Walden Summary 📖

Henry David Thoreau, in ‘Walden,’ follows a first-person narrative style where Thoreau himself plays the central character who’s on a mission to prove to the world that anyone can be happy even with the most minimal of means possible and can survive outside of society’s popular conventions.


Henry David Thoreau

Walden’ documents the story and timeline of Thoreau’s self-imposed adventure into the wilderness in Walden Pond, where he sought a life completely of surviving on pure instinct, simple means – accompanied by moral and spiritual meditations. 

‘Spoiler Free’ Walden Summary

After two years, Thoreau returns from the adventure of a lifetime feeling in his best shape ever, intellectually. Before that, he had given up everything he ever cherished. Family. Friends. Society. All left behind for a trip alone at Walden Pond, a wilderness, a place situated a few miles away from Concord – where he went to discover himself. 

Thoreau had had enough of the people. Their antics were annoying. Their love for material things is exasperating. And their lack of spirituality was unforgivable. His trip to Walden pond couldn’t have come at a better time than it did. His life lacked direction. Hate was channeled on him for a past costly mistake. He had to disappear away from the madness. At Walden pond, he found enough peace and reclaimed his spunk, and the one thing his name will forever be remembered for.

Walden Summary 

Spoiler alert: Important details of the book are revealed below

Thoreau recounts his trip to Walden pond, where he spent two years, two months, and two days before returning to society. He hadn’t quite figured his life out and was haunted by certain hate for him that started after he and his friend accidentally caused a fire outbreak leading to local farmers losing thousands of dollars worth of crops. 

For these reasons, Thoreau says he leaves for Walden pond and builds a cabin that costs twenty-eight dollars on land that belongs to Ralph Waldo Emerson, his friend and mentor. Thoreau resigns to a maximalist lifestyle surviving off of only the most necessities; food, shelter, and clothing. He runs a small farm where he grows beans for food – often selling the excesses at a nearby village. 

Thoreau is mindful of all his expenditures as he wants to find out how little it takes to survive. He doesn’t subscribe to the fancy, pricey hustle culture people put up in society. He finds such a lifestyle unnecessarily extravagant and useless. Not to mention that it breeds corruption and renders one too busy to connect with their spirit, which is the core of transcendentalism belief. 

In Walden pond, Thoreau’s core routines are typically three; work, meditation, and interaction with his natural surroundings. He tries to work for as less hours as possible, possibly one hour a day, and uses the remainder of his hours to rest and develop his mind. He enjoys the peace the trees have to offer. He envies the animals for the freedom with which they live and coexist. He remembers how social life is annoyingly quite the opposite.

During his meditating hours, he would read books and take to journaling – a habit which he loves very much. He advises that books are the treasures of the world and that everyone should read books. But more than anything, he wishes that everyone should put more effort into experiencing the fullness of life and not get limited by the rules and limitations of society and its conventions. 

Now and then, Thoreau would host ordinary folks in his cabin and educate them about things they didn’t know. Sometimes he goes into the village to observe how are up and about their businesses. He does this when he feels particularly bored and lonely. 

One day when he goes to the village for business, he gets into a scuffle over taxes with the authority resulting in his arrest. Thoreau is adamant about paying because he thinks the money would serve as funding for the Mexico-American war. 

He is released from detention and returns to his cabin, and is treated in the company of Irishman John Field. Thoreau admires John for his hard work to fend for his family but thinks John lacks ambition and is intellectually below par, hinting that his behavior is typical to folks from Ireland.

Thoreau spent some more time in his Walden woods and its surroundings, enjoying every bit of the experience. He attests to the beauty of all the different ponds there and even measures the one at Walden because legend has it the pond is bottomless. He discovers that the pond has a bottom that lies several meters deep. 

As winter approaches, Thoreau retouches his home to suit it. The weather condition becomes extremely frosty and difficult for Thoreau but he manages to get by and criticizes ice merchants who invade the ponds and cut away their icy surface and make for the market. 

With the spring coming, the whole place is melted and returns to normal. Thoreau observes all of these – assigning spiritual meanings to them. He leaves Walden woods after two years with life-transforming knowledge to share with his friends. 


Why did Thoreau get arrested at the village near Concord?

Thoreau’s arrest came from his refusal to pay government taxes because he thought they would be used to fund the Mexican-American war.

How long did it take Thoreau to publish ‘Walden’?

It took Thoreau approximately nine years to get his ‘Walden’ essays together and published.

What kind of book is ‘Walden’?

Walden’ is a non-fiction written by Henry David Thoreau about his personal experience at Walden pond in the early days of New English Transcendentalism.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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