Why do playwrights Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee refer to the hero of this play as “The Now Thoreau?”

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Thoreau is characterized as "The Now Thoreau" because of the cultural context in which the play was written.  One of the fundamental driving forces of the drama is how Thoreau believes that the Mexican- American War is wrong and while he cannot stop governmental policy about it, he can voice his own dissent against that which he considers to be morally wrong.  The play's historical context of the Vietnam War is not accidental.  Lawrence and Lee believe that "the Now Thoreau" can speak to a new generation of young and old people who are confronted with the collision between what their government is doing and what is morally right.  Thoreau is shown to be someone who not only refuses to acquiesce to authority, but actually recognizes that what is worth believing is worth fighting for and being shared on a communal level.  The playwrights understand the implications of this, as they seek to create the dialogue in which individuals understand that it is not only permissable to question authority, but do so in a manner that creates community and helps to "form a more perfect union."  The vision of Thoreau offered is not one who simply sits at Walden while his world is spiraling into madness and moral repugnance.  He takes action, seeking a broader sphere of civic activism that is outside of his own sense of self.  It is this vision of Thoreau, as someone who is able to step outside of himself and take the risk in the name of defending both his freedom and the freedom that should be shared by others, that Lawrence and Lee see as "the Now Thoreau."  It is a vision of an activistic thinker who does not show fear in the face of governmental and social inertia, but rather one who understands that freedom is an essential part and intrinsic to the very definition of America.  In this, "the Now Thoreau" is actually a timeless one in terms of how Americans should view themselves and their government.

Read the study guide:
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

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