Summary and Analysis
"I am naturally no hermit," begins the narrator, "I think that I love society as much as most." Although much of his time at Walden was spent in solitary communion with nature, he did from time to time entertain visitors. In fact, he once had twenty-five people under his roof at one time. Yet, for the most part, the distance from Concord so cut down on the number of interruptions to his solitary life that he usually met only people worth meeting: "Fewer came to see me on trivial business. . . . I had withdrawn so far within the great ocean of solitude, into which the rivers of society empty, that for the most part, so far as my needs were concerned, only the finest sediment was deposited around me."
One of the narrator's favorite visitors was a Canadian woodchopper. He delighted in the company of the woodchopper because of his simple, honest personality — "a more simple and natural man it would be hard to find." To the narrator, the woodchopper led a perfect life; that is, rose early, was free from anxiety, and was liberated from economic drudgery because he lived on the level of mere subsistence, close to nature. He was such a "natural" person that birds perched on his shoulders as he ate his lunch. The narrator — still "skimming off" truths — was ready to declare him the ideal man, but then he noted a substantial defect; The woodchopper was content in nature, but content mainly in the sense that a well-fed ox is. "The intellectual and what is called spiritual man in him were slumbering as in an infant." The woodchopper was natural and did not suffer from the artificiality of society, yet he, like the townsmen, was a "sleeper."
There were other visitors. Half-witted men from the alms-house stopped by, and the narrator was not too surprised to find "some of them to be wiser than the so-called overseers of the poor and selectmen of the town." "Restless, committed men" also came to the pond but did not enjoy themselves. They had been so spiritually enervated by the economic world that they could not feel the benign influences of nature. "The greatest bores of all," social reformers — people who go about trying to change the world without having first reformed themselves — came to preach at the narrator; he avoided these distasteful "men-harriers." The only visitors who truly seemed to enjoy their trek to the pond were those who had not yet been ruined by society, young girls and boys. "They looked in the pond at the flowers, and improved their time." The narrator is delighted that there are still such people — "for I had had communication with that race.
The narrator's claim that he loves society as much as most is not a very convincing one, even though he qualifies this statement later in the chapter. When he declares that he "might possibly sit out the sturdiest frequenter of the barroom, if my business called me thither," it is difficult to know if the narrator is serious; perhaps he is indulging in humor, perhaps self-parody. Despite his claims to the contrary, the narrator is not really a "society-loving" man; we need consider only how few visitors he enthusiastically describes to realize how much more he prefers solitude in nature to society. If the narrator seems to be straining to prove he is sociable, it is because of the author's intent for his book. Thoreau desires it to have a strong impact on society; to do this, he must create an attractive narrator. Hence Thoreau attempts to make him a more "regular" fellow by downplaying his preference for solitude.
That the narrator was not too inspired by visitors may be most clearly seen when we recall how many metaphors of rebirth appeared in the previous chapter; in "Visitors," there are none. Harmony with nature and ecstasy seemingly cease when the narrator greets visitors from town.