In the play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, what does Thoreau mean when he wonders what would happen if God wanted to be "liked" rather than "loved"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In the play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, Thoreau expresses frustration with the desire of most Americans (and most people in general) to be liked. This yearning for approval, he suggests, makes them compliant and complacent; it leads them to accept what is merely popular and common rather than anything individual, different, or great. At one point, Thoreau asks,

What if God wanted to be liked instead of loved? What if the Almighty delayed every decision until He was sure it would please the majority? Great whales might have offended some legislature, which God knew would rise up some day to speak endlessly of the Common Good!

In these sentences, Thoreau suggests that God would never settle for merely being popular. Doing so would prevent him from doing or creating anything great or unusual, such as whales. The creation of whales, Thoreau suggests, would never have been an idea proposed by the majority; something so magnificent and impressive as a whale could only have been created by a being capable of transcendent thought – a being who would never worry about being popular.




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