Henry David Thoreau’s concept of Shelter/House

In Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, shelter is one of the few significant components, belongs to the psychological needs’ stage which is the most important among the five stages since the other stages’ needs are considered secondary until these psychological needs are met. Hence, discussions regarding shelter are necessary as life without having any shelter is cumbersome and reasonably, it has been done by many significant scholars, among whom Henry David Thoreau, an American essayist; philosopher; and poet, is prominent. Henry David Thoreau admits the fact that shelter is an indispensable item for a human, but his question is about the types of houses people are desiring to live in and whether they are actually necessary or not. In his famous book Walden; or, Life in the Woods he refutes and demonstrates the concept of houses that he contemplates a person should be aimed at beside criticizing people’s approach of dragging that simple matter into a dreamlike one, and the aim of this essay is to discuss what David Thoreau is trying to show regarding shelter in his book.

David Thoreau criticizes the fact that people have a tendency to drag a simple matter like shelter, which should be considered as a basic need of human life, into something that can be regarded as a heavy burden, which is making people’s life insufferable. It is a matter of concern that people do not realize that simple matter. The challenge that David Thoreau finds out is Man wanted a home, a place of warmth, or comfort, first of physical warmth, then the warmth of the affections. Human beings are becoming crazy about the warmth of houses.

Thoreau tells that I used to see a large box by the railroad, six feet long by three wide, in which the laborers locked up their tools at night, and it suggested to me that every man who was hard pushed might get such a one for a dollar, and, having bored a few auger holes in it, to admit the air at least, get into it when it rained and at night, and hook down the lid, and so have freedom in his love, and in his soul be free.

If we cannot ensure peace staying in a warm house, then it is better for us to live in a box rather than in a big apartment.

David Thoreau denies admitting those apartments as a house, rather he calls them big luxurious boxes. People are torturing themselves to rent those elegant houses. That is the problem of our attitude that we have a terrible tendency of having more and more spacious house than the one owned by the neighbor and in this process of unending competition, people get harassed. Thoreau laments the fact that humans are in a bitter condition compare to that of the savages. In ancient times, all the families have a house of any sort. Even the beasts have their own houses where they live with peace. But it is a matter of great regret that today many people do not even have houses, and even if they have, they are not in peace. He is not comparing renting a house with owning a house. The point that he wants to show us is even the beasts have their own houses because owning a house is not costly for them but costly for us. People rent houses in order to have modern facilities, where one has to pay 25 USD to 150 USD (one hundred and fifty years ago) because of which a man gets poor day by day. People are getting harassed because rather than increasing their financial benefit, they are maximizing their physical facilities.

Thoreau shows that the number of people who own the house is very few. During his time people could buy an average house with 800 USD but, in order to save this 800 USD, a single man needs at least 15 years if he became a miser and started saving continuously. And at that time, those who used to be paid a dollar had to spend half of his life in saving that money.

He also argues that in the process of owning a house, a man leaves nothing to the next generation so that they at least can arrange a funeral service for him. That same thing can be seen in V.S. Naipaul’s novel A House for Mr. Biswas, where Mr. Biswas, the central character of the book, had been cherishing a wish of owning a house and after a lot of incidents in the eleventh hour of his life he manages to build a house with the help of loans. But that is too late since he is in the last hour of his life and eventually had a series of heart attacks and dies.

Thoreau shares when he thinks of the prosperous farmer of his locality he finds that they have been toiling twenty, thirty, or forty years, that they may become the real owners of their farms, which commonly they have inherited with encumbrances, or else bought with hired money,—and we may regard one-third of that toil as the cost of their houses,—but commonly they have not paid for them yet. 

By inheriting a big farm, they also inherit a big loan. Sometimes it so happens that the burden of the loan is higher than the worth of the farm. Thoreau talks to the assessors, and he comes to know that most of the people who owned houses, owned loans as well. Every building is being mortgaged to the bank.

In the process of getting a house, houses are getting people instead. Houses become the owner of people’s souls. It does not mean that a person does not need to be the owner of a house rather, it means that he would be the owner if he can afford it. To conclude, if the matter Thoreau demonstrates regarding shelter is compared with the 21st century’s situation, then definitely one can see the exact same picture, even it lies in the very person reading that article. The dream that people are nurturing is the same, and that is owning a house. People’s conscience is dying since they forget that they are a dying species and are heading towards death. Instead of doing something good for the betterment of mankind, people are busy dealing with simple matters.

How Does Thoreau’s Concept of Shelter/House Relate to his Concept of Clothing?

Thoreau’s perspective on fashion is reflected in his concept of shelter/house and clothing. Just as he sought simplicity and self-reliance in his minimalist cabin, he also embraced a minimalist approach to clothing. Thoreau viewed both shelter and clothing as essential but believed they should be practical, serving basic needs rather than striving for excessive luxury or societal expectations.

Leave a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This