The Themes of Questioning Society and Contemplating Nature in Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden is a longer story by Henry David Thoreau, and in the excerpts of this story that are being represented, we see many different ideas. Thoreau urges those in society to question advancements in technology, the need for those advancements, loneliness, warfare, and intelligence in the modern age. The most elaborated metaphor throughout an excerpt from “Brute Neighbors” consists of human warfare being much the same as that of any warfare, Thoreau does a service to the readers by relating the combat between types of ants to that of famous Greek wars and champions, showing a connection to the idea that western literature requires a deep connection to Greek history and mythology, the Bible, and Shakespearean works.

“Brute Neighbors” mentions legions of Myrmidons, which relate to Homer‘s Iliad, and the Greek word for ant, Myrmex, Thoreau also mentions the famous warriors Achilles and Patroclus.

Thoreau directly alludes to “The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my wood yard”.

Thoreau’s allusion shows he has a tone of wonderment in watching the battles of black and red ants, directly comparing the most important battles in western literature to the minor battles of ants, while Thoreau is showing that these battles are actually very significant. Thoreau’s allusion to this shows the insight that can be gained from nature, like that which could be learned from a proper education in western literature, We can relate the excerpt from “Brute Neighbors” all the way back to “Where I lived, and What I lived For.

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” In the aforementioned excerpt, we see that Thoreau adopts a tone that portrays that nature can provide what humans should live for, and that modern man does not even think to question that which most influences them, technology.

Thoreau is angered at technology, saying that if “railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven this season?”  Thoreau’s stern tone and theme that technology is bad evolves into a tone of wonderment at the lives of animals that live without such technology, we can see this as a main theme throughout Walden, “Conclusion” has a main idea that Americans are not learning through the use of technology, but we learn through attempts at self-betterment; moreover, this has not been shown better when Thoreau so eloquently questions “Shall a man go and hang himse. lf because he belongs to the race of pygmies, and not be the biggest pygmy that he can?”. This question shows a further development of the idea and theme that humans are not improved through the use of technology, but the study of nature. Thoreau believes thatjust as much can be learned through the study of nature as through the stttdy of western literature, given his direct comparison to the battles of the Iliad.

Thoreau has a steadfast idea and approach in tone, this is to say that careful observation of that which appeals to the nature of a simple man can be just as helpful as the observation of stories throughout history, if not better. Thoreau is using his education of western literature and allusions to Achilles and Patroclus to compare to the childlike wonder of a man observing the struggles of a simple insect. Thoreau also approaches nature with the tone of enlightenment through the quasi-solitude, but not complete solitude that others believe nature provides, “Solitude” shows Thoreau confronting the assertion that someone who chooses to not participate in a modern society is the equivalent of a hermit that lives in solitude, as it were.

Thoreau answers with another question, “What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found that no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another,” Legs cannot bring one closer to someone else, as much as legs cannot bring one farther from someone else. Thoreau contestst the tone in that excerpt is detached and irreverent, yet thoreau believes that one who is close to nature is just as close to his peers as one who is far from nature. Thoreau is not alone because he perceives the animals in nature to be equivalent to the heroes of ancient Greek myth, these heroes in the common consciousness are as much a peer to the modern man as the battles of an ant should be relevant to the interests of a modern man.

Thoreau believes it very important that modern man acknowledge nature, this being the central theme of Walden, it is seemingly paradoxical that. Thoreau acknowledges nature more than his peers, but in doing this thoreau believes that is the way for humans to liver.  In conclusion, the theme of Walden is that man must become detached to his peers and technology to become attached to nature and being away from his peers. To find true accompaniment and obtain the most out of life, one must venture to live by his own means, observing the small events that happen as if they were the most important throughout history. The tone that thoreau adopts throughout the explanation of the theme can be summed up as that of a man who is questioning the needs of society, but deeply understanding and contemplating the intricacies of nature.

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The Themes of Questioning Society and Contemplating Nature in Walden by Henry David Thoreau. (2023, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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