This piece serves as an allegory where the fruit metaphorically conveys a hermetical tenor. At first reading I really believed Thoreau was simply suggesting that we harvest only the fruits found in our area, simplifying life and minimizing our reliance on capitalism. On the surface the entry is seemingly very simple. The fruits are important, “not on account of their flavor merely, but the part they play in our education” (444). That lead me to believe that a student of nature should go out into the wild and pick berries off the bushes she/he finds in a forest close to the house. And on the surface that is the meaning, and I think most people would be satisfied with that reading.
But if you simply analyze the three paragraph topic sentences then you can imagine an alternate and more meaningful metaphorical expression. His first topic sentence makes a declarative statement, “The value of these wild fruits is not in the mere possession or eating of them, but in the sight or enjoyment of them” (443). In his supporting sentences he further explains that it is “the spirit in which you do a thing which makes it interesting”, suggesting that the actual picking of the fruit, the way you do it, is the actual reward. This places the emphasis on some action, not the fruit itself.
In his second topic sentence he illustrates some sense of fragility for the working class, “A man fits out a ship at a great expense and sends it to the West Indies with a crew of men and boys, and after six months or a year it comes back with a load of pineapples” (443). The tone of this sentence is rather rudimentary, almost boring. The beginning of this paragraph alludes to the stark life built upon a schedule of the investment of capital and the commercial products arriving at port. No intellectual enjoyment is suggested by this paragraph. Finally, in his third paragraph, he writes an imperative topic sentence, “Do not think that the fruits of New England are mean and insignificant, while those of some foreign land are noble and memorable”, adding value to the symbolic place, or stance one chooses to pose (444).
This journal entry is about more than just picking fruit; it is a contrast between the boredom of life without intellectual enjoyment, as to the freedom and inspiration found in literary pursuit. The fruits are books, and the picker is a reader, and the disenfranchised are the souls without time to build an insightful and self-actualized, educated soul. I suggest reading this journal entry, and more, from Thoreau's annotated edition, I to Myself, to expand your understanding about literature, and help other people (such as your students or friends) grab more meaning from life.
Thoreau, Henry David, and Jeffrey S. Cramer. I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau. New Haven: Yale UP. 2012. pp. 443, 44