Thoreau’s “Where I Lived What I Lived For”

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Henry David Thoreau was an outstanding transcendentalist who valued nature interaction. Thoreau was an accomplished naturalist and perhaps extremely outspoken and foresighted advocate for the protection of natural environments. Thoreau, in every meaning, can be described as egotistical, self-absorbed: concerned with self-control and certain that he needed nothing else apart from his simple existence to comprehend and live on this planet. Thoreau’s Chapter 2, “Where I Lived, What I Lived For,” from his book Walden, may be used to illustrate his vision of a homey existence, as opposed to the experience of dwelling in lonely forested areas. And, in particular, a dream of abandoning the meddling and obligations of existing with others.

Henry David Thoreau’s Ideas

In comparing the time Henry David Thoreau lived and the modern world, many readers would find Thoreau’s “Where I Lived What I Lived For” intriguing based on his preferred personality and love for seclusion and nature. Even Sanders is fascinated by Thoreau’s decision to live on the shores of Walden Pond away from any social or political interaction, but Thoreau craves “simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Concerned, Sanders resoundingly mentions that Thoreau should have used “his Harvard degree to land a job and a wife, and then proceed to have kids, buy a house, get rich, and distribute alms to the poor (115).” This statement is a clear indication that whatever David presented in “Where I Lived What I Lived For” cannot be used by modern people to make sense and manage their lives. In the contemporary world, it is evident that Thoreau is going against the societal norms which champion a person’s societal inclusion, representation, and interaction with every world aspect. These concepts mark the assertion that Thoreau’s ideas cannot help modern people make sense of and manage their lives.

On the contrary, Thoreau writes:

“I went to the woods because I wished 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 did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. ”

This quote is a typical example of living a preferred and individuals can identify themselves with Thoreau’s life. Many people, especially modern world introverts, can yearn for a secluded lifestyle within a pristine environment where birds and other forest animals are their acquaintances (Thoreau). Individuals can aim to keep living deliberately, reduce their life to its fundamentals, and enjoy being nature sojourners instead of interacting with the ever-growing busy culture of the 21st century. Additionally, the quote may help modern people to identify their residential area based on their preference while considering the fundamental philosophical inquiry into the purpose of life. In the contemporary world, individuals can manage their lives based on where they live and what they are living for. For example, individuals would live in forests and caves to preserve their culture or fulfil their life adventures and fantasies. These actions depend on a person’s preference and natural interaction level. Those born naturalists would appreciate living according to Thoreau’s ideas.

As mentioned in the second paragraph, “Where I Lived What I Lived For” cannot be used by modern people to make sense of and manage their lives. The contemporary world is evolving, and exposure and interaction are the key components to human survival. Every human being is supposed to belong to a social group that Thoreau objects to. Social groups make individuals feel encouraged and valued; as one might assume, they make people feel competent (Cansoy and Hanifi 554). Humans have a greater sense of independent control over their lives and live with encouragement and competence. This contradicts Thoreau’s idea that “let your affairs be as two or three.” Humans in nature deal with several affairs which cannot be limited to three or two. In a candid view, it is next to impossible to locate an individual who would prefer living in a forest with only one or two contacts.

Furthermore, the contemporary world has witnessed advancements in technology, a feat that has made the world a global community. As Thoreau writes, “For my part, I could easily do without the post office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it.” This statement does not make sense in the modern world since people depend on various advanced means, modes, and communication mediums. These communication frameworks have brought people together, curbing the idea of post-office message delivery which can take up to several days to deliver a message.

Consequently, today, ‘Thoreau’s post office is almost losing meaning to its competitors. If people were only to manage their communication through post-office, it would be hectic to be in contact even if a person receives one or two mail in a year. Due to this reason, the modern world has developed extensive and sophisticated communication platforms that surpass Thoreau’s traditional post office.

Additionally, Thoreau’s idea in “Where I Lived What I Lived For” is ‘simplicity.’ He wants to show that people can avoid the complex life as seen in the modern world, “simplify, simplify.” This idea concerning the 21st century is hard to achieve and, therefore, unthinkable. Thoreau could have achieved this “equal simplicity” in the 19th century. He acquired his land through squatter’s rights, and his expenditure in 1841 was relatively low compared to today’s world. People living in the contemporary world are expected to buy their land and build houses that will house them through winter and spring, meaning that the cost of construction would be high. Besides, there were significant changes in dollar purchasing power in Thoreau’s time compared to the modern world. According to Ian Webster from Official Data Foundation, “$1 in 1841 is equivalent in purchasing power to about $32.61 today,” indicating that “today’s prices are 32.61 times higher than average prices since 1841.” With this discrepancy, Thoreau could afford a simple life, a feat that is impossible to achieve in the modern world. Economic changes over time in the United States make David’s ideas unreasonable in contemporary society.


In conclusion, Henry David Thoreau’s ideas presented in “Where I Lived What I Lived For” vary and depend on a person’s preferences and choices of living. Some individuals would prefer and implement the ideas, while others would discern them. As the paper discussed, modern people cannot use arguments to make sense and manage their lives. Contemporary life has undergone various changes and evolution that have made people dependent on each other. Technological, environmental, and economic changes have contributed to societal changes that render Thoreau’s ideas null and avoid. People nowadays value social interaction, robust communication and improved social life, something David discerns in his book. Alternatively, some individuals would prefer Thoreau’s lifestyle and choose to live according to his preferred ways. However, in strong contention and based on the ideas presented above, Thoreau’s ideas in “Where I Lived What I Lived For” cannot help modern people make sense of and manage their lives.


Cansoy, Ramazan, and Hanifi Parlar. “Examining the relationship between school principals’ instructional leadership behaviors, teacher self-efficacy, and collective teacher efficacy.” International Journal of Educational Management (2018).

Sanders, Scott Russell. “Hooks Baited with Darkness.” Daedalus 143.1 (2014): 115-122.

Thoreau, Henry. Where I lived, and what I lived for. Vol. 37. Penguin UK, 2005.

Webster, Ian. “Inflation Rate between 1841-2022: Inflation Calculator.” $1 In 1841 → 2022 | Inflation Calculator, Web.