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Walden and the Meaning of Life

Walden and the Meaning of Life

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Published by Morten Oddvik
In this essay I will address the question of what Henry David Thoreau`s Walden describes as the main causes of people’s failure to live meaningful lives. Thoreau pursues some main issues in Walden and I will look at these in the relation to my question above. In my discussion of the subject I will use extracts and quotes from the most vital parts of Walden. Thoreau`s main issues are concerned with closeness to nature, or the distance to it, horizons and perspectives, simplicity, unity and wisdom. Within these issues I will examine the main issues that Thoreau points to in his discourse in Walden and which he thinks are the main causes of people’s unhappiness and failure to live meaningful lives.
In this essay I will address the question of what Henry David Thoreau`s Walden describes as the main causes of people’s failure to live meaningful lives. Thoreau pursues some main issues in Walden and I will look at these in the relation to my question above. In my discussion of the subject I will use extracts and quotes from the most vital parts of Walden. Thoreau`s main issues are concerned with closeness to nature, or the distance to it, horizons and perspectives, simplicity, unity and wisdom. Within these issues I will examine the main issues that Thoreau points to in his discourse in Walden and which he thinks are the main causes of people’s unhappiness and failure to live meaningful lives.

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Published by: Morten Oddvik on May 14, 2009
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01/06/2013

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Walden and the Meaning of Life
In this essay I will address the question of what Henry David Thoreau`s
Walden
describes as the maincauses of people’s failure to live meaningful lives. Thoreau pursues some main issues in
Walden
and Iwill look at these in the relation to my question above. In my discussion of the subject I will use extractsand quotes from the most vital parts of 
Walden
. Thoreau`s main issues are concerned with closeness tonature, or the distance to it, horizons and perspectives, simplicity, unity and wisdom. Within these issuesI will examine the main issues that Thoreau points to in his discourse in
Walden
and which he thinks arethe main causes of people’s unhappiness and failure to live meaningful lives.«Most men, even this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are sooccupied with the factious cares and superfluous coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.»(
Walden
, Chapter 1, Economy, 1770)In one of the most important chapters of 
Walden
Thoreau points to many people’s ignorance inliving their lives. Here Thoreau introduces nature as an important factor in people’s lives. According toThoreau a man needs to remain close to nature in order to live a meaningful life. Man’s ignorance leadsto an unfavorable distance to nature and everything related to it. Human ignorance and alienation fromnature leads to resignation and desperation because we are removed from our initial roots. «The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is conformed desperation» (
Walden
,Chapter 1, Economy, 1771). As we fail to acknowledge our bonds to nature and our beneficialrelationship to it we inevitably fall into a «conformed desperation».Thoreau writes warmly about the charitable closeness with nature he enjoys when he has movedto Walden Pond. «I found thus that I had been a rich man without any damage to my poverty. But Iretained the landscape, and I since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow» (Walden,Chapter 2, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, 1811). Thoreau once again returns to the issue of 
 
closeness to nature in Chapter 2. The value of the landscape is at its most valuable to the one that reallysees the land as it is, and not in the capitalist profitable sense.Thoreau quotes a line from Hindu mythology in Chapter 2 that leads me to a very essential issuein
Walden
. «There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy freely a vast horizon» (
Walden
,Chapter 2, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, 1814). Thoreau stresses the importance of horizonsand perspectives and how they should be essential for people in their lives. For him, as he has withdrawnfrom the city and into the woods, he notes that; «I discovered that my house actually had its site in sucha withdrawn, but forever new and unprofaned, part of the universe» (
Walden
, Chapter 2, Where I Lived,and What I Lived For, 1814). In society there exist so many distractions that it is difficult to find ameaningful way to live. This is the reason why Thoreau has withdrawn into the woods to Walden Pondin order to find calm and peace so that he can reflect on life.Again nature plays a fundamental part in Thoreau`s philosophy. By acknowledging your bond tonature and nurture your relationship to nature you will easier find a perspective of meaning in how tolive your life. Thoreau himself finds the post-office, the media and the railroad as examples of themodern age that are given too much importance. He realizes their importance to a certain extent, butwarns of the danger of the modern age to take fully control over our lives. «We do not ride on therailroad; it rides upon us» (
Walden
, Chapter 2, Where I lived, and What I lived For, 1817), commentsThoreau on the railroad and the human sacrifices that it has taken. In his first chapter he does alsoremind the reader of the illusion of progress: «As with our colleges, so with a hundred «modernimprovements»; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance» (
Walden
,Chapter 1, Economy, 1795). This illusion could lead to distraction and a loss of focus.In essence perspectives, or the lack of any, are one of the main causes people find livingunrewarding and unsettling. The existence of distorted perspectives and false needs as a society oftencan encourage distracts people and alienate them from nature, a place where Thoreau himself finds
 
meaning. «Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may sayinnocence, with Nature herself» (
Walden
, Chapter 2, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, 1814), hewrites of his experiences at Walden Pond. This brings me to two other important issues in Thoreau`s philosophical narrative.Living a life of distractions often leads to frustration and desperation. People feel they do nothave time to do all their chores and business they have set forth to do. «Our life is frittered away bydetail» (
Walden
, Chapter 2, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, 1816), declares Thoreau on living a busy life. «Simplify, simplify» (
Walden
, Chapter 2, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, 1816) is hissolution to the problem. He remarks that all improvements are not necessary beneficial to us, they canoften be more of a distraction to us. Thoreau criticizes his contemporary time of being «external andsuperficial» (
Walden
, Chapter 2, Where I Lived, and What I Lived For, 1816) and full of uselessdistractions.Simplicity is of great importance to Thoreau. One of the main causes why people fail to live ameaningful life is that they complicate it. «In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universewill appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weaknessweakness» (
Walden
, Chapter 18, Conclusion, 1937) encourages Thoreau and once again emphasizes theimportance of simplicity.Simplicity is related to nature and the roots of man. «The very simplicity and nakedness of man’slife in the primitive ages imply this advantage at least, that they left him still but a sojourner in nature»(
Walden
, Chapter 2, Economy, 1787), comments Thoreau on man’s roots to nature. By simplifying our lives we will come closer to the truth and life will become more meaningful to us as we ourselves are part of nature.Unity is equally of great importance as simplicity. People can easily fall into the habit of disconnecting themselves from nature and hence themselves. If man acknowledged the bond to nature he

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