November 26th, 2005


Later in Walden, Thoreau becomes more adamant about the importance of a simple life...

... In Walden, Thoreau delights in attacking the unthinking materialism of his neighbors. For Thoreau, "Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind." He reminds his readers that "The ancient philosophers, Chinese, Hindoo [sic], Persian, and Greek, were a class than which none has been poorer in outward riches, none so rich in inward." Thoreau demands that conscientious individuals follow the ancient philosophers by choosing a life of poverty: "None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty" (Thoreau 10).* Thoreau acted on his call to voluntary poverty, but, occasionally, his rigor is excessive. For example, Thoreau is "terrified" because three pieces of limestone which sit on his desk require dusting. He responds to the unbearable situation [2] by throwing the limestone out of his window. While musing about the lime-stone incident he asks: "How, then, could I have a furnished house? I would rather sit in the open air, for no dust gathers on the grass, unless where man has broken ground" (29). Thoreau's relation to the material world is both rigid and extreme.

Later in Walden, Thoreau becomes more adamant about the importance of a simple life. Thoreau shouts from his literary pulpit: "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand . . . keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. . . . Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one" (75). His gospel centers on simplicity.

His neighbors' gluttony bothered Thoreau, but his hatred of extraneous wealth extended much further. In his eyes, America, and by extension the Western world, was guilty of over consumption. He encapsulates his understanding of the material sickness of his age:
The nation itself, with all of its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way, are all external and superficial, is just such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it, as for them, is in a rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose (75)...
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