• I think what he is trying to say is that the majority get caught up in their comfort zone,and life becomes a habit because of quiet conformity.The same lives, the same houses,the same cars,etc. This leads to quiet desperation.He is saying people need constant change to fully live,no matter what the cost.Fortunately I do not live like the majority.
  • It has a lot of merit. While the decadent west tries to strive for meaning, and does not find it, many in underdeveloped countries do not even have the luxury of being able to make a choice about their lot in life. They are poor because their parents were poor and so will their children be, bar a miracle, which most can never even hope for.
  • I believe that it's very true. You can see it in people's faces. It's as though they want to stop where they are and scream, "There has to be more than this!" It doesn't apply to me. I no longer live that kind of life. I am so grateful for what I have that I don't have time for desperation, quite or otherwise.
  • Thoreau was writing in the 17th century when there hardly any of the things which we take for granted today. There was no proper medical services, no cheap transport, food, certainly no scientific miracles. Most people were in a state of semi (if not actual) slavery, children as young as 7 were expected to work and war was a constant threat. The context in which this statement was made cannot be applied to todays situation when the mass of men do not lead lives of quiet desperation, when many people live the American dream and there are opportunities for most people to become anything they want and the idea of servitude has largely disappeared.
  • First and foremost, Thoreau was not writing in the 17th century. If you don't know, don't comment. He actully wrote "Walden" in the 19th century and the point was that all the things that we now take advantage of were coming into existance. Mass transportaion, free market economy and mechanized society were becoming the new American way of life. Thoreau attempted to live a life apart from the market and outside of society. His point is that if we take advantage of all the "science miracles" that you speak of, then we are living apart from the way nature intended us to live. Later in Walden he writes that "It is faster to walk than to take the train." He is reacting to the laziness that sets in if we submit to modern conveniences. I think Thoreau would, without question, believe that we are living lives of quiet despartation. I cant even respond to this post without having my Ipod jammed in my ears. We are so wrapped up in our twisted, material society we cannot appreciate nature. Thoreau would beg us to leave our climate-controlled existence and re-enter nature. We have become a society that has lost all sense of self-reliance, which is what Thoreau called for. I find your answer profoundly misinformed Phedarus. And, if you think that most people live the American dream, take a stroll through your closest ghetto. Thats the american dream. Tell one of the people you meet about the American dream.
  • I've always thought this statement balls-on accurate! As for myself? I make *lotsa* noise! ;-)
  • For a statement of this age (around 1854), I think this observation is so on point in today's age that it's scary. Even though the context was taken in an entirely different era and even though we now have technological advancements that boggle the mind, I still think it's about 95% accurate. Why? Because in America only 5% of the population makes about 95% of the money. Just because we have the ability to live the American dream in this country, it doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is utilizing the opportunity. The reason? I think it's exactly what Thoreau was speaking of in the quote. I'm usually an optimist, but it's obvious that based on those numbers, the majority of people seem to have no true direction, ambitions, or purpose, at least financially speaking. I think it's basically from an improper mindset though, which fortunately can be changed. The reason I believe it, is because it used to pertain to me, (thank God I changed) and I believe it pertains to most of the people that I know.
  • In my opinion, I believe that Thoreau was conveying that throughout human history, the masses of humanity have always been the ones to suffer. I don't think he was referring to any on particular time period, as some of the answers so far suggest. I consider myself to be part of this collective.
  • davidl is pretty much dead on though I would add the point that many people believe that this was also an exclamation of the existential anxiety that at his time was becoming so prevalent in America and the rest of the philosophic world. That in spite of all of the man made creature comforts and distractions from what really matters-all men still have that undeniable void within them that can only be filled by one thing and men's dependence on all of humanities scientific/technological distraction has created an unbridgeable gap to that one thing which completes us. Personally I think that if Thoreau was alive now with the advent of the Internet and Television, Hollywood, Global Politics, Jonestown's, Waco's; He'd probably experience loneliness to the point of suicide.
  • I think it was an accurate observation then as it is now... although the definition and context of "desperation" has changed... The statement from my perspective alludes to the manner by which most people create their the coke addict who works more hours to make more money to by more coke so he/she can work more hours to make more money to buy more coke...etc...etc... the desperation isn't the desperation of climbing a burning rope to get to the's finding yourself in the middle of the rope not seeing the top...not seeing the bottom and waking up one day wondering whether the point of the exercise was to climb or decend. I would like to imagine that this statement does not apply to me...I have spent my time alone (like Thoreau) in consideration of the "philosophical" world and have determined my direction...One need not indulge in "quiet desperation" so long as one has applied thought to the principles and values that one would choose to use to guide them... What Thoreau was commenting on... was the common man who walked through his comman man life without a developing a sense of self awareness...
  • Thoreau could get away with saying things like that because he was unmarried, had no children and was being supported by Emerson. If he'd had the stones to even take responsibility for his own care and feeding, he'd have seen things a little differently. Its a nice thought. Most people back then didn't have someone willing to subsidize their childhood up into their twenties.
  • Yes, I agree that Men (and in the 21st century, Women) live lives in desperation! Think of a cab driver in Manhattan with 3 kids, a wife who might work part-time. He is just 2 checks away from being a boat person, can't save enough to have anything and will work 40 years and have very little in the end. His children will be on their own after high school, he has no legacy or assets to leave them, and he wonders what happened to his life..........
  • I think it is very true. I think the majority of people are troubled by the unanswerable questions in life and their role and significance in the great scheme of things.
  • Getting past the sexism and changing the quote to something like "most people lead lives of quiet desperation," Thoreau very simply sums up the lives of all of us. From how are we going to pay the bills this month to considering the creation of the universe, we constanly are searching for answers that seem just beond our grasp. Most of us have no outlet or resources to answer our specific questions. The life of quiet desperation is looking at the ceiling in the middle of the night wondering about this thing we call life.
  • Quiet Desperation is a sometimes realized thing. When we are frustrated with our progress whether job, family, calling or marriage and begin to focus on self, quiet desperation or screaming malevolence become the realistic alternatives. When our focus shifts to others, "God", etc. the desperation can be nullified...until the next time we shift back 'home'.

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