Walden Chapter 11


English 11 H

Period 1

In this chapter from Walden, Thoreau pays homage to the two simultaneously contradictory and harmonic aspects of humanity: savage animal instincts and enlightened philosophical thought. Thoreau explains that he “found in [himself], and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and [he reverences] them both.” While Thoreau believes that the deep spiritual thought is the highest level that a man can reach, but the animal instincts need to be satisfied as well, as the two opposites are inherent complements of each other. He stresses that the two sides must be balanced though, and the animal side should never be allowed to take the majority. This is what happens to most people as they spend most of their time satisfying their animal instincts, superfluous luxuries, that they neglect their need to practice higher thought. Thus, their animal portions are allowed to dominate and their lives because superficial and full of useless luxuries.

Thoreau refers to eating meat as almost being unclean and distasteful, and he predicts that soon people will give up eating meat just as the savages gave up eating each other once they became more civilized. I don’t understand how he can relate eating meat to letting your animal side dominating over your spiritual thinking. Usually I agree with Thoreau’s analogies but I have to admit that this one is a stretch. Simply by giving up meat doesn’t mean you’re engaging in higher level thought or your abandoning your animal instincts.