De Denker ontstond als centraal onderdeel in de Hellepoort, een deurpartij waar Rodin zijn verdere leven aan zou blijven werken. Albert Elsen, een van Rodins herontdekkers na de oorlog, schrijft:
Rodin's 'Thinker' is at once the most famous and most private of public sculptures. Unanswered questions - who is The Thinker and what does he think - have encouraged endless interpretation and renewed The Thinker's relevance in successive times and contexts. If Rodin had stated his intentions clearly and without apparent contradiction and had he been consistent about the meaning of the work, it is questionable that The Thinker would have become the most well-known sculpture in the world. No other sculpture has so preempted a natural pose. Just to sit with head in hand is to invite identification with the statue; in this sense we see life in terms of art. The many bronze casts of this work and its commercial overexposure have made it, like The Statue of Liberty, all but visible as a work of art.
In 1880, The Thinker came into being in its original twenty-seven-inch size as one of the first sculptures Rodin modelled for The gates of Hell. [small](text continues after image)[/small]
Within the portal are fused Rodin's meditations on the human condition, ideas drawn from writers of many ages including his own, as well as from his personal experiences with art and life. The gates of Hell are about the victimization of humanity by its passions and the inability to find peace and happiness past or present, in this life and the next. Rodin's hell is not a place but the condition of being without hope. The infernal is internal. Within The Gates, The Thinker sits a part, not just because he is still, but also because he alone thinks.
Alone in Rodin's Gates of Hell, The Thinker, who represents the worker-artist-poet, demonstrates 'the good of intellect.' Because in society he alone is thoughtful, the artist can detach himself from the crowd and its passions in order to reveal humanity itself. The Thinker has replaced God and Christ in the supreme juror's seat, and what is around him is not his sentence for humanity but rather what he judges to be the human condition: one of the ceaseless, futile striving.
[small]Albert Elsen - Rodin's Thinker and the Dilemmas of Modern Public Sculpture, 1985[/small]