What does Thoreau mean when he says, “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.
” (Thoreau 321) and how does this quote relate to Thoreau’s simplistic way of living? In the chapter “Economy”, from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Thoreau not only illustrates the benefits of living a simple lifestyle, but he also brings up the point that men actually lead unhappy lives while trying to gain luxuries they think will make them happy. It’s in the nature of men to have a materialist view on life and always want more than what they have, but Thoreau explains that this type of thinking can actually make men live toxic lives.Thoreau states, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” (Thoreau 317). Because men have a thirst for owning more and more objects, or luxuries, they spend their life working hard but in the end only they have lost their inner freedom. Thoreau explains how humans who put themselves through so much hard work to gain more richness in life are in fact putting themselves through voluntary poverty. Thoreau goes on to comparing the continuous labor men do to slavery and says “It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave–driver of yourself.” (Thoreau 317).
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He wants people to realize that they are making themselves slaves by working so hard to gain something that won’t make a difference in the end.Gaining luxuries in life do provide us with more contentment in and convenience in life but according to Thoreau, they don’t provide us with what really matters. Having more possessions does not correlate to being smarter or wiser, and Thoreau believes that these traits are much more important than having extra amenities in life. Because men spend so much time pursuing success and wealth, they forget to think and evaluate for themselves and thus they keep mankind from realizing its full potential.
Thoreau also expresses the difference between something you want and something you need. He says, “By the words, necessary of life, I mean whatever, of all that man obtains by his own exertions, has been from the first, or from long use has become, so important to human life that few, if any, whether from savageness, or poverty, or philosophy, ever attempt to do without it.” (Thoreau 319). He implies that there are only a handful of things that humans actually need to survive, and this include “food, shelter, clothing, and fuel” (Thoreau 320). Only our physiological needs must be met in order for us to live a decent life.
As stated in the quote, Thoreau concludes that the luxuries that men try so hard to gain in life are not necessary at all. These luxuries are “positive” (Thoreau 321), no doubt, because they make our lives easier and provide us with comfort, but they are actually “hindrances” (Thoreau 321) because they make society work so hard for them and leave society with no time to do constructive things such as deliberate, imagine, create, and dream. Actions like these are what will elevate mankind. This ties back to Thoreau living alone on the shore of Walden Pond for two years and two months. He wanted to show how benefitting a simple lifestyle can be and how being self-reliant can actually move you towards spiritual fulfillment. The luxuries we try to acquire in our lifetime only distract us from higher thoughts and experiences.
But in the end, still, humans lead non-luxurious lives despite working so hard to gain luxuries they want, not need.