Summary and Analysis
Chapter 18 - Conclusion
The experiment and spiritual quest at Walden Pond is concluded and, based upon the truths discovered and revealed, the narrator makes a final exhortation that his readers also begin a new and finer life. He tells us that just because we live in such and such a town, within four walls, we should not conclude that our lives must be limited, shallow, and ordinary. Nor need we travel around the world to have an interesting life. Life can be an enriching "voyage," not necessarily involving the exploration of darkest Africa or the South Seas. Rather, the rich life involves an inward voyage whereby we discover our divine potentialities, our unique possibilities for greatness as men. He advises his readers thus:
Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be
Expert in home-cosmography.
Against the background of contemporary American expansionism, he wonders why so many men trifle away their lives in geographical exploration: "What does Africa — what does the West stand for? Is not our own interior white on the chart / . . . Obey the precept of the old philosopher, and Explore thyself"; there are "continents and seas in the moral world, to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him."
Once one discovers what is within the self, he should then construct a vision of how he can develop the potentiality for the greatness that he finds. Man can become whatever he chooses to be. His potential is vast and is able to be realized in this life; the narrator is convinced that "if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." He offers us this view of ourselves and warns us not to fall into the "democratic" trap of being content with remaining "common men" and priding ourselves on being merely "average Americans" who live by that much overrated commodity, common sense. "Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that as common-sense. The commonest sense is the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring."
He tells us to avoid the paralyzing influence of the past and not to listen to those who are constantly "dinning in our ears that we Americans, and moderns generally, are intellectual dwarfs compared with the ancients, or even the Elizabethan men." We should not spend our time worrying about the so-called good old days, when "men were men": "Let every one mind his own business, and endeavour to be what he was made."
Conformity is another trap to avoid: "Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Inner exploration and growth are the personal concerns of each unique individual; each must discover his own truths and live by them accordingly. The narrator has offered us the example of how this may be done; we have seen him decide "not to live in this restless, nervous, bustling, trivial Nineteenth Century, but stand or sit thoughtfully while it goes by" and tend to his own self-cultivation.
The result of such a way of living is illustrated by the fable of the "strong and beautiful bug" with which the narrator ends Walden. Fittingly, Walden concludes with an emphatic note of optimism and hope in man's ability to transcend his self-imposed limitations and fulfill his unmeasured potential for excellence.