Changing of the Seasons (or not…)

When reading Walden, I personally find myself intrigued by the structure and format of the text itself. From a writing perspective, Walden boasts a number of grammatical and organizational feats. Harding almost doesn’t do Walden justice in “Five Ways of Looking at Walden” when he claims that the text is “tightly constructed” (157). From the content of each chapter to the page-filling sentences that are carefully pieced together, it’s apparent that Thoreau was very considerate of the way in which he constructed his time at Walden. One of Thoreau’s organizational feats that intrigues me is the compression of two years, two months, and two days spent at Walden Pond into the cycle of one whole year. Walden opens in the spring with Thoreau building his cabin. By the summer, he has moved in. In the fall, Thoreau begins building a chimney for the imminent winter months approaching. In the winter, Thoreau writes. By the spring, Walden wraps up.

With this in mind, I was curious to see exactly how many times the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter) come up within the text. More importantly, however, I wanted to see if the frequency trends for each seasonal word would coincide with the cycle of the year in Walden. As an example one would expect the frequency of the word “spring” to be higher in the beginning and conclusion of Walden, as that is the respective season in those parts of the text.

Using Voyant Tools to analyze the text, a few interesting facts arose. In regards to the frequency of the seasonal terms, winter was utilized the most, appearing 102 times throughout the text. This was followed by spring utilized 81 times, summer 70 times, and fall only 29 times. Personally, I find it weird that fall only came up 29 times as fall is way better than winter, but that’s beside the point.

Now here’s where it gets more interesting. The output from Voyant tools in regards to seasonal term frequencies did not represent the results that I was expecting to see. Instead of seeing the term frequency coinciding with the change in seasons over the course of Walden, I saw terms overlapping with each other. In fact, when looking at each document segment of Walden (represented on the graph’s x axis), winter had the highest or same frequency as the highest term in 5 out of 10 segments of Walden (segments 1,3,4,8, and 9). Spring had the highest term frequency or the same frequency as the highest term in document segments 2,3,6,7, and 10. Summer had the highest frequency in document segment 5. Fall never had the highest frequency in any of the 10 document segments. The seasons don’t seem to change when just examining word frequencies.

This points out a discrepancy between interpretations that may be reached between close and distant reading techniques. Through distant reading, the seasonal progression that is present in Walden is truly difficult to pick up on. Word frequencies do not coincide with the seasonal changes that occur throughout the course of the text. While I see distant reading as an important facet of critical reading, these results seem to point out the fact that distant reading can sometimes fail to pick up on trends that a close analysis of the text can uncover.

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