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Comparing Emerson And Henry David Thoreau

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Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, both living in changing American landscape, express their fears of an increasingly-materialistic society. Specifically, with the rise of government-issued taxes and American capitalism, Emerson and Thoreau struggle with the issues of conformity and maintaining individuality in restrictive society. In their respective essays, both authors analyze the role of owning property and being self-reliant in society. Emerson and Thoreau believe property ownership inhibits self-reliance, arguing that property encourages material desire and distracts the individual away from himself and towards the external. Both authors argue that property-ownership encourages selfish behavior rooted in materialism rather…show more content…
Emerson quotes the Caliph Ali to show these types of people spend their lives “seeking after…thy lot,” allowing material desire to overshadow their true goals in life (Emerson 37). When materialistic people go to each others’ homes, “they measure their esteem of each other by what each has,” showing how they value material wealth over human relationships (Emerson 37). Like Emerson, Thoreau also shows how property encourages immoral and selfish behavior. For Thoreau, someone who lets “money…obtain [property] for him,” will experience “no great virtue [in] obtain[ing] it” because he has done nothing to earn the land (Thoreau 10). This “rich man,” in Thoreau’s opinion, “is always sold to the institution which makes him rich” because conforming to institutions helps satisfy his material desires (Thoreau 10). By introducing the individual to capitalism, property clouds his true values, rooting his behavior in materialism rather than virtue. Although material desire may increase one’s position in society, he will lose connection with himself and turn towards the external for support. By saying “we love what we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love,” Emerson draws a clear
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