In The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, how is huckleberrying associated with learning?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The experience of huckleberrying is rooted to a practical sense of learning.  Thoreau sees the world as filled with learning opportunities.  Huckleberrying is a part of this.  When Edward out of excitement drops his basket of huckleberries, he initially feels bad about his mistake.  Thoreau uses the "teachable moment" to educate the young boy about how the spilled huckleberries can be used as fertilizer for the plants and ground dwellings.  This feeds Thoreau's idea that humans are connected with the natural setting and the spilling of huckleberries is a good thing because it gives back to the condition and web of life in which humans are a part.  This is reflective of learning for two reasons.  The first is how Thoreau seizes the moment to teach Edward about Transcendental ideas.  The second element of learning is how Thoreau is able to use the idea that learning is rooted in making mistakes and understanding that "correct" answers do not carry half as much learning merit as experiences that help to reveal aspects of human consciousness and "living."  In this, Thoreau is able to use the activity of huckleberrying as a part of a larger learning experience in which human consciousness is one immersed in understanding and revelation.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Let us remember that this incident occurs at the beginning of Act II of this brilliant play. Lydian sends Henry and Edward off hunting for huckleberrys, and as they engage in this activity together, Edward dropping the basket out of excitement allows Henry the opportunity to teach him about nature and the cycle of life. It is important to note that when Lydian suggests Henry should marry, he responds by saying nature is the only wife he would ever want. Certainly an activity like huckleberrying, which places man in nature, therefore is explicitly related to education and learning, as for Henry, all learning is based on our relationship with nature and what we can learn from it. Such a Transcendentalist approach is clearly something that is evident in the entire play as Henry articulates and teaches others about his beliefs and ideas. An apparently simple and straightforward activity such as huckleberrying is therefore something that assumes a much more mystical and important significance in the mind of Henry, as it captures the essence of the cycle of nature of which we are a part and how we are part of that cycle.

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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

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