I’m starting over because I want to deal with this book at a deeper, more philosophical level and make sure I’m giving it a fair shake.
I still stand by my position that he is very privileged to be able to “get away” from society. That might seem an odd sort of privilege since he was living in abject poverty, but think about how difficult that would be for us to give up our responsibilities and go live in the woods? Much is made of the parable that Jesus taught about the man who gives up everything to follow him – many people think that that is fundamentally an easy thing to do, but it is very, very hard to just give up our lives, even if they are good lives and go with God.
He is not wrong to show how a simple life can be more fulfilling – I agree with him – but his disdain for society, a disdain that he hints at stemming from his townspeople not accepting him as part of their inner circle, is a little too harsh. Is man really so much the worse to live in a house he does not own made from materials that come from a factory? Are man’s activities that take place in the home so far from the “natural good man” that he is worse off than the “savage”? Thoreau may live closer to God in nature, but his use of the word savage betrays his sense of kinship with his fellow man. He seems to see savages everywhere, not just in the American Indian, but especially there he does not possess the empathetic spirit that comes from people who have spent many hours in their homes thinking about how their action might negatively affect others. A man who has to get his meat on the hunt will have no time to worry if he is hurting anyone’s feelings, yet the man who lives in comfort is well aware how lucky he is and (should) attempt to extend that privilege to everyone.
In this he lacks a portion of empathy for his fellow individual man while at the same time he does love humanity writ large.