Walter Harding is most accurate when he said you could read Walden as a satirical criticism of modern life and living. Another way of saying this would be that Thoreau writes in a way that he is criticizing the way modern people are living. In fact, he believes, that we could be living in a different way, which would ideally be a more nature-oriented and simplistic form of living. In other words, Thoreau thinks the best way to live is to abandon all materialistic things and live in nature. His reasoning leads to the conclusion that you can be closer to the universal soul and fulfill more of a spiritual life. So, in this sense, we can look at the book in a way that Thoreau seems to criticize the civilization.
One thing we can be sure about is that whenever Thoreau speaks of the positive points of living in nature, he is in some way criticizing nature because he claims he his nature has a better method of functioning. Although he does not insist that people remove to nature, he encourages people to do so because he believes that’s the best way for them to learn about themselves and the world. One of the lessons he learns involves some criticism on modern society and possessions. An example that Thoreau brings up involves how farmers are chained to their farms as much as a person would be to jail.
This can be explained by saying if you work to own things, you will restrict your freedom because you need to work to be able to own things. If you work to gain materialistic things, then you will not be able to gain personal freedom because you consume so much time with it. Thoreau’s solution is that you have to realize what you need and what you want. Once you do this, then you are able to work less and work for only the necessary things. Since he is making this suggestion, he is also putting down the way society works.
Secondly, Thoreau thinks the modern society has too much excess and should be simpler. A good quote to support this statement would be that he says, “Most of the luxuries and many of the so called comforts of life are not only dispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” Basically he is saying that the more comfortable we get, the lazier we become, therefore slowing down the growth and development of society. This is easily stated in the first chapter of Walden.
Another example of Thoreau’s criticism of the society is about how we do not simplify, like we should, because our life (society), Is frittered away with detail.” Things we can simplify even include the four “basic” necessities. For instance, clothing isn’t important, it is the man behind the clothing. Shelter is important for withstanding the weather, but good shelter doesn’t take more than a few days or weeks to create. Thoreau is saying that society lives materialistic lives of “excess” and in the end it is better off that you aren’t that way.
Lastly, Thoreau believes that we do not spend enough time in solitude. Solitude, to Thoreau is a person that accompanies him. In his opinion, solitude does him more good than any other company. When “with” solitude, he can think more clearly and deeper to learn more about himself. He believes living in nature is preferable to living in a town. Thoreau is criticizing modern living because he says we have too much work and things to think about and flood our minds with. We aren’t spending enough time in solitude, and we should be. We are given these four basic needs (food, fuel, clothing, and shelter) but we do not pay enough attention to simplifying our lives down to these necessities. Moreover, Thoreau feels strongly on the importance of time for solitude, so if we aren’t following that plan, then we aren’t experiencing what Thoreau thinks is essential to being complete.
In conclusion, I believe that Thoreau is criticizing the modern society in many ways, which have been proven to you. Thoreau always has the words “must” and “need” in his lectures, and this must obviously mean that he is implying we are lacking something (which to him is contact with nature and spirit). If he says we as modern society are “lacking” something, then it is a criticism. I must also let you know that the examples I provided were chosen out of many possible ones, so there is always more evidence to prove that Thoreau’s purpose was to criticize. Also Thoreau is very justified in his points, and it is easy to understand these ideas that he gives. Society is getting lazier and considering this literature lets us take a step back and look at where we are headed in this world.