Walden-Identity & Sense of Place in Society

Walden Chapter 1 “Economy”

For Discussion and Journaling:

  • What fundamental characteristic of the environment does Thoreau remind us about? Why is it so important to understand this, especially in our age?
  • Is it important to “look through each other’s eyes” or to understand “all the ages of the world in an hour”? What do we gain? What happens when we don’t?
  • How do you personally find ways to look through another’s eyes? Do you apply the same principle across all areas of your life – for example, relationships, school, your environmental ethic, etc.
  •  Can you think of environmental problems or situations in the world that result from lack of knowledge, perspective, or different interests?


From Walden Chapter 2 “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”
For Discussion and Journaling:

  • What does Thoreau mean when he says he wants to shave life close and “reduce it to its lowest terms?”  What did he hope this would do?
  • Why do you think Thoreau moved closer to nature to conduct his experiment?
  • What has your environment taught you? Have you ever visited or lived in a different environment”? What did that environment teach you or help you understand?
  • Do you live deliberately? Deeply? Simply?


From Walden Chapter 9 “The Ponds”

For Discussion and Journaling:

  • Thoreau refers to Walden Pond as a mirror. In what ways does it – and nature in general – serve as a mirror?
  • Thoreau’s skills as a writer are clearly at work in this passage. How does art – writing, stories, music, painting, etc. – help “conserve” nature? Do you think Walden Pond would still exist today if Thoreau hadn’t written about it so eloquently?
  • Walden was well-known to Thoreau. He grew up nearby and spent many hours walking there. Do you think it is significant that he finds “liquid joy” in a place so close to home?
  • Do you have a place, outside in nature, which serves as your “mirror” or brings you joy? How has this place influenced your view of the environment and your environmental ethic?
  • How much time do you spend outside, experiencing nature? Is this important to you?


From Walden Chapter 18 “Conclusion”

For Discussion and Journaling:

  • What is Thoreau saying his experiment in simple living “pond-side” allowed him to do? How did simplification help him? What emotional, spiritual, physical, ethical and other benefits did it have?
  • How does Thoreau suggest we live life? What is his main message? Why?
  • Thoreau was one person with a journal and a message to communicate. Why do you think he has had the impact he has? Is his story inspiring? How does his ability to tell his story help?
  • Have you ever had experiences that compelled you to put “some things behind” or discover “new, universal, and more liberal laws”? How did they change you?
  • Has your experiment – your environmental stewardship project – helped you pass an “invisible boundary”? In what ways? How has your environmental ethic been affected


The Task

The Missing Chapter of Walden Last week curators at the Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts, were cleaning out the attic when they opened an old trunk and found the original manuscript of Henry David Thoreau’s classic work, Walden. Scholars were ecstatic to have a chance to see Thoreau’s own handwriting and to analyze his revisions. Both curators and scholars were startled, however, to discover an entire chapter of Walden that no one had ever seen before. They knew it had to be his, partly because they recognized his handwriting, but also partly by the style of the chapter:

  •  It focuses on nature.
  •  It uses long, complex sentences and sophisticated language.
  •  It includes references to Greek and Roman mythology and ancient history.
  •  The chapter begins by describing a specific scene in nature. It continues by adding more detail to the description, and it ends by making a connection between nature, human life, and possibly the Oversoul.
  •  It includes a philosophical discussion of something related to the scene. Your task is to produce that missing chapter.
  • Find or invent a scene from nature. Elaborate on it and then make a connection to life. Plan to write a minimum of 500 words. This assignment is due___________.

This task is designed as a concluding activity or assessment piece for 11th or 12th grade students who have read and discussed the writing of Henry David Thoreau. Common Core Standards addressed by this writing task:

Standard 3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. a. Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation and its significance, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events. b. Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters. c. Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth, or resolution). d. Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters. e. Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.