Summary – Chapter Eight ‘The Bean-Field’
The length of his rows of planted beans is measured at seven miles and he describes how he cherished them. His enemies were worms, cool days and woodchucks. He counters this and says that he has taken over the woodchucks’ feeding ground.
At the age of four, he was brought from Boston to ‘this my native town’ and remembers coming to this area then. When hoeing his plot, he finds arrowheads and sees that this land has been used before.
Early in the morning, he would work in the field bare foot. He occasionally heard travellers making comment as they passed and saw the field and criticized him for planting beans and peas so late. He also describes hearing music from the town and the narrative comes back to a discussion of his bean-field once more.
He harvested 12 bushels of beans and he lists his outgoings and income. He declares a profit of $8 71½ and goes on to give directions on when and how to plant them and when to harvest.
He remembers that the sun does not just shine on his field and the beans do not just grow for him. This leads him to question whether it is possible for a harvest to fail as the seeds of the weeds also feed the birds.
Analysis – Chapter Eight
Thoreau’s descriptions of the amounts of money he makes, or does not make, exemplify how it is possible to earn enough to live on and to avoid getting into debt. He makes no claims about this being a commercial enterprise, and is careful to avoid such statements or desires. Instead, he demonstrates the possibility of living (and not just existing) outside the mainstream capitalist economy that is already making slaves of its workforce in the North and South. His adopted lifestyle shows that without the trappings of capitalism, it is possible to be freer.
His references to the sun shining on others as well as his field and the beans not just growing for him are the means to highlight how he refuses the solipsism of the society from which he has come. As he also points out, the woodchucks are an ‘enemy’ to his crops, but he has chosen to plant on the land to which they would generally come.