Analyzing Thoreau

January 2, 2008
By Emily Foster, Ivoryton, CT

“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of the government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth- certainly the machine will wear out.”

This is one area where I agree with Thoreau. He goes on to say that if the injustice is so immediate that you are put into the action of it, then it warrants action. It is the essence of this thought that I support, however, not necessarily the way that Thoreau goes about living this philosophy. I support the thought of the system fixing itself. However, this can only be taken to a point. There comes a time when you must stop waiting for change to happen and make it happen. Although he does say that if you are made the agent of injustice you must break the law that allows that injustice, which is noble, it is not always feasible. Also, Thoreau tends to hold the bar for what constitutes an injustice rather lower than most other people. One such “injustice” in Thoreau’s mind is taxes. Thoreau says that he does not wish to befriend the tax man because he chose to be an agent of the government and society he does not agree with. I believe that Thoreau’s view of life and the world is too black and white; it leaves no room to be human. Another example Thoreau uses is Abolitionists and the government of Massachusetts. He stipulates that all Abolitionists should immediately withdraw any and all support for the government because “its very Constitution is illegal”. These views are just not realistic. Thoreau believes that every man should throw themselves completely into each cause he believes him with no regard for his own well being. While this is an honorable ideal, it is merely that: an ideal. Thoreau has in his mind a utopia that he does nothing to bring about except talk. Yes, he did go out and live ‘simply’ in the forest, but he was not without aid of those that supported the very institution he was protesting against.

Thoreau declares that if one honest man were to refuse to hold slaves and “were actually to withdraw from this co partnership”, he would be thrown in jail and that would be the end of slavery in America. He did nothing to bring about the change he wanted to see, except to withdraw. By no longer being a part of the civilization he was wishing to affect, Thoreau lost all right and ability to affect it. It is a lesson learned when we are very young: you cannot run from you problems and hope they will go away. I believe that one definition of insanity is doing the same action over and over again and expecting a different result each time. And yet that was what Thoreau advocated. He believed that the world cared enough about him as an individual enough to care when he withdrew himself from it. When in reality, if he withdrew from the world merely because he did not think that taxes were “just”, he was simply thrown in jail and not given anther thought.

By Thoreau’s reasoning, since I do not agree with the conflict in Iraq, the best way that I can change that situation is to withdraw from society. According to him, that will make such a statement that more people will be inspired by me to do the same thing and that all together, we can affect policy. While I do subscribe to the belief that I must be the change that I want to see in the world, there is a point where that becomes ridiculous.

While Thoreau does have a few good notions in his head, he tends to take everything to a point beyond what is reasonable. In modern society, and even his own time, Thoreau’s views are not plausible because humans are still just that: human. Most of Thoreau’s ideas are better suited for a utopian novel.

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