Main Ideas

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.