The fabled American novels Walden and The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin present two drastically different versions of successful lives. The past focuses on spiritual enlightenment, focused introspective, and the joys of isolated thought; the latter praises the Protestant work ethic, the ability to weather misfortune and continue working in set professions towards a future of wealth and comfort. While they differ entirely in their methods, both Henry David Thoreau and Benjamin Franklin and their individual books argue that people have complete mastery over themselves but differ on the implications of that belief.
In the final chapter of Walden, Henry David Thoreau appeals for all people to discover and become their true selves. After detailing the personal transformation he underwent during his time at Walden Pond, Thoreau commands his readers do the same. The entire memoir boils down to the central belief that “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hour” (Thoreau Dover 172). Thoreau claims that the only thing stopping people from flourishing in the fullest sense of happiness is their fear of finding out what lies within them. According to him, anyone can drastically alter their life’s course before resigning to an undesirable fate pushed onto them by society. Thoreau argues several times throughout Walden that society’s demands are inherently destructive, going so far as to say that “the greater part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad” (5).
Thoreau also fights against those who enslave themselves. In his concluding chapter, Thoreau ...
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...others and respectable living. When he notices his proclivity to brag, rather than examine or embrace it, Franklin hides it and pretends it does not exist in the company of those whom he wishes to impress. Recall that his first description of the story involves becoming famous across the western world. In direct contrast, Thoreau experiences disgust when he discovers that other people have adopted his exact same practices at Walden Pond because he desired only to discover himself. Walden also features several sharp attacks on the same materialism which Franklin celebrates in his descriptions of the wealth he amassed over a variety of laborious business ventures. There is no denying that Thoreau and Franklin share the view that each individual person can truly make themselves, but how they can and what the final product should look like is a point of major contention.
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