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by Henry David Thoreau

Walden Theme of Wisdom

For Thoreau, wisdom can't be found in college, or by calling Dr. Phil. Wisdom isn't the same as common sense. In fact, wisdom will often appear nonsensical to the unwise. And wisdom isn't the same as conventional wisdom, since true wisdom will often seem idiosyncratic (too particular) or just plain odd to most of the world.

Now that we've discussed what wisdom is not, let's talk about what it is. Thoreau proposes that true wisdom is unique to each individual, and that it is out there for each individual to discover in practice, through the experiment of living. This search for wisdom should not be confused with selfishness. It's more the development of an inner sense of what is just and right. Since wisdom is unique to each individual, we cannot expect each person's expression of wisdom to be the same as any other's. Every individual expresses wisdom in an equally unique style. For Thoreau, this multiplicity of perspectives is something to be celebrated. Shmoop feels the same way.

Questions About Wisdom

  1. What is wisdom, according to Thoreau? Is it something that can be acquired at school? From reading books? If not, what are the sources of true wisdom?
  2. What are some of the most significant experiences for Thoreau at Walden Pond? How do these experiences contribute to his own personal wisdom?
  3. Do you think Thoreau ends the book any wiser than he was in the beginning? Why or why not? (While we're at it, are you any wiser after having read his book?)

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

At the end of Walden, Thoreau is far wiser than he was when he set out on his "experiment."

The ending of Walden seems to confirm Thoreau's instinct that led him to Walden Pond in the first place. He ends the book just as critical of society and individualistic as he was in the beginning.

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