Study Guide

Walden Visions of America: Antebellum Period

By Henry David Thoreau

Visions of America: Antebellum Period

Even though Thoreau may seem isolated way out on Walden Pond, he's still only about a mile away from the center of Concord, MA, the town famous for the "shot heard around the world" that started the American Revolution. So<em>, Walden</em> gives us a sense of what pre-Civil War (a.k.a. antebellum) New England was like in the 19th century. We get a sense of the day-to-day lives of the mainly rural inhabitants, as well as a sense of how American industrialization was transforming life through such innovations as the telegraph and the railroad.

In fact, history permeates the area, even in isolated Walden Pond – from archaeological evidence of Native American tribes who used to live in the area to Thoreau's personal experience assisting runaway slaves and his objection to the Mexican-American War. <em>Walden </em>is a kind of an attempt to preserve, through words, the diversity of species and landscapes of the area before it disappears. And what a success story it is. Here we are, Shmooping about it over 150 years later.

Questions About Visions of America: Antebellum Period

  1. Review our "Setting" section to get a sense of the historical context for <em>Walden. </em>What events or controversies from the time period appear in <em>Walden </em>and where? Does thinking about the historical context help you better understand where Thoreau is coming from?
  2. What are some scenes that help you get a feel for what it was like to live in the Concord area in the 1840s? What are some aspects of life that surprised you? iPhones aside, how is life today like and/or unlike life back in the 1840s?
  3. What is Thoreau's attitude toward the state of American society in the 1840s? Is he generally critical or optimistic? Support your answer with specific quotes. Do you think Americans are just as critical of society today?

Chew on This

Thoreau's historical references show that he's not as cut off from the world as he pretends to be.

Historical references help the reader understand how Thoreau's private experiment is relevant to the real world.