Quest for Reformation
Henry David Thoreau’s Quest for Reformation
While strolling through the forests near Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau stumbled across a man and his family. The father, John Field had moved to America from Ireland with his wife and his son in order to “improve [their] condition one day” (Walden, 139). Henry listened intently to what John had to say about his life in America and his plans for the future, and then he offered up his personal experiences concerning society and life in general. To a reader who hasn’t been exposed to the works of Emerson or Throreau, the entire situation might seem perfectly normal, almost mundane, however Thoreau is a transcendentalist who had been living in nature for the past 2 years in an attempt to become divine and righteous.
John has never heard of such a lifestyle and is drawn closer and becomes deeply interested in the argument that Thoreau makes for living simply. Thoreau explains that he “lives in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost him more than the annual rent of such a ruin as [John’s] commonly amounts to” (Walden, 140). Thoreau almost makes the identical argument, (although Thoreau is not really “arguing”, he is documenting the costs of his house) and explains that having a shelter that is practical yet functional is an essential step to simplifying one’s life, which in turn is an essential step in the process of becoming deified and enlightened.
In more detail Thoreau mentions, ” [that] the necessaries of life for man in this climate may, accurately enough be distributed under the several heads of FOOD, SHELTER, CLOTHING, and FUEL” (Walden, 13). Food, one of the several heads mentioned in the statement above is also a necessity of life which “keeps up the internal combustion in the lungs; fuel” (Walden, 13). Thoreau recognized the pattern in which society had contorted the meaning of life into a competition for material possessions, rather than an enlightening experience. Thoreau sought a remedy to counteract the effects of society on the individual. Reduction. Thoreau reduced life down to the bare necessities, which included: Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel. Once Thoreau simplified life, he created a domino effect–because “[he] did not work hard, [he] did [not] have to eat hard, and it cost [him] but a trifle for [his] food” (Walden, 140). Similarly, Thoreau “[didn’t] work hard, he [didn’t] require thick boots and stout clothing, [so] [his] clothes cost not half so much” (Walden, 140). Thoreau didn’t work hard because he could “catch as many fish as [he] should want for two days (Walden, 140) or cultivate…beans, potatoes, corn, peas, and turnips” (Walden, 41-42). To be able to “eke out a scanty fare of vegetables” (Walden, 138) is adequate in terms of producing the vital (animal) heat that is the grand necessity for the human body.
Thoreau reduced his “affairs to be as two or three” (Walden, 66) and successfully simplified his life. He lived a “stern and more than Spartan simplistic [way] of life and he retained his elevation of purpose” (Walden, 67). This elevation of purpose directly refers to the transcendentalist movement that Thoreau was a pioneer in. The elevation of purpose is the ascension of character, becoming a “perfect” person. All of this is an account of how Thoreau achieved perfection in his life and literally reconciled his relationship with the universe and God. Thoreau’s enlightenment was illustrated when he “stood in the very abutment of a rainbow’s arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere and dazzling [him] as if [he] looked through colored crystal. It was like a lake of rainbow light. [He used to wonder at the halo of light around [his] shadow” (Walden, 138). It is clear that the near blinding light and the ethereal image of purity and beauty that Thoreau experienced represents his admittance as an intellectual and spiritual demi-god.
So the chronicle comes to a conclusion. John Field, “an honest and hard-working man” (Walden, 141) that was living life that he was ultimately pre-destined to live. “Born to be poor” (Walden, 142), John lived to be poor because his field of vision was impeded by the restraints of society. John was capable of seeing one particular type of lifestyle, a routine that had to be followed with do or die dedication in order to have advanced his position. In reality (Thoreau’s reality), John wasn’t making any progress, in fact he was digressing from the goal he was attempting to achieve because he was approaching his life in an inappropriate fashion. Henry David Thoreau’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly is analogous with his crusade to transform himself into a perfect being through his immersion in nature.