So that all the pecuniary outgoes, excepting for washing and mending, which for the most part were done out of the house, and their bills have not yet been received . . . were

House, $28 12 1/2
Farm one year, 14 72 1/2
Food eight months, 8 74
Clothing &c., eight months, 8 40 3/4
Oil, &c., eight months, 2 00
In all, $61 99 3/4

One of several bookkeeping excerpts included in Walden, this one from the chapter “Economy” shows that, as the chapter’s title indicates, Thoreau is not a free spirit fleeing social realities, but on the contrary has a businessman’s sharp eye for financial matters. Indeed, many first-time readers of Walden are surprised to find so much minute financial detail in what they expect to be inspirational nature writing. But this is Thoreau’s point: the true inspiration of the spirit does not need to entail financial failure or misery, and economic and spiritual well-being are two sides of the same coin. Since money is a social rather than a natural phenomenon, we see the complexity of Thoreau’s turn to nature: he is not really escaping the world of human values at all, but rather extending it. He defines his success in his Walden project not solely in terms of his own spiritual development but also in economic terms—he seeks to live without incurring debt. Money defines his freedom as much as spiritual transcendence does.

Nonetheless, Thoreau’s account-keeping also reveals the amateur nature of his project, and feeds our underlying knowledge that he is a Harvard man slumming temporarily in the woods rather than a truly needy person struggling to make ends meet. Any accountant would be quick to point out Thoreau’s failure to include his laundry bills in his grand total, on the frivolous grounds that they have not come in yet. He inconsistently lists a year’s rent on the farm, but only eight months’ expenditures on food and clothing. If he were truly in need, he might be forced to keep better books; we sense that his accounting, like much of Walden in general, is visionary fantasy in the guise of fact.