Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The paradoxes that are used in the drama are done so to accentuate Henry's own activist stance enabling him to be seen as the most moral and spiritual of people in a world of conformity.  For example, Thoreau is seen as the ultimate activist, one who seeks to bridge the gap between Transcendental theory and the reality that is far from Transcendentalism.  In this, Thoreau is contrasted with Emerson, who is more intellectual and cannot move past the theory even when action is sorely justified by it.  The paradox here is that both men embrace the same philosophy which enables one to move and soar to action and causes another one to be impotent in taking a stand.  Another paradox would be seen in how the two brothers Thoreau approach being individualistic and following their own dreams.  When the school fails, John goes back to his conformist job "in the pencil factory" while Henry becomes even more staunch in his pursuits, without relenting.  The paradox here is that two believers in the same philosophical set of ideals and even in the same familial relationship can wind up on so different of paths.  It is paradoxical to see such similarity yield different results.  In both of these settings, the paradox or foil has been used to accentuate Henry's own position and his own status as being the idealistic man in a world devoid of ideals.

Read the study guide:
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question