Plagued by its effects, Barbara Ehrenreich and Henry David Thoreau offer readers their insight on Consumerism. Consumerism is one of the most debatable theories that have valid arguments from all sides. Both Ehrenreich and Thoreau are anxious about the concept of Consumerism. In Walden, Thoreau condemns it, feeling that Consumerism controls one's life, with his emphasis on self-reliance; in Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich, conveyed how Consumerism created jobs that degraded people and caused them dissatisfaction. Consumerism is the never-ending purchasing of new goods and services, without paying attention to their true need, durability, origin, and its harm to the environment. It is set into our minds by the immense advertising designed to attract people to follow certain trends.
It hampers with the idea that instead of society working for an adequate supply of life's necessities, it replaces it with a created artificial life, always wanting things, and have little or no concern for the true value of utility it brings. Materialism is the end result of Consumerism. Not only does this have the power to attract people, Consumerism can control and influence your life. An increase in the number of jobs can also be a direct result of Consumerism. But these jobs that have been created for people who are widespread in poverty and dehumanization.
Thoreau is concerned that Consumerism has the power to control the lives of people, not allowing them to do what they would like to do. "Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them." (Thoreau, 3) Here, he argues that even in this free country, almost everyone is involved in a realm of a fake life and endure the rough labor to get it. Instead of their mistakes and ignorance, they should be searching for the "finer fruits" (3). As people suppose that they need to own things this need forces them to devote all their time to labor. But he dives deeper into the concept of Consumerism by concentrating on labor as a necessity. He says, "But men labor under a mistake.
The better part of the man is soon ploughed into the soil for compost. By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book... ." (3). He sums up that everyone's possessions require excess labor to purchase them, but also oppress them. Thoreau challenges his readers by asking, "It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes." He then goes on to saying, "There is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic family would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged?" (31) Even though, Thoreau does not directly mention Consumerism, it is clear that what he refers to as luxuries and necessities are directed towards that concept. "Some things are really necessities of life in some circles, the most helpless, and diseased, which in other are luxuries merely, and in others still are entirely unknown." (4) Consumerism being a rather large concept to understand, Barbara Ehrenreich had a slightly different opinion.
Barbara Ehrenreich is concerned that even though Consumerism creates jobs, good or bad, someone has to fill them. Most of the time these are the jobs that tend to be ones that are dirty, gory, and some even inhumane. As Consumerism becomes widespread, we tend to purchase goods and services at will. As this increases, more and more jobs are created, especially ones that require someone to cover the dirty work. Ehrenreich experiences this at first hand, "Maddy assigns me to do the kitchen floor. OK, except that Mrs.
W. is in the kitchen, so I have to go down on my hands and knees practically at her feet." (Ehrenreich, 83) She then goes on to say, "But it is this primal posture of submission-and of what is ultimately anal accessibility- that seems to gratify the consumers of maid services." (84) She continues this by emphasizing her point, "That's not your marble bleeding, I want to tell her, it's the world wide working class-the people who quarried the marble, wove your Persian rugs until they went blind, harvested the apples in your lovely fall-themed dining room centerpiece, smelted the steel for the nails, drove the trucks, put up this building, and now bend and squat and sweat to clean it." (90) Ehrenreich also mentions that consumerism also causes dissatisfaction for people who are not fortunate to buy things that other people can. "Self-restraint becomes more of a challenge when the owner of a million-dollar condo... ." (90) Readers can also see there is a sense of dissatisfaction during a discussion in the van, "Or we " ll drive by a Dairy Queen and Holly will say, "They have great four squares"-the local name for a sundae-"there, you know. With four kinds of sauce. You get chocolate, strawberry, butterscotch, and marshmallow and any kind of ice cream you want.
I had one once and let it get a little melted and, oh my God," etc" (96). Both Thoreau and Ehrenreich experienced first hand, the effects of Consumerism. For Thoreau it was self-reliance, being able to live his life and not be absorbed into a false one. For Ehrenreich it was her experience of poverty and dehumanization. Consumerism has its effects on everyone including these two. As Thoreau said it best, "What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates his fate." (Thoreau, 4) Work Cited Ehrenreich, Barbara.
Nickel and Dimed. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2001. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Resistance to Civil Government. New York: W. W.
Norton & Company, 1992.