full title Originally published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Thoreau requested that the title be abbreviated simply to Walden upon the preparation of a second edition in 1862.
author Henry David Thoreau
type of work Essay
genre Autobiography; moral philosophy; natural history; social criticism
time and place written 1845–1854, Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts
date of first publication 1854
publisher Ticknor and Fields, Boston
narrator Henry David Thoreau
point of view Thoreau narrates in the first person, using the word “I” nearly 2,000 times in the narrative of Walden. Defending this approach, he remarks, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well.”
tone Thoreau’s tone varies throughout the work. In some places he is mystical and lyrical, as in the blue ice description in “Ponds.” He can be hardheaded and practical, as in the accounting details of “Economy.” Sometimes he seems to be writing a diary, recording the day’s events; other times he widens his scope to include the whole cosmos and all eternity. In some places his style is neutral and observational, in other places powerfully prophetic or didactic, as in the chapter “Conclusion.”
tense Thoreau uses the past tense for recounting his Walden experiments and the present tense for the more meditative and philosophical passages.
setting (time) Summer 1845 through Summer 1847 (although the book condenses the two years into one)
setting (place) Walden Pond
protagonist Henry David Thoreau
major conflict Thoreau resists the constraints of civilized American life.
rising action Thoreau builds a small dwelling by Walden Pond and moves to the wilderness.
climax Thoreau endures the winter and feels spring’s transforming power arrive.
falling action Thoreau, accustomed to a solitary life in the woods, concludes his project and moves back to Concord and social existence.
themes The importance of self-reliance; the value of simplicity; the illusion of progress
motifs The seasonal cycle; poetry; imaginary people
symbols Animals; ice; Walden Pond
foreshadowing Thoreau tells us in the first paragraph of the work that he has left Walden Pond, foreshadowing the exit he narrates at the end.
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