What purpose does the first chapter “Economy” serve in the overall structure of the novel?
“Economy” was the first chapter structurally because it was the beginning of the journey into the woods. The chronology of Walden was dependent on Thoreau's journal and the first journal entry is “Economy.”
Economy sets the stage for why Thoreau decides to go to the woods. The body of the book reinforces his rationale for pursuing a life of isolation. The final chapter encourages the reader to consider the first chapter, “Economy,” and make his or her decision on self reliance or dependency on society.
Economy sets the reader up for the pessimistic views Thoreau holds regarding American's need for constant movement up the social ladders. The body of the book explores the contrast of the have and the have not's. The final chapter brings the reader back to supporting his views expressed in “Economy.”
“Economy” was not intended to be used as a structural device to unify the novel; it was an introductory chapter to explore the topic of materialism in America. The body of the novel explored various topics important to Thoreau. The final chapter was simply Thoreau’s final words on his experiment of living in the woods.
Economy allows Thoreau to state his position on what is wrong with America; the obsession of materialism. The body of the book explores Thoreau’s views on how to right the wrongs of American need for materialism. The final chapter presents Thoreau’s optimistic view that the reader can improve the quality of life by shifting priorities.