Grant T. Smith, Ph.D.
Walden -- "Economy" and "Where I Lived and What I Lived For"
According to Bill McKibben, the two crucial questions Thoreau raises in Walden are: How much is enough? And How do I know what I want?
1. In "Economy" Thoreau begins a long assessment of what, and how much of it, a person really needs to live. What are the four necessities of life? Eventually he reduces this list to one basic necessity. What is it, and how do the other three contribute to it?
2. How much of each of these necessities does Thoreau think we need? How much is too much? Give examples from the text and from your own life to support your answer.
3. When a person has more than enough of something, our culture considers it a good thing to share that abundance with others through philanthropy. What does Thoreau think about philanthropy, and why? Do you agree or disagree, and why?
4. Give modern examples of these Thoreavian criticisms of materialistic excess:
a. "The head monkey in Paris puts on a traveler's cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same."
b. "And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him."
c. "The consequence is, that while he [the college student] is reading Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Say [economists studied in college], he runs his father in debt irretrievably."
5. Thoreau says, "the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run."
"Where I Lived, and What I Lived For"
6. Thoreau complains, "Our life is frittered away by detail." What do you think he means by this? Give examples from your life.
7. Thoreau advises us to "Simplify, simplify." What modern inventions, new in Thoreau's day, does he question the value of? What inventions new in our day would you question the value of?
"…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
"I would not have anyone adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may have found out another for myself. I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible."