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Although Walden is not a novel and does not have the typical conflict developed in a fictional plot, there is a clear protagonist and antagonist in this autobiographical, non-fiction book, for it is the true adventure of a man who lives on Walden Pond for two years.
Thoreau, an independent and self-motivated man, is the main character and protagonist of Walden. At the start of the book, he feels weighted down by society. He wants to become a better person and live a purer life. As a result, he leaves behind his more hurried life and spends two years at Walden Pond, seeking self-knowledge and improvement.
If Thoreau has an antagonist, it is human nature, pressured by a competitive society. By the mid nineteenth century, Americans had slowly turned away from Nature and begun to live more complicated and stressful lives in cities. Thoreau has been caught up in this more complicated lifestyle and wants to escape to a natural environment in order to find himself and meaning in life.
After a year on Walden Pond, the narrator is inspired and refreshed. Calm and relaxed from his stay, he feels strong enough to stand alone in the face of society's pressures.
If the book had a typical plot, it would definitely end as a comedy, for the protagonist overcomes his antagonist and accomplishes his goals. Thoreau has benefited so greatly from his first year at Walden Pond that he chooses to stay a second year in order to reap the full benefits of his time away from society. After his second year, the naturalist leaves Walden Pond and writes down the events he has experienced during his two-year stay there. His manuscript, the text of Walden, becomes an influential social commentary, unparalleled in American literature.