Henry David Thoreau

by Alison Clark

Biographical Information

Henry David Thoreau was born in 1817. He went to Harvard, which was paid by his older brother John whom he was very close to. John died in Henry's arms when Henry was 25. Afterwards Henry took a job with his father making pencils and surveying land until he was 28. Then he built a cabin near Walden pond, on land owned by his good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, and began writing. He was a critique of slavery, and because of this and his disaproval of the Mexican American war he refused to pay his taxes, and set an example of civil disobedience (the subject of one of his books). He lived simply growing his own food and building his cabin. He became quite acquainted with the natural world around him, and wrote about all of his two years living in that cabin in his book Walden. He moved back into civilization on September 6, 1847. He died at the age of 44 from tuberculosis.

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Henry David Thoreau's Major Works

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers


Resistance to Civil Government

Slavery in Massachusetts

A Plea for Captain James Brown


Cape Cod

Letters and Correspondence

The Maine Woods

A Yankee in Canada

Life Without Principle

Common Themes and Subject Matter

Walden's most well known works have two points in particular that are clearly emphasized. In Civil Disobendience he makes the point that you need to put your beliefs and morals above the law. He says when the law is not correct, people need to not follow the government and it is the obligation of the people to not participate or support these evils. Thoreau practiced these beliefs and refused to pay his taxes as he was very against slavery and the Mexican-American War. He spent a night in jail for not paying his taxes, but still refused to pay them. An important aspect of his view on civil disobediance is that it is peaceful, and his views influenced Gandhi who would lead the revolution of India based on civil disobediance, Russia's Leo Tolstoy, and Martin Luther King Jr. who rose up against segregation usuing this same idea.

A key point in his work Walden is that he doesnt need tons of money and materialistic things to live. He shows through his way of life that there is an alternative way to do things, and that people dont need to put themselves in large amounts of debt and could easily live lives of simplicity. He also talked about nature in a way different to most other pioneers percieved it. He lived alone away from society, and thus he had a closer relationship with nature and was very aware of his surroundings. Henry David Thoreau relates natural experiences and phenomenon to explain certain things about humans, such as our desire to believe in greater powers, infinity, and religion. He emphasizes on the fact that people can be self-reliant (he was a key example of this, he supported himself and was never married).

Henry David Thoreau