Thoreau, the Home, and the House

As a big fan of “close reading,” digging into the meat of words on a page, the idea of turning those words into numerical data through things like Voyant Tools doesn’t really float my boat. I like to try to figure out authorial intent a lot of the time, and while there is at least a faint possibility of finding that in close reading, I highly doubt that Thoreau was every considering how many times he used words like “pond.” All that considered, these kinds of tools could reveal a certain amount of subconscious meaning that proves interesting as a different kind of psychological, subliminal message. A prime example of this can be seen by looking at the top 75 words used inĀ Walden:


For someone who so appreciates he concept of being “equally at home everywhere,” finding the necessities of a home to be minimal at most, Thoreau seems to spend quite a bit of time contemplating the small shelter he has made for himself. According to this word cloud, he uses the word “house” 197 times total throughout the entirely of Walden. This is third only behind words like “man,” which is unsurprising, given the occasionally pretentious and preacher tone that many consider Thoreau to carry throughout his writing. This kind of quantitative analysis tells me that subconsciously, Thoreau may be using the physical embodiment of a home, or his house, to anchor himself within the wilderness despite his ease of mind while wandering. Just as any other human, it occurs to me that Thoreau may be more linked to human comforts, such as a house, than he would like to admit to himself. This seems surprising given the sheer number of times he seems to have revised his work.

In keeping with this, another word that he uses frequently is the comparative word “like.” By looking at this word cloud, and the sentence within which this word is used, it appears that he uses it 301 times mostly for the sake of drawing parallels between the abstract ideas he creates and concrete images. For example, he likens his mind to a wheeling hawk in paragraph 6 of the Bean Field in Walden. This tells the distant reader that Thoreau tries to make sense of his spiritual and philosophical musings, for both the average reader and himself, by linking them to things he sees in nature that everyone can relate to on a physical level. As such, this correlates to his belief that understanding of a higher power comes through observing nature and embracing our animal and human connection with it. Given this evidence, it seems as though a good deal of meaning can come not when one looks closer, but when they take a step back to the physical words in the first place.

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