“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”
Thoreau presents the reader with a critique on the lifestyles of men stating, “a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone”. I found it interesting that at the start, the very property and home he was so interested in purchasing is representative, of what he later decides, is the wrong way to live. His inability to purchase the property he had been interested in for so long became a sort of epiphany and states “I think I shall not buy greedily, but go round and round as long as I live, and be buried in it first, that it may please me the more at last”. What really caught my eye in this work was the way that Thoreau put such focus on the idea of simplicity, but contextually, the work is full of so much detail and metaphor in every sentence, that it counteracts the simplicity he is constantly referring to. For example (pg. 892, 2nd full paragraph), the narrator states, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds.” I think that this contrast encourages the point of simplicity because the complicated way in which he makes his statements, with the numerous metaphors, and references to other works/history, creates an overly active atmosphere, like the lifestyle of those who do not live simply. He also makes numerous references to international political issues, religious texts, our universe, and other highly recognized texts such as the Odyssey. These references add to the complexity of the content, usually represent a metaphor he makes in his statement, and also incorporate the complexity of our world in general. Each of these encompasses a complicated idea present in society, for which we cannot escape. Or can we escape such complexities by living the simple life described in this passage?
1. How do you think the references to ideas such as international political issues, religious texts, our universe, and highly recognized texts affect the work and the ideas presented in it? Does it even affect it at all?
2. What did you think of the speech at the end of the work? Did he incorporate and changes in tone or diction that affect the overall meaning of the work? Is he convincing?
3. Do you agree with the points he makes as to why we should live a simple life?
4. What do you think he is trying to say when he poses the following question on pg. 289? “What should we think of the shepherd’s life if his flocks always wandered to higher pastures than his thoughts?”