22 November 2013
Paper 2 - Thoreau on Work, Debt, and Slavery
For this paper, I chose to focus on subject 7 of the syllabus which was Thoreau on Work, Debt, and Slavery. The first chapter of Walden, Thoreau states that his neighbors seem to work their lives away and are deeply in debt. Readers have come to read Thoreau’s book on stolen or borrowed time, robbing their employers of time. Readers are also imposing slavery upon themselves. These three claims relate to one another in the mode of economy. In order to acquire the necessities of life, man must work to make a living. In order to make a living, man must have money to ...view middle of the document...
“He has no time to be anything but a machine (9).”
Some men are so poor, that they are reduced to working for the capitalist; thus “robbing their creditors” of the time it takes to read Thoreau’s book (10). The man who works for his creditor is probably going to work for him for life in order to acquire the necessities of life. This endless cycle only furthers slavery conditions. Laborers work long days to produce for the creditor; furthermore, laborers have no claim to the products they are responsible for producing. Thoreau believes that man honestly thinks there are no other choices for him left, and so he is reduced to this mode of living. Thoreau insists “What a man thinks of himself . . . indicates his fate (10-11).”
In Walden, Thoreau also contrasts the difference between gross necessaries of life and the comforts of life. Both are responsible for perpetuating self-imposed slavery, one more so than the other. The gross necessities are described by Thoreau as something attainable only by immersing oneself in the life of the frontier. Only then can man absolutely understand what is absolutely necessary for life and what is not. Food, water and shelter are the only things necessary to sustain man.
After man has acquired these necessities of life can he really “entertain the true problems of life with freedom and a prospect of success (14).” Man will naturally want to acquire more in order to be more comfortable. For example, Thoreau describes how man with his night clothes will be “robbing the nests and breasts of birds to prepare this shelter within a shelter” as animals do with preparing their burrows (15). Most of the comforts of life are hindrances that take more effort to upkeep than the meager needs of the poor. Thoreau argues that the nature of the obligations his neighbors and readers felt under labor was directly correlated to the acquisition and pursuit of property.
Thoreau makes this clear when he expresses his sympathy...