"The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation," said Thoreau. Show how he supports this generalization.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that one way Thoreau brings out how the mass of human beings live lives of quiet desperation is to display both the attributes of living in accordance to individual voice and the detriments of conformity.  In detailing the battle of the ants, for example, Thoreau suggests that individuals who live a life of conformist quiet desperation will invariably live a life that is devoid of the true meaning in human beings.  It is a life in which individuals have little voice, following preordained ideas in order to meet some standard of conformity.  When examining this in the story of the ants, one sees the desperation evident in a life of conformity.  At the same time, Thoreau has little problem in using his own seclusion as an example of a life that lacks quiet desperation.  Thoreau is quite open about the idea of a life in which one lives for themselves.  Thoreau suggests that this brings him more happiness than living with individuals and having to conform to their own trains of thought.  In detailing examples that both display the desperation intrinsic to conformity and the lack of this in the life dedicated to individual self- expression, Thoreau is able to illustrate his premise about individuals and their relationship to a life of quiet desperation.