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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  1,834 Ratings  ·  130 Reviews
"If the law is of such nature that it  requires you to be an agent of injustice to another,  then I say, break the law." In 1849, the young  Henry David Thoreau, philosopher, poet,  naturalist, penned these timeless words in his  Civil Disobedience. Three years earlier  Thoreau had refused to pay taxes to the government,  which was engaged in the Mexican War. He condemned  ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 1st 1982 by Bantam Books (first published January 1st 1971)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Emily
Dec 11, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are days when I am not fit to be a teacher, and today is one of them. I had a 13.5 hour day yesterday and this one may be longer. My English 11 class finished reading this play this morning. One female pronounced it "gay" and said it "sucked." A male student declared it "pointless." Again, there are some days I just am not fit to be a teacher. Despite my displeasure, I gathered enough professionalism to encourage discussion on the the writers' purpose, and to discourage the use of the word ...more
Thomas
3.5

While reading it as opposed to watching it may have lessened some of the play's magic, I still loved the portrayal of Thoreau and agreed with many aspects of his philosophy. A great introduction to Transcendentalism.

Also, I will remember this line forever: "I hereby excommunicate you from the Milky Way!" Ha ha.
Bardha Ajeti
"If the law is of such nature that it requires you to be a agent of injustice to another, then i say, break the law".

