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Friday, June 3, 2011

Henry David Thoreau and Luxuries

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When Henry David Thoreau talks about economy in his first chapter of Walden he wasn’t always literally talking about dollars and cents. He also means that society is a slave to his or her own want of luxuries. Society is driven by the want of having luxuries and they never feel a sense of fulfillment because they need more and more luxuries; therefore, they are never free, but bound by their own need for bigger and better unnecessary luxury items. When Thoreau was not speaking of economy in the sense of dollars and cents he was speaking about the people that are unhappy with their lives because of what they lost spiritually and intellectually do to being run by their luxuries. When society is run by luxuries they loose the time spent on improving themselves because material items become more important and they eventually become slaves to their own luxuries.


In the first chapter of “Walden” Thoreau gives specific examples of how people spend more time on their want of luxuries than they do on themselves. The first example shows that people put more time on new fashionable clothes than they do on their own principles. Thoreau says “yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience” (878). This line shows the reader that the people that are unhappy with the way they live are also the same people that have their priorities in the wrong order. Instead of figuring out what there own values and beliefs are they are worrying more about what is in fashion. The second example tells us that people are insecure about themselves because they don’t know themselves and they hide their true selves behind their clothes. Thoreau explains “Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old….” (87). Thoreau is telling us in this line that instead of trying to be someone we aren’t in a new suit, we should work on being the man that we want to be while in our old clothes. That way we will be secure, instead of pretending to be someone we aren’t behind our new clothes. The last example describes that we put more time and money on improving our houses then we do on ourselves “It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings” (885). Again, people are hiding behind the material rather than working on themselves, which needs the most improvement but people would rather be weak and have a “better dwelling than the former” (885).


When society spends time on wanting and having luxuries they eventually become slaves to them and are not free to do what they please. The first example demonstrates that man labors in return for money to buy more material items but doesn’t have time left too enjoy their luxuries and most don’t like their job in the first place. Man ultimately “has no time to be any thing but a machine” (870). When Thoreau uses the word “machine” he means that a unhappy man works at a job that he is not pleased with to make more money to buy more material items and when there is any time left to do what man enjoys doing he is too worn out to do anything. The second example explains that man is stuck in the house that took “ten to fifteen years of the laborer’s life” to pay for and man is not free to move when one pleases. Thoreau mentions that a house is such an unmanageable luxury “that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them”(885). This line is explaining that man works to own such luxuries as a house, but it enslaves you because you are a slave to making the payments and a slave to where you live. Finally, the last example tells us that we are slaves to wanting more material items and are never happy with what we have. Thoreau asks the readers “Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to content with less?” (886). When Thoreau asks the readers this question he is saying that luxuries are an addiction because man wants what everyone one else has even if he can’t afford to buy it himself and man is never satisfied with what he has. Man has to have the best even if he doesn’t need it and man becomes a slave to this addictive cycle.


Basically, the people that complain about their lives being hard and feel disconnected from their selves could make their life simpler by putting themselves before their luxuries and to obtain that they have to cut down on their luxuries. If they cut down on their luxuries they would have more time to know themselves and they would have the freedom to do whatever they want in life, rather than the material running their lives.


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Works Cited


Byam, Nina, et al., ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter 5th ed.


New York Norton, 1.


Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden” Byam, Nina, et al. 868-10.


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