Walden Questions and Answers
by Henry David Thoreau

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Will someone please explain what, "We are determined to starve before we are hungry" means, along with, "Men say a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches to-day to save nine tomorrow"?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I'm assuming that you don't quite understand the phrases and need some interpretion?  If that's the case, I will try to help.  "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau is a very thought-provoking account of all of the things that he learned while living on his own in a tiny shack on a friend's pond.  The quotes above are just two of the profound sentiments that he expressed as a result of being close to nature, doing his own work for sustenance, and spending a lot of time in solitude.

The first quote, "We are determined to starve before we are hungry" refers to the fact that many people miss all of the meaning of life; they don't take time to "suck the marrow out of life," but rather rush about feeling unhappy and unsatisfied.  And instead of working to fill the unhappy voids in their lives, they complain and claim that they are destitute and miserable. However, most people live pretty comfortable, nice lives, and have never really, truly been in dire need of anything.  And yet we still complain and whine like we are starving to death.  Really, we are just unhappy, and too lazy to figure out why, or to make changes in our lives that will help us to be happy.  Thoreau is saying there that in order for us to truly fill the gaps in our lives, we have to first of all hunger after things that really matter--knowledge, relationships, love, wisdom, instead of money, power, and comforts.  Then, we have to work hard to get the things that matter, instead of being upset when we don't have absolutely everything.  Instead of whining about how awful our lives are (when they are really not), focus on what is good, and work to make them better.

The second quote refers to the fact that people are always toting how much time they can save by doing this or that, but then, they don't ever use the extra time for anything good.  Instead, they fill their extra time with more "time-saving" techniques.  We expend so much effort on time-saving technology and activity that it becomes the main thing we do in our free time.  If you do the math of Thoreau's quote, it doesn't make any sense, and wastes time.

I hope that those thoughts help a bit; good luck!

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