American Literature: Walden

Self-discovery doesn't just happen in nature, so if dirt and bugs make your skin crawl, cop a squat and hit play.

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Transcript

00:35

we might hide from it in our air-conditioned condos and cars but it's

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still out there there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from

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spending time in and observing the natural world around us and as one man [Woman looking at animals with binoculars]

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discovered being tight with nature totally has its benefits Henry David

00:53

Thoreau was born lived and died in and around Concord Massachusetts with a

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thirst for knowledge and a hot intellectual curiosity he pursued study

01:02

in philosophy politics and religion at Harvard University not stoked about the [Harvard University appears]

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usual job fields that most people pursued after graduation business

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religion or law, Thoreau decided to teach finding that public school teaching

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clashed with his personal beliefs meaning that he wouldn't dole out

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corporal punishment to bad students Thoreau and his bro opened their own [Thoreau outside concord academy school]

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school there the brothers tried out new methods with the students like taking

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them on nature walks and writing poetry about their experiences

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Thoreau became friendly ahem with an older gentleman named Ralph Waldo

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Emerson who encouraged Thoreau to write and seek publication in a local journal

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Emerson was a leader in a movement called transcendentalism that Thoreau found

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thoroughly interesting this philosophy is tricky to define but essentially

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transcendentalist believed in individualism idealism and a common

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humanity among people despite how different and unique everyone is

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believers in this philosophy felt that humans have the ability to transcend the [Woman meditating on the grass]

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material things of the world in order to find themselves through spirituality and

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you know personal examination come on people get your minds out of the gutter [Butterfly flying by]

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Emerson also let Thoreau live in his cabin for a while this camping

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experiment led to Thoreau's most famous work Walden published in 1854, Walden

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describes Thoreau's experience living alone in nature with nothing but

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squirrels on his own thoughts to keep him company he wanted to better [Thoreau sitting on a bench with squirrels]

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understand what in the world humans were really about and he decided that the

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only real way to do this was to cut himself off from society in order to

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simplify, simplify this was kind of like Thoreau's mantra can't really knock the

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idea unless of course you simply can't simplify because you've got 16 different

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handheld electronic devices a shoe collection that would rival kim [Man sitting with a huge shoe collection]

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kardashian and more posters than the national poster museum does... Thoreau

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wasn't interested in material possession instead living with basically nothing

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and writing all about how the minimalist lifestyle affected him so was he a nut

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job or simply genius before we dismiss Thoreau as a weirdo crackpot with

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outdated notions about how to live life let's check out a chapter from Walden [Walden book appears beside flying butterfly]

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this should give you a smidge of understanding into who this guy was and

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why on earth he'd choose to live in solitude instead of hitting up a spot

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downtown with a couple of choice roomies or a good-looking partner in crime hit

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pause and read the chapter called where I lived and what I lived for..... welcome back

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before we take apart the chapter you just read here's a full rundown of the

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book as I mentioned before, Walden is all about living a simple life in nature [Man playing saxophone]

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and all that jazz the book takes place over the two years that Thoreau lived in

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a cabin he built himself on Emerson's property at Walden Pond this book is

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mostly about the literal observations that Thoreau made and how he tied his

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thoughts about history philosophy and humanity at large to what he sees in the

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natural world Thoreau made a few trips into town and occasionally entertained [Thoreau trips over in the street]

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people at his cabin but mostly he chilled by himself just thinkin

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observing and writing this may sound totally boring or like an old school

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version of survivor but here's the deal Thoreau was living life exactly the way

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he wanted to how many people can honestly say

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that about their own lives think about it if you could live any way you want it [Man surfboarding in the ocean]

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what would you do if there were no parents forcing you to do chores no

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school to fill your days no siblings demanding you play with them or help

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with their homework what would you do how would you choose to live your idea [Boy asking sister for help with homework and boy disappears]

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of a perfect life might be way different than the one Thoreau came up with but this

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important thing was that he was doing it his way that's a huge deal and because [Thoreau walking his way]

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he chose to live in the way that he did he freed up his mind from normal

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everyday stressors and came up with some pretty awesome observations about life

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in where I lived and what I lived for we get Thoreau's own take on the purpose

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behind his experiment in the preceding chapter that we didn't read he says

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the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation that doesn't sound like a [Quote from Thoreau's book appears]

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good thing Thoreau thought that most people go through life carrying out

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what's expected of them but seeking something more they feel trapped in some

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way but not knowing how to talk about this feeling they keep quiet and remain

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desperate which sounds miserable but that's the point Thoreau was making he

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thought that most people were pretty miserable [Man takes drink while sitting in a chair]

