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Is Thoreau to Blame for His Predicaments?

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Edward Veliz

Mrs. Fernandez

English III

2018, February 6

Is Thoreau to blame for his predicaments?

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is amongst the leading literary pieces that explore deep philosophical concerns. The two-act play uses of many literary devices in a bid to look keenly into the issues facing the society. Using the main character, Thoreau, the two authors explicitly show the sufferings of men in Concord, Massachusetts. This is evident in the perceived ‘unfair’ jailing of Thoreau. However, during the play, the audience is left with the question as to whether Thoreau is to blame for his predicaments. Well, the plot, setting, and characterization used in the play leave no doubt as to who is to blame for the predicaments of Thoreau, and in the society at large. This essay seeks to ascertain beyond any reasonable doubt that the war, and not Thoreau, is to blame for the predicaments that befell Thoreau. The themes in the play, as well as other literary devices, will be used to prove this claim.
        Firstly, the authors make it clear that there is an ongoing war between the United States and Mexico. Even though the setting of the play is in Concord, Massachusetts, the effects of the ongoing national war spill to the people of Concord. Therefore, there is a strong argument that the war is to blame for the suffering of Thoreau. When Sam arrests him, he informs him that the reason behind his arrest is the failure to pay tax. Interestingly, Sam adds an important piece of information when he says, “… but the government gets persnickety about taxes when got a war going” (60). This is a clear sign that Thoreau’s arrest is not primarily because he has not paid tax, but because has not paid tax when there is a war going on which needs funding. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the arrest of Thoreau is because of the war and hence not his fault.
        Another important theme that advances the claim that war is to blame for the people’s suffering in Concord is civil disobedience and general resistance displayed towards the government. There are many instances when the people have directly or indirectly differed with the government. One of the best examples is that of Thoreau’s refusal to pay taxes. The man refuses to pay taxes not because of any other reason but simply because he does not want to fund the ongoing war. He believes paying for a rifle is the same as asking him to fire it (67). This makes him resist paying taxes and end up in jail. Therefore, his kind of civil disobedience is mainly to reduce the effects of the ongoing war, which he believes is unnecessary. In a flashback showing the events leading to Thoreau’s arrest, the farmer also shows resentment towards paying taxes (62). His resent shows that he indirectly supports a revolution against the ongoing war. Interestingly, even the constable sent to arrest Thoreau is uncomfortable arresting him. Constable Sam reveals that he does not want to arrest Thoreau to an extent that he even offers him a loan to pay his taxes. When Thoreau refuses to take the loan offer, Sam reluctantly arrests him. His reluctance is a clear signal indicating his lack of commitment to the war. Deep in his heart, he knows Thoreau is right and that the war should be stopped. This kind of indirect opposition to the war is what proves the point that the effects of the war are responsible for the suffering of individuals in Concord including Thoreau himself.
        Thirdly, the issue of intellectualism and transcendentalism is also a major focus in this play. The importance of this issue is so huge because they are the warring ideologies in the play. While the government, through the like of Deacon Ball- who commands Thoreau to use corporal punishment when teaching-, advocates for intellectualism, Thoreau and most of his listeners lean towards transcendentalism. Transcendentalism is a general philosophy that deviates from intellectualism and spirituality giving more focus on individuals. Therefore, Thoreau believes that he can be right when everyone else is wrong. That is why he refuses tax loan that will put him out of jail. He also curses his aunt who pays his taxes. He believes the government cannot take away his mind from him. His belief that men should be free makes him encourage the former slave to acquire his own identity and stop identifying himself with his former master. Unluckily, Henry Williams (the former slave) dies soon after getting his own name and trying to escape to Canada. His death, which is the highest form of human suffering, is a clear indication that the ongoing war is to blame for the suffering of the people in Concord.
        Furthermore, the cyclical plot with numerous flashbacks can be a strong argument that works against the war. Since the theme of war is dominant in the play, it can be argued that the effects of war are what cause the plot to be cyclical. The setting begins in the jail where Thoreau is being held. However, the flashbacks that reveal to the audience the events leading to the arrest of Thoreau are not in a linear sequence. An argument can be made to suggest that the cyclical plot is an indication of how the war takes cycles just to end at the point where it starts. Evidence of this can be shown in two examples. The first example is that of Thoreau who goes to jail for not paying taxes but does not want to go out even when his aunt pays his taxes. Another example is that of Henry Williams who gets his freedom from slavery and a new name just for him to die while escaping. These two examples clearly show that the authors blame the war for the miseries of the population and that they are trapped in a cyclical life pressure if the war continues.
        From above, it is evidently clear that the theme of war is dominant. The war between the United States and Mexico results to major conflicts in the society. One major conflict is ideological, which is well-presented by the transcendentalist Thoreau. It is more than clear that his belief against the war leads him to jail, hence safe to summarize authoritatively that the ongoing war is purely to blame for the suffering of Thoreau.



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