The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “Brute Neighbors”

  1. What are some features of Thoreau’s style?
  2. What aspects of animal life does he seem to focus on? In what contexts does he place the animals he describes?
  3. What animals does he choose to portray? Is there a meaning to the order in which they are presented?
  4. What are some striking features of the description of the battle of the ants? What is the purpose of the classical and historical comparisons and the final description of the battle as occuring in the “Presidency of Polk”?
  5. What is added to the account by the fact that the narrator fails to intervene in what he sees? Why do you think he doesn’t do so?
  6. Do you think it is likely that the loon was laughing at him? What qualities does Thoreau ascribe to the bird?
  7. What final reflections on animal life might a reader of this essay be expected to have?
  8. Are these points with which Emerson would have agreed? What are differences in Thoreau’s mode of making his observations?


  1. What are some of the meanings of Thoreau’s statement, “in Wildness is the preservation of the World”?
  2. What are some notable passages or aspects of Thoreau’s presentation? (e. g., as in “I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.”)
  3. What is the significance of Thoreau’s desire to turn houses backwards to face the woods? (183)
  4. Which aspects of history and culture does he feel have been neglected? (184) What has been the value of swamps and wildlands to earlier societies?
  5. Which forms of literature does he most value? Why is mythology more valuable than later and more elaborated literatures?
  6. What kind of persons does Thoreau admire? (187) What does he mean by “wild men,” and what forces attempt to break or tame them?
  7. What is the social value of individual differences and traits? (187) Would this idea have needed expression in the 1860s? Is it still relevant?
  8. Does Thoreau seem to emphasize the same aspects of nature as had Wordsworth? Ruskin? Emerson?
  9. What does Thoreau add to the discussion that we have not found in earlier writers? How may some of his observations have reflected social changes between 1800 and 1860?

  Copyright © 2010 Florence S Boos, The University of Iowa. All rights reserved.
  Page updated: September 3, 2010 22:56