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Thoreau and What Nature Meant to Him

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The dictionary provides two different meanings to the word "nature"; "the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, and the landscape, as opposed to humans or human creations", or "the basic or inherent features, qualities or character of a person or thing". Henry David Thoreau, in his book "Walden, or life in the woods" presents his ideas of what he thinks is nature focusing on the former definition. For him, nature is anything that is non-human, and anything that is free from "human desires". Anything that deviates from the simplest form of existence and survival for a human is not natural for him. All the luxuries and extravagance desired by people, he believes to be an unnatural phenomenon that only pushes their race to a lower level. Nature is when the earth and all its aspects are in the purest of their forms. It's when we, as humans, as a part of nature, are only driven by our innate needs. In his book, he also surprises his readers at times by opposing what is generally believed to be a natural and simple form of living, like that of a farmer by completely opposing the mannerism of such lifestyle. He takes what is considered to be normal human expectations and completely disagrees with the argument of them being 'natural'. A farmer who works hard and lives a simple life for most people, is just another person working to obtain luxuries in the eyes of Thoreau.

In the first chapter "Economics", Thoreau writes, "let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves". He asks his readers to lead a life that exemplifies nature; a life devoid of luxuries and unnecessary desires. He describes in this chapter, how for him anything derived from nature is better than artificial utilities. He criticizes humans for commercializing the world, and for separating nature away from our lives. He points out that commercialism has lead people to have a materialistic mind, which in turn has lead to the ignorance of nature, for people only care about what they have and what they might have. In another instance, where he mentions his preference to nature over artificiality, he writes "I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion". This also reflects his views on humanity about how most people would rather lead a luxurious superfluous life than settle for what is Natural. Superfluity to him is an evil that brings out the worst in a human; suppressing their true potentials.

In the chapter "Sounds" he deprecates what would be considered one of the greatest inventions of the modern world, the train. His referral of the Fitchburg Railroad as a "demigod" reflects his dissatisfaction at how it has penetrated through to his "Natural" neighborhood and threatens its natural harmony, even though he considers it to be a commendable invention. Anything that altered the natural flow of the processes of nature, he despised. For him, anything is natural if it is free from human encroachment and unaffected by the pragmatic activities of humans. He believes that it is natural for humans to feel more at home in the midst of "Nature" rather than in the midst of people.



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