Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was published in 1854. Thoreau’s work is often connected with young men most likely because more men were attending university at this time rather than young women or married people. Thus, it was the young men who had the early accessibility to the text. Upon analysis, it is clear that Thoreau did not intend his work only be read by young bachelors. It would take time for Walden to spread from household to household through word-of-mouth and the conservation movement in the 1880s before the text attained a popularity among common folk.
In the chapter Economy, Thoreau states, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” This is clearly directed to older men whether married or not, that are closed off from the rest of the world by being too entrenched in their jobs, their roles as fathers and providers, and the effects of societal pressures. How can a young bachelor truly relate to what this type of desperation really feels like? They have no obligations or real responsibilities – they can come and go when they feel like it. They have yet fully to experience the conformity of society.
In the chapter Baker Farm, Thoreau is clearly talking to and about farmers and farm life when he states, “Men come tamely home at night only from the next field or street, where their household echoes haunt, and their life pines because it breathes its own breath over again…We should come home from far, from adventures, and perils, and discoveries every day, with new experience and character.” This statement is not a call for young men to be free and wild, it is rather a wake-up call for those dreary and tired from long days on the farm, both men and tired women to re-awaken their senses and look at the world anew with fresh eyes. He wants them to shake off the drudgery and confinement of daily living and perhaps find a new and better way to live – one that allows them a close relationship with nature – perhaps by reading his book!
Thoreau’s work is more so a commentary on society than a directive for young bachelors. It is meant to be read by society at large – the rich, poor, young and old, female and male. If it was only to be a “how-to-be-free” guide for young men, then how could he attempt true societal reform? Only by directing his comments to everyone, can he get them to ponder the real questions regarding life, the soul, and nature. A testament to the fact that Walden is not just for young men is that since its publication it has become a handbook for naturalists and environmentalists of all genders, cultures, and societies.