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The Night Throe Spent in Jail

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1. Thoreau has a unique perspective on even something like the alphabet. What is that perspective? How does it relate to Emerson’s ideas about conformity?

Thoreau believes that you shouldn’t be forced to say the alphabet one particular way. Say it backwards, or start in the middle. Emerson had said, “Cast conformity behind you.” Conformity is doing things just like everyone else. Obviously, Thoreau doesn’t do things like everyone else.

2. What does Thoreau teach Bailey? How does he teach him?

Thoreau teaches Bailey how to write. He teaches him by relating the shape of the letters to objects familiar to Bailey—such as a beanpole or a comb. Obviously, this is a non-conformist teaching method.

3. What does it mean to be “huckleberrying”?

Searching for ideas wherever you might find them. Many times that is somewhere you don’t expect.

4. What does Mr. Ball make Thoreau do that he regrets?

He demands that Thoreau whip the students for laughing at him. Thoreau resigns after he does this, sickened by what he did. This episode emphasizes how doing something he doesn’t believe in makes Thoreau feel—terrible.

5. Why does Thoreau get so angry with Ellen about taking notes?

She is only doing it because she thinks she is supposed to do it or because she sees him doing it, not because she wants to.

6. Summarize Thoreau’s explanation of Transcendentalism that he gives Ellen.

He uses the example of her father and the water. She doesn’t love her father because he is handsome or talented. Her love for him transcends (goes beyond) his physical reality. Similarly, her arm can’t touch the bottom of the lake, but she can transcend that physical limitation. When you transcend reality, you stop merely living and BE.

7. Why does Thoreau ask Ellen to go church with his brother?

He knows he has ruined his own chances with Ellen by calling her by her brother’s name and by lecturing her as if she was a schoolboy. John had liked her, too, and Thoreau wanted Ellen to see the qualities they shared and which he felt were even superior in his brother. 8. How does John die?

He cuts himself with a rusty razor, leading to lockjaw (tetanus).

9. Ellen tries to comfort Thoreau with his own words about living and being. What had Thoreau said? How does he react to her understanding?

Thoreau had said when you transcend reality, you stop merely living and BE. Ellen suggests that John might no long be living, but he continues to BE. Thoreau realizes that she really does understand what transcendentalism is.

10. What will be Thoreau’s job in the Emerson household? How will he be paid?

He will serve as a handyman. In return, the Emersons will lend him a piece of land by Walden pond to build a house and conduct his “experiment.”

11. Why does Sam arrest Thoreau?

Thoreau has not paid his taxes.

12. Why won’t Thoreau do as society wants him to?

He knows his taxes are being used to support the war with Mexico, which is
mostly about slavery. He does not support slavery so he feels it is wrong to allow his money to support something he does not believe in.

13. Describe the relationship between Edward and Thoreau.

Edward and Thoreau grow close, and Edward expresses the wish that Henry was his father. Henry feels the same way, but he doesn’t say it aloud.

14. Who is Williams? Why does he also have the first name of Henry?

Williams is a runaway slave that Thoreau meets while he is hoeing his bean patch. Williams has no first name. He takes the same first name as Thoreau because Thoreau treated him as human being, a first for Williams.

15. What happens to Williams?

Williams is shot by a Boston policeman as he crosses the border into Canada.

16. Emerson sums up the relationship between himself and Thoreau when he says “you live what I talk about.” What’s the difference between the two men?

Emerson is a theorist. He enjoys talking about the pleasures that can be found in nature, but he enjoys the comforts of civilization more. Thoreau is an activist. He lives what he writes about.

17. What happens when Thoreau calls a town meeting?

Emerson doesn’t show up. Instead, he sends Lydian to tell Thoreau that he will think about the subject some more and write an essay.

18. Describe Henry’s bad dream.

It takes place during the war with Mexico. All of the characters in the play have different roles in the nightmare. Edward Emerson is the drummer boy and is killed. Williams is a Mexican soldier who is killed. John Thoreau
is a soldier who dies in Henry’s arms.

19. Who pays Henry’s taxes?

His Aunt Louisa pays his taxes.

20. Why is Henry leaving Walden?

Henry has more things to do before he dies (“more lives to live.” ) He is afraid that life at Walden is so perfect that he will become too content and will never do what he needs to do.

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