Throughout history, a person’s, or their predecessors’, financial well-being determined their social standing. In the Roman Empire, if you were born a slave, you had to crawl your way to the top, and even then, you could never reach the status of a free person. You simply were not worth as much. In India, the Hindu caste system is largely based on your ancestors’ income. If your parents were born as untouchables, you could never become anything more, doomed to a life of poverty and cleaning out sewers.
Even into the supposed ‘modern age’, the mid-1800’s to today’s times, there are definite lines in relation to how high one can rise into society with a certain economical status, and that dictates much of the workings of the world. In Walden, one of Thoreau’s essays in the book is titled “Economy”. In it, he discusses the money spent on the purchases for his house, and he parallels these purchases with insights into monetary value applies to life situations. Thoreau’s views of life, riches and poverty, and pay are enhanced by his reflections on life and society’s expectations of man.
On the very first page of Walden, Thoreau expresses that many people live falsely, and that he has not yet met one person who has lived his life to the fullest and explored every option. Later on in the book, he also ascribes living falsely with having too many things that weigh you down, and that encumber your chances of truly living. He challenges that he would like to see people dragging every single object they own down the road, including the house and the land on which they live. “How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered… reeping down the road of life, pushing before [them] a barn seventy-five feet by forty… and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot! ” (Walden, pp. 2) Thoreau illustrates that no one needs all of the things they have, even if it shows their own wealth, and that it hinders one from living sincerely. To live sincerely, Thoreau says, one must take time to do as he did, and he suggests that every young person follow in his steps and live simply, out in the woods.
He kept a list of all his expenses, which were kept surprisingly spare, because he believed that having less was commendable. Robert Richardson, in his essay for the Smithsonian Magazine, wrote that “[in] his writings, and in Walden above all, Thoreau forged a thought-out way of life, a philosophy that insists that the individual turn not to the state, not to the gods, not to society, or even to history for a guide to life, but to nature and the self. ” Mr.
Richardson shows clearly that Thoreau’s philosophy of life was about living simply, without social encumbrances. The book also shows some revealing sections on poverty and wealth. “In this sense, Walden was directed toward the poor in spirit, whether they were like the impoverished and over-worked Irish laborers with whom Thoreau came in contact or those ‘seemingly wealthy’ who had ‘forged their own golden or silver fetters’. ” (The Economic Design, pp. 87-588) In Walden, Thoreau calls the people with their wealth, presumably the opposite of himself, “the most terribly impoverished class of all” (Walden, pp. 10) Although Thoreau does spend more time on the excess of wealth than the actual economy of society (Economy of Living), Thoreau stoutly shows that a surplus of wealth stops you from doing truly enjoyable things- such as being outside and thinking about life- and then he turns to the poor. Early on in Walden, Thoreau shows that being poor means that you are at the mercy of whatever it is you still owe. … some of you who read this book are unable to pay for all the dinners which you have actually eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are fast wearing… ” (Walden, pp. 3) Although he scorns the poor here, earlier he pledges that he is most likely making the most sense to poor students. He believes that they are the ones who will best understand what he is writing about, since they live in perpetual poverty. He praises the intelligent student, but scoffs at the things that they must pay for, sapping away the little money they do have. … while he is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say, he runs his father into debt irretrievably. ” (Walden, pp. 33) In the part of “Economy” where Thoreau records all of his costs, he is careful to write down also what he thinks of them, saying that some of it was worthless, that some of it was too expensive. He did not simply want to write these down so that people would be able to see these costs; Thoreau wanted to make a point. You may be poor in money or house, but if you spend the money you do have wisely, you will not be poor in life.
The cost of learning makes many a young student penniless, and Thoreau strongly disagrees that this is how a student should learn. He was outraged that you had to pay for something like knowledge, and writes in “Economy” that one does not need all that time in school to learn all that one needs to learn. Thoreau examines the living costs of a Cambridge room, and is astounded that you have to pay for that as well as schooling. According to him, your time should be spent doing what you have to, and your money saved.
Saving up one’s money seemed to be very important to Thoreau, and he resolutely believed in using as little money as one could to get somewhere or do something. In Walden, Thoreau rebukes a man who asks him why he does not go and travel, since he seems to be a man who would enjoy doing so. Thoreau challenges the man to finding out who would get to the chosen destination first, he, who would simply walk there, or his companion, who would have to wait for a job to come along, and then to save up enough money to get there and back.
It is obvious which one would be better off, Thoreau concludes, and his meaning behind that is that it is important to save up only for what is truly important, and not for small things that you could do without so much of the time. In Walden, Thoreau discusses many crucial issues of both his day and today, including paying for worthless items, the concepts of wealth and poverty, and the options for living your life appropriately. In Thoreau’s day, these were affairs debated daily, and the standards of high living were beginning to come into question.
And it wasn’t just then. Even going back to the beginning of time, there have been important questions based on personal and worldwide economy, and it is still important because of what is going on in these times. What Thoreau was saying through his unique philosophy was that in living simpler, and by not using up so much of their precious money, the world will be better and finer, and that people will all have a purer way of life.
JSTOR: New England Quarterly. Web. 30 Sept. 2010. . “Ingentaconnect GIBRAN’S THE PROCESSION IN THE TRANSCENDENTALIST CONTEXT. ” Ingentaconnect Home. Web. 29 Sept. 2010. . “Transcendentalism Essays. ” MegaEssays. com – Over 100,000 Essays, Essays and Term Papers Available for Instant Access!! Web. 29 Sept. 2010. . “Walden Essays. ” MegaEssays. com – Over 100,000 Essays, Essays and Term Papers Available for Instant Access!! Web. 29 Sept. 2010. .