Picture this: A sole child sits beside a fireplace hearth, bangs plastered to her greasy forehead. Two sticky hands (probably coated with flakes of glue from school earlier that day), tinker with a mountain of multicolored Lego blocks. The only sound comes from the clinks of plastic blocks, the tapping of rain on the living room window, and the faint sound of the radio playing in the kitchen. Despite playing in solitude, the child giggles with excitement.
Flash forward fifteen years, the same girl, is in a room packed with her peers; A dimly lit room buzzes with the sound of wide-eyed, babbling ‘baby-adults’ (otherwise known as college students). Red cups in hand, they converse-or rather attempt to, over the blaring music. Others give up, and choose to simply sing or dance along. Shoes slosh and stumble in beer puddles distributed among the concrete floor. There is a subtle stench of sweat throughout the room. Luckily it isn’t noticeable over the aggressive jolts of the habitual shoulder shove and collision.
Whether it be during the night, or during the day, the typical college student may seem as if they are never truly alone. After experiencing both individually focused, and socially charged periods in my life, I have come to the conclusion that loneliness is relative. Although people often fear the idea of being alone, it is possible to feel comfort in spending time by oneself. This concept is present in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, specifically in the chapter, “Solitude.” While exploring the idea of being alone, Thoreau strips down the idea of societal pressure/focusing solely on the superficial aspects of life. He encourages the reader to find happiness in nature and to look within.
In paragraph five, Henry David Thoreau allows the reader to move up a level of abstraction. Thoreau explains that through the company of something as simplistic as the rain, he is able to be most content with himself. Rather than focusing on trivial problems, Thoreau is able to enjoy his solitude, and even prefers it. He argues that people that are unable to do this will never be truly content. Although his peers are unable to comprehend why he is content with spending time alone, he explains that in the grand scheme of things, we as humans are miniscule. He even goes as far as stating; “What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary?” Through the use of rhetorical questions and analogies, he allows the reader to theorize and connect his ideas to their everyday life. Through reading Thoreau’s “Solitude,” I thought about how his ideas impact certain points of my life, whether it be my childhood, or my early adulthood.
As an introvert (one of my many identities), I share many of Thoreau’s observations and opinions on the idea of being alone. Personally, I am able to comprehend the idea of feeling empty or exhausted being surrounded by others. Even so, I do think it is possible to feel truly comfortable in certain contexts. As a people lover (another one of my identities), I think it is crucial to have balance in one’s life. In other words, too much of anything is never a good idea. When people read Walden, they are often quick to assume that Thoreau believed that physical solitude was the key to contentment. I believe that this interpretation is misconstrued. Thoreau’s intent was not to encourage others to isolate themselves from all human activities/interactions. He means that it isn’t necessary to your happiness on the presence other people, rather on their character. It is wrong to assume that all people will find happiness from being physically alone, even those who don’t necessarily define themselves as an extrovert.
By using both small and large scaled analogies, Thoreau allows the reader to reflect and ‘get meta.’ This might seem useless, but through his abstract ideas, he gives the reader the material in order to reflect on their own lives. As a reader we must be able to not only understand all potential perspectives, and interpret these concepts. On the other hand, we must also be able to think critically and make connections to different points in our lives. Whether it be a socially heavy point in life, or a quiet, simple time in your youth, it is important to look within. Although failing to spend time with others can impact one’s energy, it isn’t necessarily the deciding factor of our level of happiness.
Solitude doesn’t necessarily mean physically being alone. The word “solitude,” itself may be synonymous with words like “loneliness,” or “isolation,” but also words like “peace,” or “undisturbed area.” Whether it be an isolated house in the middle of a forest, or simply a place in your head, it is imperative to find your own “undisturbed area.” In other words, it isn’t about focusing on a location, nor is it about being physically alone. Solitude is the idea of being able to appreciate life in it’s raw form, and to view life from all perspectives. By embracing and experiencing life this way, it is possible to be content.