In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, or, Life in the Woods, the concept of simplicity was a striking key factor. Thoreau clearly states in his first story “Economy”, “Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life…” (1). Simplicity comes from within and to realize the morale at such a young stage in life is a gift that many can cherish forever. Simple is best, how often do we find that as a contradiction, and how ironic that a man such as Thoreau would create irony in the word of simplicity. Within this essay, I will convey to you that simplicity is more than just a simple concept. First, Thoreau portrays this façade that simple is best.
He pictures this world of materialistic and possessive citizens living in a radical society. He even goes as far to say, “It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before” (3). I believe that Walden wants the world to realize you don’t need to compare yourself to others to have self-satisfaction of a simple and appreciative life. Those whom strive to hard, will regret it in the end; but those whom live the easy and free life will accomplish everything and more that they could have ever imagined.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation” (4). Walden is just reassuring his idea that the “games and amusements of mankind” (4) retire and wear you down eventually to where you want nothing out of life anymore. Secondly, the book Walden, or, Life in the Woods, displays double meanings and contradictions of this concept simplicity. I did some research on Thoreau about his stylistic writing and common themes and many of reviewers would argue that Thoreau is not simple at all. I would agree as well because Walden is written in such an extravagant way. There were countless times when I had to re-read paragraphs to grasp the meaning behind the countless stories. For example a great section of a paragraph in “Architecture” which was not an assigned reading but nonetheless, “What does architecture amount to in the experience of the mass of men?
I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant and the farmer” (29). I believe another instance in this contradiction simplicity heavily comes from the story “The Bean-Field”. Thoreau tells us, “But labor of the hands, even when
pursued to the verge of drudgery, is perhaps never the worst form of idleness.
It has a constant and imperishable moral, and to the scholar it yields a classic result.” In a nutshell Thoreau preaches how simplicity and solitude are key values yet he spends his entire mornings out doing a job that is not minimalistic. In conclusion, I believe that Thoreau wanted to create irony through his stylistic work and concepts. I’ve never known a man whom fights for simplicity yet does not live a simplistic life. In the beginning of Walden, or, Life in the Woods, I truly believed that the message Thoreau was sending us was to reduce our materialistic and frivolous ways, but towards the end of the book and as the stories went on I believed less in his transcendentalist ways and more in his life of “self-emancipation” (4). Thoreau wanted to do but not be criticized. In Walden, or, Life in the Woods, we receive a marvelous depiction of American life and the transcendentalist age.