Civil Disobedience and Henry David Thoreau

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Henry David Thoreau takes the motto "A government that governs least governs best" (1) to heart in his essay "Civil Disobedience". Throughout his controversial masterpiece, Thoreau criticizes the government for having too much power and interfering with the American population, but he also blames the governed for mindlessly obeying any law that is passed. Thoreau uses countless literary devices in order to make the touchy opinions presented in "Civil Disobedience" easier to understand and more convincing. Through use of innumerable similes and metaphors, Thoreau makes his arguments and ideas easier to understand, and effectively convinces anyone who reads his essay that the government is "each instant losing some of its integrity" (1), and that it should be done away with immediately. Thoreau immediately attacks the American government as weak and useless in the opening paragraphs of his essay. Thoreau states that "This American government… is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves; and, if ever they should use it in earnest as a real one against each other, it will surely split" (1). This metaphor makes the complex idea that the all-powerful American government is actually feeble and fragile, because everyone knows that a wooden gun can do no serious harm. Thoreau thinks that the government would crumble if the people tried to put it to any real use, or if they tried to use it against one another. Thoreau grouses the American people, particularly the soldiers, for obeying the rulers of their country. He states: "The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies" (3). Thoreau compares American citizens to show that almost everyone in the country obeys what the government mandates, no matter what the cost. He says that marines are "a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity… already buried under arms with funeral accompaniments" (3). Thoreau's powerful simile paints a picture of mindless drones, who...
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