What were the problems of modern society, according to Henry David Thoreau in Walden, and why did he believe simplicity was the solution?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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There are many problems with modern life, according to Thoreau, but perhaps the worst is that mankind has become completely focused on acquisitiveness, at the expense of higher pursuits. Writing in the midst of the Market Revolution, Thoreau is horrified by modern life, claiming that "we live meanly, like ants," and that "our life is frittered away by detail." The pursuit of material success (and material goods) has made our lives "cluttered," and "ruined by luxury and heedless expense." Thoreau wants to suggest another course, one in which people focus on their inner lives and the beauty of the world around them. Against the problems of modern society, he offers a mantra: "Simplify, simplify, simplify!" The only solution for a life in which people are ruined by greed, ambition, and superficiality is a "Spartan simplicity of life and an elevation of purpose."