Thoreau refused to pay taxes because he did not believe in the government’s involvement in the Mexican war. For this, he was thrown in jail. This play depicts a man’s quest to find justice in America and take a stance for something he believed in.
Jessica
It was okay, I read it for school and it was a bit confusing for my taste. Not bad though!
Ruth Woodman York
Jun 27, 2017 Ruth Woodman York rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed. Now, I'd like to see it performed on the stage. Very well written.
Grace Torre
A good book with big themes of transcendentalism, but a bit hard to follow.
Janet
Dec 20, 2016 Janet rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a reading assignment for my Junior year in High School. I remember shuddering as I opened to the first pages and the dawning realization hit that this was a play. My glowing hatred for plays outshines the sun at times. Their back and forth dialogue monotony is draining, the staggered format bores me, and the common Speaker 1: Speaker 2: set up abused by fanfiction writers has made me especially begrudging to read plays. Then began the read, still bristled I suffered through a few pages ...more
Hona
This play was not a bad play. Despite my rating, I rather enjoyed it. That being said, fuck DAVID Henry Thoreau. He is so fucking annoying. He tries so damn hard to be abstract and obscure and nonconformist that regardless of whether or not any of his words had substance, I just don't give a damn. I don't know how accurately this play portrays Thoreau, but if he was anything like this, he seems to be a pretentious, misanthropic, smug asshole.
Shannon
Apr 28, 2015 Shannon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoreau's characterization is beautiful and accurate, and the structure of the play gives readers a sense of how and why Thoreau is such a man of principle and of paradox. Among the cast of characters we meet are his mother, who is ever fretting over her son's unconventional behavior and views, "Waldo" (i.e. Emerson), who is resoundingly upstaged by Thoreau in both conviction and action, his brother John, Thoreau's kindred in spirit as well as blood, and Sam, the local marshal who is tasked with ...more
Jori Richardson
A very thoughtful, cleverly written play. I found the numerous elements of philosophy very well done.
Besides being philosophical, this book also combines conflictual theories and references to Politics, Psychology, Transcendentalism, and Religion. Lawrence examines with a critical eye the government, corrupt politicians, and the country's choices concerning the present Mexican War.
Well written, with complicated and deep characters. The plot line is more than a bit hazy, but the author seems to b
...more
Randy Reus
I would have probably enjoyed this more if I'd read in in high school instead of as an adult. It's a good introduction to Thoreau, Emerson, civil disobedience, and Transcendentalism, but it's a little disjointed at times. Trying to fit so much of Thoreau's life into a short play taking place in one night means way too many dreams, flashbacks, and quotes for my taste. And, speaking of quotes, sometimes the play reads like Lawrence and Lee picked their favorites, and wrote the play around them. E ...more
Mara
Mar 05, 2008 Mara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who love plays, anyone who liked <i>Inherit the Wind</i>, and fans of transcendentalism
Shelves: plays, reviewed
An amazing play-I learned far more about Thoreau and his ideas from this play even than reading Walden. I do need to reread his works; part of the reason I liked the play so much more might have had to do with reading both in high school. That time was so frenzied and there was too much already trying to be crammed in my brain, that it was difficult to absorb too much.... Maybe a cop-out, but really, this play is sensational. I would love to see it acted out-the stage directions alone were inter ...more
Kayla
Jan 01, 2017 Kayla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would give this book a 4.5 stars. This was a book I had to read for school and had put off, so obviously I had low expectations. However, it was really great and I could picture the stage direction vividly in my head. I related to Thoreau a lot in a sense, especially how he isolates himself from society and how we wish people would stop making things seem more complicated than they actually are. Albeit he is much more outspoken than I am. My favorite quote from the play/book was:
"Henry-What a
...more
Catherine
Jul 03, 2012 Catherine rated it really liked it
In this play, Thoreau is jailed for refusing to pay taxes because he doesn't want his money to support the Mexican/American war. The play takes from Thoreau's work and combines many years in the passing of a single night as he converses with his cell mate and has flashbacks about other times in his life. The quote that is the center of the work is, "If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." The play was originally publ ...more
Will Butler
The book, "The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail", tells the story of a man named Henry Thoreau who believed that America was fighting in an unjust war and didn't support it one bit. In an effort to "protest" against this war he refuses to pay his taxes for nearly three years and ends up getting in a little trouble as a result. What happens to Thoreau and his experiences during this time are what the book shows. One thing I liked about the book was that it had history in it and I really enjoy reading ...more
Lisa
May 27, 2008 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was able to finish this book easily in one sitting and it was a nice change of pace from the longer, heavier novels I've been reading to date. I'll call it a palate-cleanser. The play is simply written, easily accessible, and probably more appropriate for younger readers (it seems most read this while in high school); However, I certainly believe that it should be revisited from time to time just to refresh our jaded, 21st century prospectives. The play included humor and quick wit and made me ...more
Grady Ormsby
Jan 25, 2013 Grady Ormsby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's two-act play The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is a distillation of the life and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau. True to Thoreau's exhortation to, "Simplify, Simplify!," the stage directions call for a minimalist production in which the audience is called, "to contribute imagination." Simplification does not mean sparsity, however, because the play includes Thoreau in all his roles: as author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, pacifis ...more
Katie
Nov 13, 2011 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: curriculum
This drama provides a look into the life of Thoreau and how he withdrew from the world to Walden and decided to later leave Walden to discover more of the world. While the center of the stage has the jail cell at all times, the play is replete with flashbacks that tell the story of his young life, his argument with Emerson, and his unwavering conviction to his ideals. Any lover of Thoreau or Transcendentalism would love this book. I'm trying to determine if it is worth the read with my junior st ...more
Maria Zapanta
Sep 04, 2013 Maria Zapanta is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law." So wrote the young Henry David Thoreau in 1849. Three years earlier, Thoreau had put his belief into action and refused to pay taxes because of the United States government's involvement in the Mexican War, which Thoreau firmly believed was unjust. For his daring and unprecedented act of protest, he was thrown in jail. The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail is a celebrated dramatic pr ...more
Mallory
Dec 14, 2008 Mallory rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: high school students, thoreau fans, individualists, rand readers
Recommended to Mallory by: Eve Balsam
Shelves: favorites, plays
Before I begin, I adore Thoreau and am therefore inherently biased about any works that surround his life or writings. This play obviously in concerned with the night he spent in jail after refusing to pay taxes (because the U.S. gov't was involved in the Mexican American War). It paints him as an individualist of the highest caliber and gives an overview of important life events. The dialogue is witty and will often make the reader laught out loud. However, the story plays out as history and ma ...more
Nate Goddard
I would give this book a two and a half out of five. I thought the structure of this book was hard to follow because it was written as a play. I often found myself struggling to visualize the scene of what was going on thoughout the book. I thought the main character related to Marting Luther King Jr because he said,"IF the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then I say, Break the law." I believe they related so much because they both believed tha ...more
Bob
Mar 14, 2008 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Bob by: My English Teacher
This book isn't something you should read, it's something that you should takes notes over and simply look at Thoreau's life. He shows us what are rights are, and that we should keep them even if he have to go to jail.

