In The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Henry Thoreau advises us to follow the pattern set by what animal to clean up after ourselves?

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chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This topic comes up in the conversation Henry and Ellen have in the rowboat in Act 1. Their discussion covers religion, environmental issues and eventually, love.

Ellen: My father says God put everything here for men to use.

Henry: Oh? Did the Good Father put us here to root and snort and glut ourselves like pigs? No, the pigs are better; pigs may be the most respectable part of the population: at least they consume the rubble instead of contributing to it.

Here Henry is quick to bring up the crass consumerism of the American public, saying that people are worse than pigs, because they pile up their garbage instead of using it up. The playwrights crafted this response from two sources. The first is the actual text of a letter that Henry Thoreau sent to Ralph Waldo Emerson on June 8, 1843. Thoreau had moved temporarily to Staten Island for a tutoring job. He had a chance to go into New York City and was not impressed:

I am ashamed of my eyes that behold it. It is a thousand times meaner than I could have imagined. It will be something to hate that’s the advantage it will be to me, and even the best people in it are a part of it, and talk coolly about it. The pigs in the street are the most respectable portion of the population. When will the world learn that a million men are of no importance compared with one man. (The Correspondence of Henry D. Thoreau, Volume 1: 1834-1848, Robert N. Hudspeth, editor, Princeton University Press, 2013, p. 181.)

Lawrence and Lee combined the line about pigs with one of the biggest concerns of the day: the environment. Remember that the first Earth Day was held in 1970, the same year that this play was released. In the late 1960s, people began to react to and protest many environmental problems, including pollution and littering. The act of recycling materials had not yet gained widespread implementation. The writers therefore made the character of Henry more environmentally aware than the real Thoreau had been. It was a contemporary issue they could weave well into the text, even briefly.

duncanschaefer | Student

I believe. He says a pig.

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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

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