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and since it was certainly not most people he attempted to live in a

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different way reflecting on the experience as he goes

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to see what the result will be he also figured out that most of the luxuries

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and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable but

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positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind this means that people are

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taught to seek happiness in things or possessions but these only hold us back [Thoreau walking through a forest]

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from becoming higher-level thinkers if someone told you that your cell phone

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was holding you back from being an elevated being you might laugh and then

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text your BFF about what they just said But Thoreau had a point if we break out of

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our normal routines and give up using our beloved possessions 24/7 we're

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forced to look at life in different ways in this same vein of thinking Thoreau [Man driving a car]

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noted the massive discrepancy between how rich people and poor people live and

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enjoy life but how happens it that he who is said

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to enjoy these things is so commonly a poor civilized man while the savage which

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has them not is rich as a savage the cost of a thing is the amount of what

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I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it immediately or in the

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long run he's saying that rich people have and poor people don't and that

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these attributes make the rich people poor in spirit and the poor people quite

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rich the message is that wealthy people amass goods that only hold them back [Rich man attempting to reach enlightenment]

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from being truly fulfilled in life and poor people don't have things cluttering

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up their lives so they can live a more spiritually free existence just like he

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attempted to do....

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This is a transcendentalist way they transcend the

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notion that we need material goods to make us happy [Butterfly flys by]

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ie not very 80s Madonna it's all about slowing it down, taking in the world

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around you with all of your senses and if we can do that then silly things like [Woman stood by tree smelling a flower]

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deadlines and crushes who don't return phone calls become meaningless well more

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or less what's wrong with that crush anyhow in

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where I lived and what I lived for we become immersed in the great details

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of Thoreau's observations of his home/setting of this book....

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can't you just see those ghosts like mists sneaking off into the [Mists appear from Walden Pond]

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thick woods because he slowed everything down to the base level of existence, Thoreau

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was able to focus on his surroundings and make these detailed observations

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pretty much every single day he wrote them in a way that even when we read

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them some 150 plus years later we can totally envision the place where he was

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living these observations are so descriptive

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and full of imagery they could easily be written into poetry but what's the point

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let's let Thoreau tell us for himself...

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let's break this up Thoreau says he went to the woods which

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we already know because he wanted to live deliberately that's a weird choice

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of descriptor or maybe not deliberately means intentionally or on purpose so [Butterfly carrying a definition of deliberately on a board]

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saying that by taking off on the nature hike of a lifetime is making a conscious

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choice to live in a particular way okay I can get down with that

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he then says he wanted to front only the essential facts of life and see if I

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could not learn what it had to teach and not when I came to die discover that I

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had not lived, Thoreau is pretty much explaining that he is ready to open

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himself up to living with only the bare necessities without the Disney song and [Thoreau stood by a campfire and a bear appears behind a tree]

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see what happens he's pretty sure that his experiment is going to yield the

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results that he's been predicting all along that freeing himself from society

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and all of its constraints will allow him to feel as if he's truly living life [Thoreau riding a rollercoaster]

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sort of like how some people feel about going bungee jumping or skydiving. Thoreau

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had a tight grip on ideas about what makes life precious and worth living and

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what simply distracts and detracts from the life experience as he said I did not

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wish to live what was not life living is so dear nor did I wish to practice [Sentence of chapter appears highlighted]

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resignation unless it was quite necessary but he wasn't just hanging out

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waiting for life to happen to him either....

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....he's saying that he's not afraid to get his hands dirty literally [Thoreau shows his dirty hands]

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this whole experience is about living life and Thoreau is excited about

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diving in deep there are sixteen more chapters including a conclusion in

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Walden and you should definitely put this one on your ever-growing to read [Conclusion appears and stamped must read]

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list he talks about being alone, what he was reading and how he was affected by

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the visitors who came along and saw how he was doing his thing in the conclusion

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Thoreau writes...

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success it might seem strange that Thoreau left the woods at all since he was [Thoreau standing in the woods by a cabin]

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so dang happy there but naturally he had it perfect for doing so....

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we wouldn't expect any less from this master of thought and self understanding

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so what have we learned? even though nature might not be your

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deal you can still appreciate what Thoreau said we're all mysterious beings

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trapped in a web of routine to break out of the routine and really get to know [Man in handcuffs on TV]

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ourselves in a spiritual way is what Thoreau and the spirit of transcendentalism

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was all about we can all stand to know ourselves a bit better, even if

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hiking flowers and bugs make our skin crawl

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don't worry self discovery you can have an indoors too [Butterfly flying indoors]