Mapping a Reading of Thoreau’s Walden

We might be tempted, reading Walden, and wanting, for some reason, something more, answers, perhaps, though we might not yet know the questions, to split the difference (and the infinitive) and to quickly Google “Thoreau.” (I just did, and got 22 million results in about half a second.) Eventually, we might stumble across Walter Harding’s The Days of Henry Thoreau: A Biography, a good find, and one that carries the imprimatur of scholarly law. Harding’s book contains a map of Thoreau’s Concord. And, if we want to map the many obscure references in Walden, we might be interested in Harding’s Walden: An Annotated Edition, though there are so many annotations we are reminded of a crowded day in the South Bay, when one could not see the waves between the Manhattan and Hermosa Piers, there were so many surfers in the water. Sauntering further along the streams of academic searches, we might discover John Roman’s excellent “Mapping Thoreau’s World: An Artist’s Journal on Making an Illustrated Map of Historic Concord” (The Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies, N.S. Vol. 15 [2007]: 123-184).

All good stuff, except for one problem: as we set sail on The Google Titanic, we seem to have put the actual Walden aside, the original text, and haven’t read, or reread, a single page. Besides, wouldn’t Thoreau be the first to say that if it’s maps we want, we would do well to make our own, and make it of our own neighborhood, that we might better come to know where we live, and what we live for?

Still, parts of Walden might perplex us for lack of specific knowledge of how things were in Thoreau’s time: his attitude toward the poor toward the end of “Economy,” for example, might perplex us, toward being poor (if he could be considered poor, by any definition), or of fear of becoming poor. We might want to know something of almshouses and poorhouses of Thoreau’s time, of what became of citizens with mental health problems, of the growth of towns, of economic recessions and recoveries, of farm labor, of immigration and how immigration provided for cheap labor and the exploitation of recent Irish immigrants to build the railroad through Thoreau’s countryside (Thoreau, in Walden, appears to have several objections to the railroad). These questions would provide us with useful pursuits that might lead to new reading perspectives.

But still, the questions of what we think of the poor, of being poor (if we might be considered poor by any definition), or fear of becoming poor, if we harbor such a fear, might suggest our own rendering, writing, of our economy, in such rhetorical terms as Thoreau opened the door for us. And as for maps, we would do well to make our own, our own reading map of Walden, complete with distances, landmarks, signposts, and other markings and drawings, and footnotes, so that our reader, if we can imagine such a one, might better know our reading perspective and what we found, having lived for some significant time, in Walden.



  1. Geannie Newell says:

    You remind me of a fisherman. You have cast out your line and you wait patiently for something (or someone) to take your bait. With each subsequent post you rebait your line adding a little bit
    more information to capture the readers imagination. For what it’s worth I have decided to purchase Walden for my Kindle. I’ll let you know what I think.


  2. Geannie Newell says:

    A secondary note – I bought it at Amazon for the price of $0.00 – great bargain. I immediately realized we had read part of it in class and I liked it so I’m now excited read the entire book. Thanks Joe.


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Geannie: Really, $0.00? But read along. I was thinking of a post titled “Thoreau’s Rants,” for he does have a way of carrying on, but it’s often not the length of the rant but the strange or surprising turns he takes that’s interesting. He’s like a jazz musician, though that’s a reading inconsistent with his “Reading” chapter, in which he argues that oratory is a lesser art than writing, but I’m not sure about that. Joe


      1. Well Geannie, thanks. My kids got kindles for christmas and we just purchased the same for $0.00!! Not sure why this book appeals to me. Will know soon. Thanks also to Joe! Its the bait line Geannie, He’s good, isn’t he?


  3. dan hen says:

    Seems to be a thorough analysis of Thoreau .


    1. Joe Linker says:

      Thoroughly Thoreauvian, through and through.


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