Where I Lived and What I Lived For

In mid-19th century America, the continuing rise of industrialism and the commencement of the Civil War posed as a threat to the transcendentalist’s playground: nature. In the second chapter of Walden,  “Where I Lived and What I Lived for”, Henry David Thoreau argues that we must transcend above the parallel rise of industrialism and the Civil War, as to preserve nature and our own deliberate living.

Contrary to most literature up to this point, Thoreau views nature not as a wild unknown, but as a deeply religious space that should not be conquered, claimed or destroyed. To Thoreau, nature is not only beauty but also a nonconventional Christ figure. The wilderness of Walden Pond, like Christ, is the manifestation of heaven on earth (Thoreau 904). When the United States tarnished the land with battles or industrialized a space such as this, they were not taming a wilderness, as they believed. Instead, they were tainting innately holy ground. Like Christ serves as a model for Christians, Thoreau believes that nature is a model for humanity:

“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, or breakfast, gently and without perturbation; let company come and let the company go, let the bells ring and the children cry” (909).

According to his philosophy, humanity does not have ownership over nature, as society believed during the heart of the 19th century, rather, humans are part of nature and to imitate it is to achieve their highest level of living.

Instead of humanity preoccupying itself with external selves and material futures, Thoreau calls for the embracing of a carpe diem philosophy; perfectly promoted in the presence of nature. He states, “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” (Thoreau 906). For Thoreau, carpe diem did not mean to live in order to receive all the material gains possible in one lifetime, but rather to gain knowledge and to experience a full range of emotions. This was in stark contrast to the movement of industrialization pummeling America’s future towards new technology. He emphasizes his own dedication to living deliberately in nature through his morning baths, which can be interpreted as a metaphorical baptism. Each day, he rises and renews himself from the failings of the day before. In making a conscious decision to baptize himself, he is epitomizing the idea of deliberate living. He embraces the present and dedicates himself to experiencing life.

In this piece, Thoreau breaks free from the American Gothic style that had become the canonical norm. He also breaks free from societies expectations as he retreats to Walden. “Where I lived and What I Lived For” is a piece rooted in civil disobedience. He encourages the reader to rebel against the nature of the times and to live independently and deliberately.

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