Summary – Chapter Eleven ‘Higher Laws’
A discussion of hunting and how men and boys in New England used to do this is described. The scarcity of game has lessened this pursuit rather than ‘increased humanity’. He defends hunting too, though, and quotes Chaucer’s Nun; he sees it as a part of one’s education.
He questions the eating of ‘animal food’ and explains how he has developed a repugnance to it. He sees it as ‘a part of the destiny’ of the human race to stop eating animals just as ‘the savage tribes’ have stopped being cannibals.
He goes on to talk about ‘the highest reality’ and that ‘the true harvest’ of his daily life is as ‘intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening’. Water is referred to as ‘the only drink for a wise man’ and the drinking of coffee and alcohol is criticized. Music is also described as a possible intoxicant.
At present, he tells how he carries less religion ‘to the table’ and asks for no blessing. He argues that it is possible that the ‘animal in us’ ‘cannot be wholly expelled’ and quotes Mencius. He sees that purity inspires us and that impurity ‘casts us down’. He questions the perception of ‘heathens’ being understood as lesser people than Christians and says how in Hinduism ‘nothing was too trivial’, such as how to eat, drink, co-habit, void excrement and urine. He finishes by saying how ‘John Farmer’ heard someone play a flute (which could be Thoreau) and that this influenced his thoughts away from only working and led him to think of treating himself ‘with ever increasing respect’
Analysis – Chapter Eleven
In ‘Higher Laws’, Thoreau continues to question Christianity obliquely and by turning to Hinduism he demonstrates that the supposed ‘heathens’ are not uncivilized, as is generally implied by this dismissive term. As with the lifestyle he has adopted, he refuses to accept the normative processes that imply or state that Christianity is the only religion, or tea and coffee are necessities. He questions these norms and by doing so he reveals that in the West we have allowed our horizons to become as limited as John Field’s in the previous chapter.