This book shows Thoreau's mind even better then Walden(Also a great book by Henry David Thoreau) I should also add that I don't agree with everything Thoreau says, but I truly respect him for someone who commanded peace and equality between all humans.


In overall i recomend this bo
...more
jeremy
Jan 19, 2008 jeremy rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
"you don't belong to anybody, sir. except yourself. least of all to me. watch out- or you'll run right into what you're running away from."

"if you call on me to pay for a rifle, sam, it's the same as asking me to fire it! you're making me as much a killer as the foot-soldier who crashes across the border into faraway mexico, charges into his neighbor's house, sets fire to it and kills his children!"

"that's why you didn't hear him. you missed the eloquence of his silence."

"sometimes the light get
...more
Melinda
Aug 16, 2014 Melinda rated it liked it
Shelves: drama
Snagged from the English dept book room because it's on the "approved" list for grade 11. This is an easy read and could supply the half-conscious reader with enough support for writing on Thoreau and his ilk. I especially enjoyed the humor and the way the authors drew clear parallels between two unpopular wars (Mexico and Vietnam). I also found the conflict with Emerson interesting -- Emerson a thinker too timid to rock the boat, Thoreau a man determined to go his own way and be himself. This i ...more
Eli
Jan 06, 2017 Eli rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theater, history, 2017
I first read this way back in HS, and it left a huge impression on me. Unfortunately, the impression it left was based on a recollection of a profound moment that doesn't actually happen in the script, and which I apparently invented whole cloth. Weird. Anyway, my play-by-play of Lawrence and Lee's outrageous stage directions and cringe-worthy efforts to write dialogue for an 1840s African American character entertained my friends while I read, but enjoyment from the actual script was somewhat t ...more
Geoff Wyss
This play is more interesting as a document of its time (1971) than as any sort of resource for learning more about Thoreau, Emerson, and Transcendentalism. It makes use of the broadest strokes of Transcendentalist thought to rouse its audience against Vietnam. The only real interest here is in structure, which floats quite fluidly in and out of real time to remembered (and simultaneous) scenes on other parts of the stage. Having said that, I'm thinking seriously about using it for my Eng. III c ...more
Shannon
Oct 12, 2012 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is perfect for teaching students that there are different ways of seeing the world. I'm using this play after teaching Julius Caesar to show that there are other ways to handle power struggles besides murder/assassination and suicide. Our actions and words show the world who we are. By increasing our vocabulary, use and understanding of rhetoric and persuasion we can avoid the use of physical force to solve our problems. Please read this book, you'll really enjoy it and it is a quick read.
Ting
Mar 02, 2014 Ting rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Generally, I do not like the Transcendentalists. I think they're cheap knockoffs of the British Romantics and they're smelly hippies who think they're cool building their own cabins. How are they in any way different from the hipsters who are trying to make their houses green these days?

The answer is there is very little difference. I applaud them because they're not cheap knockoffs because according to The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Thoreau might get angry at me for calling him a cheap knocko
...more
Gary Patella
Oct 15, 2015 Gary Patella rated it really liked it
This was a pretty good play. It really explained why Thoreau was arrested, and Thoreau's thought process. The one thing that got to me was that there were two acts and no scenes. The scenes did change, but were never indicated. It wasn't hard to follow the scene changes or anything, but when I read I like to pause after each scene, chapter, etc. to absorb what I just read. That allows me to remember everything I read well into the future. With this play, I would have to realize when to stop and ...more
Erin
Feb 01, 2010 Erin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I bought this at a church rummage sale about 3 years ago, and it has just sat in my bookcase ever since. This is a great, quick read (as are most plays), and it was an interesting way to (concisely) learn about HD Thoreau. It would be interesting to see this play performed because it's so minimalist and really puts the onus on the audience to imagine. This is also a good read in terms of themes regarding civil disobedience. I'd recommend this.
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