Henry David Thoreau's Transcendental Views on Solitude

Categories: Walden

Henry David Thoreau is synonymous with Transcendentalism.  His mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was the creator of the movement.  Because he truly believed in the concepts, Thoreau actually practiced it to the letter. Transcendentalism, a free meditation in spirituality and individualistic approach to everything, was something that he gave his life to exploring.

 He expounded on these views in Civil Disobedience and through his magnificent Plea for John Brown. Thoreau actually experimented with this idea when he self-imposed an exile on himself for two years at Walden Pond.

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  He wrote about his experiment in Walden where he described his solitude in Chapter 5, and through this writing he was able to convey what he learned.  He learned that there was much to be learned in the solitude of society, and that complete solitude is not possible as long as there are natural surroundings because there is a complex society in nature.

Solitude is the fifth chapter of Walden, written about the famous experiment at Walden Pond. Thoreau delves into a self-realization about nature on a cool windy evening when he is totally alone when it comes to other humans. There is no one around him except the elements, insects, and animals in their natural surroundings. He has gone outside and while he was there, he felt so close to nature that he even considered himself as one with it. This goes along with the Transcendentalist belief that God, nature and mankind are connected through an oversoul.  Nothing says this better than the first line of the chapter.

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This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. (Thoreau)  He was keenly aware of the natural night life that was around him and he became entranced what he experienced. He has come to a greater understanding about the world around him that he and others have taken for granted. He took special note of the animals that do their work during the night. The wildest animals do not repose, but seek their prey now; the fox, and skunk, and rabbit, now roam the fields and woods without fear. They are Nature's watchmen, -- links which connect the days of animated life. (Thoreau)

While living at Walden Pond, Thoreau was not totally isolated.  He had neighbors, even it they were far away be today’s standard.  He rarely interacted with them, but it did happen on occasion.  He explains that Walden Pond is not a vast forest, but rather a small one.  There are houses within a mile of where he lives and he has even had visitors while he was taking a nightly walk by the pond. Even though Walden is small, he feels completely isolated from humans when he is in the small wood.  He says that he knows this because all people are fascinated with nature, so they will play with a piece of it anytime that they are around.

Thoreau has learned in his solitude that the seasons and the weather bring what is needed to nature. He can see seasons and weather not as something to complain about.  Many wish that whatever their circumstance, then they long for another.  Thoreau has learned to cope by allowing himself to delight in the fact that it is all good for the things on the earth.  So if it is hot, then that is what the plants and animals need at the time.  If the weather is bad, then that is what the items in nature need to help them grow and flourish.  He does not get depressed by not being able to go outside and do what he wants and needs to do.

Instead he uses the time to focus on these needs in his mind.  Through his solitude, he has the ability to clear his head and to completely focus on what is happening in nature.  He imagines the roots and seeds of the plants. When an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves. (Thoreau)  A person cannot focus the mind when it is full of the day’s activities and problems, but when it is alone. It can think clearly about his/her surroundings.  Thoreau even enjoyed the weather that kept him indoors because it allowed him to experience the total meditation he needed.

Thoreau wonders how men could think that he is alone.  He feels that there are more societies than those created by man.  He presents the argument that no one or nothing is alone on earth because even the earth is a part of a huge galaxy, the Milky Way.

Thoreau is away from other humans, but the complex society of nature is all around him.  The animals in particular have a vast society.  They are all around mankind at all times.  The bullfrogs and all of the nocturnal animals are as busy as people in a city.  Insects by the thousands are there for mankind, but often man is too busy and has so much on his mind that he cannot see what is around him.  If more were in solitude, then they would have the chance to see and contemplate about the world around them.

According to Thoreau, God is experimenting with man to see if he is addicted to gossip and other temptations of society. Thoreau feels about his relation to God. Here in particular, he sees himself as being able, like God, to stand aloof from events going on around him. In a sense, life is like being a theater-goer, who can laugh and cry with the characters or remain indifferent. (Kifer)

He feels that man is a part of nature and God’s creation, therefore, God and nature are there for man.  It was a part of a grand design for them to all rely on each other. Instead of having the gossips in town for companions, he has a dog and that solitude is a state of mind.  He asserts that one can be lonely even when one is with many people.

Thoreau has feels that he is not only on his own as far as being around people, but he is also in the position to provide for himself.  He even equates his need for medicine is as something that can be taken care of through a good deep breath of morning air in the country.  Nature provides all that an individual needs. Henry David Thoreau learned about becoming one with nature through his solitude.  He shares his views with others through his book Walden.  The Transcendental views and experiments helped him to become a part of the greater scheme of what he felt was important in the world.

Works Cited

  1. Henry David Thoreau. American Transcendentalist Web. 2, August 2007,
  2. Kifer, Ken. Solitude 2001. 2, August 2007. http://www.kenkifer.com/Thoreau/solitude.htm
  3. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1854. Transcendentalist.Com. 2, August 2007,
  4. http://www.transcendentalists.com/walden.htm
Cite this page

Henry David Thoreau's Transcendental Views on Solitude. (2017, Mar 12). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/henry-david-thoreaus-transcendental-views-on-solitude-essay

Henry David Thoreau's Transcendental Views on Solitude
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