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Can you really learn about human nature by removing yourself from the company of other humans? Henry David Thoreau thought it was a possibility and gave it a shot by moving to Walden Pond and completely isolating himself from other people. (He did bring his dirty laundry home for his mother to do, but hey—who wouldn't?)
|American Literature||19th-Century American Literature|
All American Literature
|Author||Thoreau - Henry David Thoreau|
Life, Consciousness, and Existence
Man and the Natural World
Society and Class
Technology and Modernization
Visions of America
Wisdom and Knowledge
No telephone, no television, no Playstation.
Man, we hope he brought a deck of cards.
Okay, so there may not have been many electronic gadgets in his day...
...but even still, "spending quality time with a pond" probably wasn't on most of his
contemporaries' bucket lists. So... a valiant experiment... but can it work?
In other words... can you really learn about human nature...
...by removing yourself from the company of other humans?
We get what Thoreau was trying to do.
There were a lot of distractions in the world, even back then...
...and he was trying to get rid of all the emotional clutter, so he could really get
in touch with his inner self. So maybe he was onto something.
Maybe by giving himself time to sit, think and reflect...
...he had a chance to come to certain conclusions about life that other people didn't.
At the very least, he didn't have anyone banging down the bathroom door, demanding that he
spend less time on the toilet. But, although Thoreau retired to his cabin
to focus on nature, he didn't avoid human contact altogether.
Occasionally, he would have someone over, and would even go into town once in a while.
So was he just trying to learn about human nature by... cutting back on humans?
Almost like he was on a... "people" diet? It's possible he found a way to strike a good
...so that he could commune with Mother Nature without cutting himself off from society completely...
...or did he just have trouble spending every day, all day talking to his water lilies?
Then again, does spending time in nature teach us about... human nature?
Don't we need that daily interaction with other people to teach us about ourselves?
After all, the way we deal with others shapes the type of person we become.
If we had a domineering father, did we follow in his footsteps or rebel against him?
How did our first romantic rejection affect our view of love?
Did we let that woman who spit at us on the subway ruin our entire day?
So... we're glad that Thoreau was able to get a little R&R...
...but we wonder if he actually accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
Could enveloping himself in nature really help him learn more about the human condition?
Was the peace and quiet all he needed to arrive at some weighty revelations?
Was... reducing his daily people intake... and finding a balance... the answer?
Or was he on a fool's errand... futilely attempting to learn about the soul while surrounding
himself with shrubbery? Shmoop amongst yourselves.