The Mind of Thoreau:
The Type of Thinking Used by Henry David Thoreau
Historian Jill Lepore quotes Henry David Thoreau in her book review essay “Vast Designs” saying that he did not want “to live in this restless, nervous, bustling, trivial Nineteenth Century”, and would rather “stand or sit thoughtfully while it goes by” (90). Thoreau possessed a hatred for the market revolution, quite unlike his ambivalent mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who in 1844, raved how America was a “country of the Future” (88). In the play, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail by Lawrence and Lee, Emerson tells Thoreau that “whenever [he] even think[s] of Walden, [he] get[s] a cold”, yet he admires Thoreau, who lives alone in a cabin by Walden Pond, and calls him his “walking ethic” (86). Lepore describes Thoreau worrying about how involvement in such a revolution will create what Charles Sellers calls a “commodified humanity” in persistent competitive struggle and “poison the more affective and altruistic relations of social reproduction that outweigh material accumulation for most human beings” (91). Despite this indignant tone and resentment towards capitalism, Thoreau is quoted by Lepore saying, “[he had] thought that Walden Pond would be a good place for business” (90). Lepore clarifies that Thoreau’s bean business was “not a business, but an anti-business”. It was a self-sufficient agriculture business Thoreau used to support himself. This ambivalence, however, makes the reader question Thoreau’s thinking. Is he for the market revolution or does he want to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” in his cabin by Walden Pond as he says in Walden (Thoreau 237)?
Thoreau’s ambivalence is resolved through reading his other works. He expresses his belief in freedom and individualism in Walden when he says, “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours”...