Discuss the symbolism of the nightmare sequence in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The nightmare sequence that happens in Act II of the play is symbolic of Thoreau's fear of not being socially active.  It is symbolic because he realizes that while he is demonstrating a commitment to his ideals by being imprisoned, doing so prevents him from taking an active role in stopping bloodshed and what he perceives as injustice.  The symbolic nature of the President, Waldo Emerson, being silent when he speaks and not able to take action is something that haunts at Thoreau.  His idol and leader has gone silent at a critical time.  While this does cause disillusionment, Thoreau also understands that there is a need for him to be active, for him to speak out and be more aggressive in articulating his dissent.  The symbolism of many characters that Thoreau encountered having active roles in the machinery of war horrifies him.  He realizes that his own personal desire to stand by his principles translates into no one speaking out against the war.  He realizes this through the nightmare, symbolizing Thoreau's need and passion to stand against injustice.

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