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What does the statement, "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us," mean?

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butterfly127 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 15, 2009 at 11:46 PM via web

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What does the statement, "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us," mean?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 16, 2009 at 5:49 AM (Answer #1)

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This is an example of paradox: The statement can't be true, but it is true. When taken literally, it is obvious that railroads do not ride upon their passengers; trains ride upon tracks. However, when interpreted figuratively, there is truth in the statement--Thoreau's truth. He means that we do not control our technology, that it serves instead to control us. In Thoreau's day, the railroad represented modern technology as rail lines were expanded to cross the continent. He viewed this "progress" as being, in fact, a negative--one that acted to destroy the natural world, pollute the environment, and reduce the quality of life by making it more complicated and fast-paced.

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mollyresto | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 9, 2012 at 8:55 PM (Answer #2)

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Quote: “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.” (66)

 

Explanation: When Thoreau writes, “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us”, he is simply using a paradox to symbolize that technology controls society. Obviously, a train cannot ride upon its passengers. However, if one were to analyze this phrase figuratively, one would realize that Thoreau means that technology is something that controls people. Technology is used almost everyday and seems to take over the time and lives of other people. Often people find themselves spending too much time on the computer or too much time writing emails on their phones. Thoreau is trying to remind readers that technology is not as important as we think it is. Thoreau believes that the railroad pollutes the environment and is very detrimental, as it is noisy and negatively expanding throughout society. Thoreau uses his thoughts to tell society that technology is only harmful and keeps people from doing natural things, such as noticing the real beauty around them. Thoreau lives in the woods. The woods are obviously simple living as there is no electricity, technology and fancy shelter. However, Thoreau living in the woods positively reminds him of the real natural beauty that surrounds him. Thoreau once never speaks about being distracted by the television or the computer, as the people within our society are today. Ultimately, Thoreau is commenting on the negative aspects of technology using his paradox.

Hope this helps!

 

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