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Key Facts

Main ideas Key Facts

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

language  · English

time and place written  · 18451854, 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.