In Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau decries what he sees as the move away from nature, as man increasingly industrializes the world around him. In doing so, man often even destroys the world around him, cutting down trees and breaking up streams to lay railroad tracks. In the book, Thoreau discusses the relationship between industrialization versus the natural world.
Thoreau compares mankind “tinkering upon our lives to improve them” versus devoting "days and nights to the work” of building the railroads. Rhetorically, he asks, “And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season?” In other words, without railroads, people will not be able to travel easily to see “heaven in the season” or the natural beauty around them. Yet, ironically, if they stay put, they can walk just a few steps to see nature, as Thoreau sees from his vantage point at Walden pond.
To Thoreau, who loved nature and was skeptical about this form of progress, he poses a puzzle. “But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads?” People can stay at home living simple lives and enjoying their local "heaven," as Thoreau does. Thoreau’s view is made clearer in the next sentences:
We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irish-man, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them…
Not only does the construction of the railways destroy the natural beauty around us, in Thoreau’s mind, but the very construction processes causes the death of thousands of workers. Railway construction was among the most dangerous projects during the industrial revolution. Thousands of people lost their lives. Thus, he says that people who ride the railways are riding on the graves of these men, as well as the graves of the natural elements that were destroyed to make way for the tracks.
He calls the “internal improvements” of industrialization, such as railways and telegraph lines, among others, “external and superficial,” and he despairs of the:
overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and … ruined by luxury and heedless expense…of the Men [who] think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce.
Instead, Thoreau advocates for a simpler life without all these industrial “advances.”