very idealistic image as well as one that cannot hope to be adopted by people from all social classes.

Through his admiration of the wilderness and his countless hours spent walking through it, Thoreau forgets that many people do not have the luxury of time nor the financial ability to appreciate nature only for its intrinsic value. While Thoreau is content to spend his time “sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements” (262) others in lower social classes are forced to work, many of them plowing the fields that Thoreau does not appreciate. This whimsical approach to wilderness could simply be overlooked were it not for the audacity of Thoreau to belittle the livelihoods of the people who make their living off the commercial value of nature, “Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps” (174).

This delusion of nature and its tangible qualities and values begs the question of whether Thoreau is credible in his view of the wilderness. He views it romantically, “the jewel which dazzled me” (174) but seems to forget that where it not for the exploitation of this jewel he would not have the roof over his head, the paper he is writing on, or the other luxuries in his life that nature affords him. Thoreau’s acclaim for wilderness is essentially useless in that it is merely the idea that nature is to be enjoyed and rarely to be used, an idea that has never nor will ever substantiate society.

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walking p. 260-287. pub. WW Norton 2008

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kbudd on October 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Your reply reflects the idea of “squatting” which we discussed in class. I agree that this is somewhat of a luxury because many people have responsibilities to their families. Many people also had debt to pay so the land they live could officially be theirs. When Thoreau does speak of growing crops he never does it for financial gain. He does not even hint at repeating the process. Beyond this he does not even farm his land. He admits to squatting on another man’s land and using his resources.

  2. Posted by bhough on October 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    I completely agree with your statements regarding Thoreau’s feelings toward the act of walking and how he sees wilderness as a refuge from society. Furthermore, he makes statements professing feelings of resentment towards civilization. When describing purchasing opportunities for land, he states: ” When I have analyzed my partiality for some farm which I had contemplated purchasing, I have frequently found that I was attracted solely by a few square rods of impermeable and unfathomable bog… That was the jewel which dazzled me.” (Throreau, 274) This yearning to be far from civilization and in the “thick of nature” is prevalent throughout Thoreau’s work, at times to the point that it is hard to get anything out of his work other than this desire to alienate himself from society.

  3. For Thoreau wildness definitely seems to be like you said a refuge from society, and civilization. However, in addition to that Thoreau also seems to be saying that wildness is part of human nature, and lies at all our cores, “our ancestors were savages … the founders of every state…have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source” (Thoreau 273). It is not just some where people go for shelter, but where they also go for the strength required for greatness. So while he alienates himself from society he still advocating the use of nature in the building of great civilizations.

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