The Wisdom of Simple Lives

In “Visitors,” Henry David Thoreau very much mixes praise and critique of the nebulous concept of ‘society.’ Throughout Walden, thorough celebrates his own efforts to live simply and deliberately on Walden Pond, though in “Visitors” he shows even more admiration for the wisdom of those who make such simple deliberateness their being. Thoreau explores the wisdom of those who live simply, those who are often considered to be of little value to society. He shows how these simple lives are often more deliberate, more wise, and perhaps more content than the superfluous trappings of high society. These individuals, who are of a lower social class, often have their superior wisdom contrasted positively with the lack of wisdom of society. In doing so, Thoreau offers scathing critique of the excess without thought of upper social classes, as well as the higher institutions that said classes celebrate and, most of all, the determiners of “high” and “low” class in the first place.

Still, even with Thoreau’s criticism of society, it is not as if he can or wants to reject society completely. Indeed, despite living isolated in the woods, Thoreau will often have conversations in nature and host many “Visitors.” The topic sentence of paragraph two of “Visitors” is one of the strongest in Walden, and demonstrates this well: “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” In some ways these three chairs function as a hierarchical representation of where Thoreau sees wisdom coming from during his time on Walden Pond. First and foremost, one becomes wise by being alone with one’s thoughts and becoming to understand them. Second, Thoreau interacts with his friends, such as his fellow isolate Alex Therien, and Thoreau receives knowledge to better ponder and understand on his own. Then, finally, Thoreau has his chair for society, a distinct recognition that, while Thoreau may condemn society, he still sees it as having value and still wishes to be a part of society, even when choosing a life far from town on Walden Pond.

I do not know how much it would be accurate to describe a “process” for the encoding of part of “Visitors” into TEI, nor for the creation of our timeline. Group six theoretically had five members, but in actuality had three, all joining at different times. Emma was the first to be active in our Slack, and she led the choosing of the topic and ultimately ended up creating the timeline on her own. I was next, present early on when discussing topics to show that I existed, but I ultimately began active participation when I started encoding the TEI. Anthony joined relatively late on, and assisted with the TEI, doing the smaller upper section that I had not yet touched. I ultimately completed the final touches and debugging on the TEI, as well as being the one responsible for the crafting of our final blog post, as should be obvious. It is written on my account, after all.

The biggest obstacle, and one I would hesitate to say we ever overcame, was the issue of coordination. As stated above, our five-person group had two members who never made themselves known, with the other three all becoming active on the project at different times. Calling the project collaborative in this setting, especially considering our highly limited and disjointed communications on Slack amid the pandemic, would be generous. To a large extent, the three of us did three separate projects with little to no interaction with the others. This ultimately led to a functional result, although I cannot help but wonder what our result would have been like had we skillfully collaborated and communicated. Truly, however, I, at least, am content with what we have created. Under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, when none of us are well mentally even when we are not ill physically, pushing through and completing this project is an achievement in and of itself. We did ultimately establish passable communication via Slack during the last few days of working on the project, as it was a focus for all of us due to the looming due date, and we did ultimately create a cohesive product. Well I would not say we ever truly overcame our difficulties, we did improve and we did ultimately succeed in completing this project.

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