I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject; and, as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my fellow-countrymen now. It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man, or a musket to shoot one with, –the dollar is innocent,– but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can as is usual in such cases.
The preceding passage comes from the work On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau. An important line is written before this, for it explains that this passage is from Thoreaus whole history of My Prisons. This true story about Thoreau describes his experience in prison for a night for not paying his taxes. A close reading of the above passage captures the feelings and thoughts of many taxpayers toward our government. These feelings are embedded in Thoreaus challenges to the government, his incisive diction and the use of his real-life experiences.
In this passage, Thoreau expresses his thoughts and feelings for both himself and the public around him. Toward the end of the passage, Thoreau announces that he quietly declares war with the State. This does not mean he will actually go to war with the state, but it is a metaphor for the intensity that he feels. What Thoreau means to say is that he wishes to be his own government, although he does not want to force his allegiance to the State. Near the beginning of the passage, Thoreau states that he is unconcerned about the final destination of his hard-earned money. Thoreau claims he would rather discover what impact his allegiance has on the government instead of wasting his time on the tracing of his money. Thoreau also says that he will take advantage of the government in the few ways he can. This is demonstrated in the modern day world where American Indians claim they are not a part of our government, and think they should not have to pay taxes. They use tax dollars for their health, education and protective services, yet they feel they should not have to pay taxes. Thoreau feels the same way. He thinks that by educating the public and being a good neighbor, he has helped the world enough. He believes that he should not have to give up his money since he contributes to society through his knowledge and good deeds. If this passage is read in detail, one can see that Thoreau is displaying his absolute point of view on the issue of taxes.
Thoreau uses extremely incisive diction in this passage. He expresses his ideas through unique word choices and word arrangements. A very keen example of his creative use of diction is the way he expresses the phrase the dollar is innocent. He made this phrase a focal point because he felt it was important not to blame the system of money, but rather the philosophy of government. He highlighted this through the addition of dash marks around the phrase. Even a reader who did not read the work in detail would surely read that line. It is displayed prominently within the passage, as a flower in a barren desert. Thoreaus unique viewpoint is evidenced through the power of his diction. He uses the personal pronoun by using the word I when owning his feelings or behaviors. He leaves no room for others, such as you or we. Thoreau only states the facts, he leaves no room for opinion. He also uses rhetorical questions outside this passage to make us think more seriously about what he is saying. He is making us find the meaning. A close reading of this passage reveals Thoreaus remarkable ability to use diction in creative ways.
Thoreau expresses his views through comparisons and real-life experiences. For example, the whole story of My Prisons is really about his personal experiences. He relates his firsthand experiences with his challenges and frustrations toward the government. He intertwines the two and makes his message to the public stronger, instead of keeping them separate. Thoreau also uses comparisons to make his rhetoric more thorough and convincing. He compares the standpoint of a good neighbor to a bad subject. Thoreau feels he would rather be a good neighbor than a bad subject after spending a night in prison. He believes he should stand up for what he believes in, although the government will penalize him if he does. Instead of receiving negative consequences by arguing over taxes, he would rather be a good person and keep quiet. Thoreaus choice of style allows us to agree with his thoughts. His type of style is vivid; he uses techniques that are sometimes forgotten by us. Thoreau sticks with the basics when writing this passage. He gets the point across using short, direct statements. He does not clutter the statements with long, descriptive sentences that may become boring. If read in detail, this passage will unlock Thoreaus destiny to get a point across using comparisons and real-life experiences.
Thoreaus feelings are embedded in his challenges to the government, his incisive diction and the use of his real-life experiences. Thoreau was fighting a losing battle. It was only himself against the government. Thoreau soon realized this and decided to take advantage of what little he could. He expresses his views on the tax issue through his writings. He attempts to convince others that his views on taxes are right by stating only negative facts about our government. In this paper, Thoreau attempts to teach us that our government is corrupt, along with telling us to take advantage of it as much as we can. A deeper meaning that he expects us to find is that we should stand up for what we believe in. Even if we stand alone it makes others realize what is happening in the world around them.