According to Thoreau, by what are our lives "filtered away"Walden by Henry David Thoreau

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Thoreau, "our lives are frittered away by detail." In his chapter entitled "Where I Lived and What I Lived For," Thoreau declares that he went to the woods in order "to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life," and to learn what nature has to teach him so that he would not be dying one day and discover that he had not fully lived.

While there, he observed ants warring and decided that men live "meanly" as ants, wretchedly fighting one another in a "superfluous and evitable wretchedness." He concludes,

Our life is frittered away by detail.  An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. 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 thumbnail.

Even during his time, Thoreau felt that the government of the United States had become an overgrown and "unwieldy" establishment.  Moreover, he was convinced that people were too consumed with insignificant details, thinking that the nation should have commerce, whatever technology was in existence, and railroads everywhere.  Perhaps, in his biting social commentary, this great thinker foretold the demise of modern man:  His preoccupation with details to the point that he forgets how to live and know what is important about life.


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