Thoreau’s essay is based on the concepts of individualism and self-reliance by telling us how he feels about being a subject to his government and being mistreated. He is also talking about how we should not be machines for our government to use, but to be ourselves. When the government talks about creating legislation that the nation believes is unjust, we should stand up and tell the government “no.”
When Thoreau tells us how he believes we should be treated, he uses a few lines that break it all down. For example, in the quote “we should be men first and subjects afterward.” He is telling us that we need to maintain our individualism and not be slaves to the government. If we allow ourselves to sacrifice our individuality, we run the risk of giving the government our lives. In addition, when he asks, “how can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it?” The reason he says this is to question if you are going to say something, then watch it die and not care. If you allow your opinion to die, you essentially lose individuality. If we are being stripped of our decency and individuality by the government, and we do not do anything, we deserve to lose them.
Thoreau explains how the government will slow down progress. For example, “the character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished.” This is telling us it is American creativity that has gotten us so far. If the government got too involved, less may be accomplished. In addition, when he says “… and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way.” This tells us that the government gets in the way of progress. If the government reduced its role in our businesses, we may be able to go further than ever before. The government does things slowly and is highly inefficient.
The government will take hold of our lives if we allow it to. For example, when Thoreau says “the mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines.” This shows the government has little care for human life. They are willing to exploit our loyalty by making us march off into a foreign land to fight. In addition, when he tells us unjust laws exist, and asks “shall we be content to obey them or shall we endeavor to amend them and to obey them, or shall we transgress them at once?” He is asking if we are prepared to fight for what we believe is the truth. If we fight these unjust laws, he asks if we will fight and obey, or fight and disobey. The government will not exercise restraint when it gains power; you have to fight it back to its place.
By exercising our right to free speech, individualism, and self-reliance, we can keep the government in its place. If we allow control, it will take it, and with how slow it is, the outcome will not be good. Stand up and use your voice, because sometimes, it is the only thing you will have.
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