Evil in Thoreau’s “Economy”

Thoreau evokes Shakespeare to make a claim on what in human life he views to be “evil”.  Reflecting on “the auction of a deacon’s effects” (155), Thoreau borrows from The Tragedy of Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them. ”  He elaborates that the evil, for his purposes, are those effects that are left behind, and those items are auctioned off in such a way that increases their value in a manner that seems to exploit the death of a man.   Thoreau illustrates, “The neighbors eagerly collected to view them, bought them all, and carefully transported them to their garrets and dust holes” (155).  Thoreau seems to find despicable the tendency of fellow man to value objects over living beings, and he highlights this perversity by providing his readers with the image of people eagerly going after the objects Thoreau claims to be the “evil” of man.  In such an illustration, Thoreau also succeeds in categorizing the majority of humankind as “evil” for their enthusiastic pursuit of such “evil” material.

Further, the second clause of the Shakespearean quote which Thoreau omits concludes, “The good is oft interred with their bones”.  Consideration of this quotation augments the categorization of things as bad and people, their being and essence, as good–emphasizing Thoreau’s value of the individual over the value of the materials we possess.

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