The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

by Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee

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What is a significant quote about freedom in "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail"?

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The theme of freedom arises in various conversations that take place in this play. Naturally, some of this happens in the scenes with Henry and Bailey in the jail cell. But as a Transcendentalist and as an independent person and thinker, Thoreau tends to bring up the issue a lot. Henry repeats Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice, “Cast conformity behind you,” on an early page. This sets the stage (so to speak) for more to come. In the first jail cell scene, Thoreau says, “Every human being has an unalienable right to snore.” Later, he hears the footsteps of someone walking outside the jail, on the street, and the sound is enough for him to launch into a small tirade about conforming to the rest of society:

I know where he’s going. He’s going where he’s supposed to go. So he can be where he’s supposed to be, at the time he’s supposed to be there. Why? So he’ll be liked. My God, a whole country of us who only want to be liked.

Thoreau believes that true freedom lies in the ability to do what you want to do, regardless of what other people will think. In the middle of Act One, he claims that he feels free in spite of being locked behind bars:

Thank you, Concord! Thank you for locking me up so I’m free to hear what I’ve never heard before. You put me behind iron bars and walls four feet thick! How do you know that I’m not the free one? The freest man in the world! And you, out there, are chained to what you have to do tomorrow morning!

He likes to re-interpret the concept of freedom. More examples appear throughout the book -- when Thoreau quits his teaching job at the town's center school instead of conforming to what the school authority man wants; when he does gardening work instead of going to church on Sunday, etc. Here, being free is more than just the opposite of being put in jail.

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What are some aphorisms in "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail"?

An aphorism is a wise saying or a maxim. Such quotes often include a bit of wordplay, and they always make us think. Thoreau is one of the most quoted American authors, and his writing is peppered with aphorisms. The authors of “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail” included quite a few of them in his character’s dialogue here. They include:

I’m myself, Mother. If I’m not, who will be?

Let every sheep keep his own skin.

If I ever met a man who was completely awake, how could I look him in the face?

A man’s conviction is stronger than a flame or a bullet or a rock.

Being a teacher is like being in jail: once it’s on your record, you can never get rid of it.

The only people who ever get anyplace interesting are the people who get lost.

What’s the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

Thank God men haven’t learned to fly: they’d lay waste the sky as well as the earth …

And these are just examples from the first half of Act One.

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