Thoreau’s Adaptation To Change: “House Warming” And Transition In Walden

3046 words - 13 pages

In the over 150 years since its publication, much critical attention has been paid to Henry David Thoreau’s most popular work, Walden. Having been so heavily critiqued, much recent critical work on Thoreau “gives greater attention to Thoreau’s unpublished work after Walden” (Meehan 300). Despite the superabundance of writing on this book, certain parts of it have been left relatively ignored. The chapter “House-Warming,” situated at the dawn of winter, has been treated thus. It might be that the reason for this lack of focus on this chapter is its transitory nature, as its primary purpose seems is to serve as a link between the autumn and the winter. As any writer will profess, such a transition in the narrative is indispensable. This transition is not only one that relates to the narrative, but also to Thoreau’s philosophy regarding the essentials of life. As Walden is often called an experiment by both critics and its author, “House-Warming” is especially worthy of attention as it shows us Thoreau not only performing experiments, but it also represents a turning point in the experiment that is Walden. “House-Warming” then exists both to showcase a philosophical adaptation on Thoreau’s part and a narrative transition, and also to preclude the magnification of his interest in scientific observation and experimentation over the course of the closing chapters.
Before diving into “House-Warming,” a very brief note should be taken on the use of language regarding Walden and this particular chapter. Other critics have noted of Walden that though “the bulk of its pages were written during his sojourn by the pond (1845-7), it was not ready for publication until seven years later, and ultimately included a distillation from his journals over the whole period” and that in its final published form the “structure of the book involved deliberate rearrangement of material” (Matthiessen 55, 58). Despite the unusual nature of the book as part memoir, part experiment and part philosophy, “Walden is after all a highly crafted narrative” (Hodder, 218). The concern here is with the structure of the book as both a narrative and the memoir of an experiment, and the role of a single chapter within that structure. Because “Walden is arranged a good deal more subtly” than it would be if it was merely a memoir, or merely a work of philosophy, the assumption will be made here that Walden’s ‘narrative’ deserves to be discussed as such (Matthiessen 55). For this reason, narrative-centric language will be used here, especially in the sections which immediately follow this and focus on the chapter’s relation to other parts of the book and its transitory aspects.
There exists within “House-Warming” a type of cognitive and narrative link, between the early chapters and itself. Though it is largely a chapter of experimentation and transition, it is also fundamentally linked to other philosophical parts of Walden. “Economy” is probably the most often discussed part of the book,...

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