Henry David Thoreau

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Walden can help.

Walden: Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors Summary & Analysis

When Thoreau is alone in the winter and wants company, he says, he thinks about the former inhabitants of the woods: Cato Ingraham, a slave given a house by his master; Zilpha, a black woman who spun linen and sang and whose house was burned down in the War of 1812; Brister Freeman, former slave, and his wife Fenda, who told fortunes; the Stratten family, whose orchards once covered the hills; the Breeds, whose house was set on fire by mischievous boys and whose only survivor Thoreau finds one night surveying the rubble; Wyman the potter, who had only a chip of a pot with which to pay his taxes; and Hugh Quoil, according to rumor a soldier at Waterloo.
Thoreau amuses himself in his solitude by imagining the members of a society of misfits and independent people who followed their own whims and lived simply. He never actually knew these people but imagines them based on what he knows of them. He is able to find company where a less resourceful man would find none.
Self-Reliance Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
Simplicity Over "Progress" Theme Icon
Solitude and Society Theme Icon
In the winter, Thoreau rarely has visitors. Once, when he walks a long way in the snow, he returns home to find the smell of someone's pipe in his house and smoldering logs on the fire. At other times during the winter, he receives visits by a farmer wanting a social visit; a poet, whose company he enjoys greatly and with whom he creates a theory of life that combined mirth with sober intelligence; and a religious man, whom Thoreau deeply respects.
These visits emphasize how much of the time Thoreau was alone, yet at the same time how much he enjoyed the company of men and benefitted from their conversations. Thoreau is not a hermit; he just believes that in order to truly know others a person must first know himself.
Solitude and Society Theme Icon
Transcendentalism, Spirituality, and the Good Life Theme Icon