Walden and Word Use

The many elegant graphs and charts provided by Voyant allow for a variety of questionably accurate inferences to be made regarding the structure of Walden and Thoreau’s worldview. In the interest of providing an analysis marginally further from the realm of conjecture, I am going to be focusing on one particular function: the graph that tracks the frequency of word usage.

The first word I looked at was “Pond”, which makes 201 appearances in Walden (“Ponds” makes another 24). If the graph is divided into 20 sections, there appear to be three significant spikes, one 55-60% of the way in, another smaller one 75% in, and another larger one 90% through. I predicted that these spikes would mark sections of the book mainly containing nature writing and descriptions, primarily of Walden Pond itself. Unsurprisingly, that is just the result I got. The first spike is in “The Ponds”, the second is at the end of “Brute Neighbors”, and the third is located in “The Pond in Winter” and at the start of “Spring”.

The second word examined by me was “Life”, with a solid 198 appearances, finishing just behind “Pond”. My prediction was that sections with heavy uses of the word “Life” would mainly consist of Thoreau’s musings on how to live, along with some social commentary. The graph for the word shows some large two-parted spikes, each with a low peak, a valley, and a higher peak shortly thereafter. The first two appear midway through the first half and on the boundary between the second and third, and the third (which is substantially smaller) appears closer to the end. There is also a final rise as the book draws to a close. Upon a quick skim of these sections, my guess seems pretty much correct. The first spike appears in Economy, with Thoreau speculating on the simple existence; the second in “Where I Lived and What I Lived For”, where he gushes about returning to a slow-paced, natural mode of living; the third in “Baker Farm” and “Higher Laws”, in which he comments on the life of a poor farmer and his view of human nature, in that order; and the last in “Spring”, where he mostly is describing natural scenes, and the Conclusion, where he gives some closing advice on how to live.

Overall, tracking the parts of the book where certain words are heavily used seems like it might be a decent way of drawing some basic conclusions about the organization of the text. However, I’m not sure whether it reveals any deep insights; actually reading Walden seems like it might be the best means of gaining a thorough understanding of Walden (no pun intended).

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