"Live Your Own Life": Henry David Thoreau’s Ecoutopic Reflections

  • T. V. Mykhed Doctor of Philology, Professor, Professor at the Foreign Literature Department, Institute of Philology, National Taras Shevchenko University of Kyiv
Keywords: H. D. Thoreau, Walden, ecoutopia


The article is devoted to the analysis of the ecotopic ideas of H. D. Thoreau, his attempts to put
them into practice during the Walden experiment, which was implemented in the context of
philosophical reflections developed by transcendentalists and R. W. Emerson. Utopian
projects, embodied in the form of various kinds of communes, in Thoreau’s case took the form
of anarchist rejection of civilization, self-isolation and maximum approximation to Nature, which
he understood as the perfect model by which the human spirit and body were formed. These
ideas of Thoreau were inspired by the "Lotus Sutra" he had translated. One of its main points
is "to become a Buddha, like grass or a tree", which meant enlightenment, self-realization as a
person according to one’s nature, despite other people’s examples or patterns. Thus, the idea
of individual ecoutopia was based on, besides the national Puritan concept of searching for a
lost paradise, Emerson’s / transcendental self-reliance, Romantic individualism and the conflict
of a unique personality with society, the Eastern mental practices of enlightenment and self-
determination as cultivating the "fruit of the Buddha". Emerson’s message "build your own
world" Toro transformed into the so-called philosophy of "natural life", which he tried to realize
by experimenting with his own life on the banks of the Walden Pond. He said that he wanted to
meet with the facts of life – vital facts that would be a phenomenon or reality that the Lord
wanted to reveal – directly, face to face. Therefore, on Independence Day, July 4, 1845, Toro
settled in a hut on the banks of the Volden Pond, trying to confirm in practice his principles of
simplifying life and to demonstrate personal independence from the social system that he
rejected. Thoreau spent 2 years and 2 months on Walden. The main achievement of that time
was a draft of "Walden; or, Life in the Woods", published in 1854, and its intellectual message
remains in demand today. Thoreau’s experiment turned out to be in tune with the ideas of
modern ecophilosophers, ecocritics, green anarchists, although he, an individualist and an
anarchist, never intended to form or lead a party of followers. Thoreau considered conscious
solitude to be gracious for a human being. For him, this was the road to self-knowledge and
self-improvement as a necessary prerequisite for understanding the truth of the divine Nature.
Thoreau was convinced that loneliness is overcome by the harmony of the universe, where a
person is never alone and where one feels at home, which allows to shape and emphasize
one’s personality.


1. Emerson R. W. The Complete Works. Centenary Edition. 12 vols. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1903/1904.
2. Hoehfield G. New England Transcendentalism. American literature to 1900. London: Sphere Book, 1986. P. 135–168.
3. Kazin A. An American Procession. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996.
4. Mannheim K. The Utopian Mentality: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. Harvest Books, 1936.
5. Thoreau H. D. Walden, or Life in the Woods. N. Y.: Library of America, 1985.

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How to Cite
Mykhed, T. V. “"Live Your Own Life": Henry David Thoreau’s Ecoutopic Reflections”. Literature and Culture of Polissya, Vol. 98, no. 14f, May 2020, pp. 131-4, doi:10.31654/2520-6966-2020-14f-98-131-141.