In the play titled The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Thoreau asks, "If I ever met a man who was completely awake, how could I look him in the face?" What does this statement mean?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In the play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee titled The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Thoreau converses with his fellow prisoners. At one point in Act I, one such prisoner, named Bailey, has just arisen from sleep and says to Thoreau, “Guess I’m not full awake.”  To this, Thoreau responds as follows:

Nobody is. If I ever met a man who was completely awake, how could I look him in the face?

In this statement, Thoreau seems to be referring to complete moral, spiritual, and intellectual alertness. A person who was fully “awake” in this metaphorical sense would be an almost godlike being and thus could not be looked at fully in the face. Yet Thoreau implies that few human beings are awake in this sense. Most of us metaphorically sleepwalk through a great deal of our lives. Few of us achieve the great moral, spiritual, and intellectual potential we possess. Thoreau finds this fact regrettable.

 

 

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