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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  2,120 ratings  ·  157 reviews
"If the law is of such nature that itrequires you to be an agent of injustice to another,then I say, break the law." In 1849, the youngHenry David Thoreau, philosopher, poet,naturalist, penned these timeless words in hisCivil Disobedience. Three years earlierThoreau had refused to pay taxes to the government,which was engaged in the Mexican War. He condemnedthe war as ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published December 1st 1982 by Bantam Books (first published January 1st 1971)
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 ·  2,120 ratings  ·  157 reviews

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Dec 11, 2012 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

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.
Jun 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have a very torn relationship with Thoreau. He's presented as the Father of Transcendentalism, and someone worth admiring. I still remember sitting in my high school class, learning that Thoreau wasn't as true to his recount of isolationism by Walden, as he stated in his work. That he still went out into the world and still fed off of his family and society during that time. That said, now that I'm an adult, I don't completely see him for the phony I once wrote him off as. However, I will ...more


"We love without knowing it. A man - or a woman - can't love on schedule. I don't wake up in the morning and say: 'I shall start loving at nine-twenty, and continue until ten-fifteen.' Yes, it is accidental. And it's everywhere - it's the wind, the tide, the waves, the sunshine."


Gracie Lyle
Kinda boring, read for a class!
Jan 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love Thoreau! Love used book treasure finds! Love a good play! 19th century civil disobedience infused with the voice of the 70s!
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
noice. smort.
Jul 03, 2012 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 ...more
Aug 16, 2014 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 ...more
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.
Matt Shaw
Nov 02, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars, really. There are 2 separate facets to look in Lawrence & Lee's play: there is the message being put across, and there is the play itself as a play. It's a tough call for me, as this play has been meaningful for me for a long time.

I was given a copy of this by a mentor-teacher in high school in the 70s, who felt I needed affirmation I was on the right path. I read it then and loved it; it has had a place on my shelf since, and I've remembered the content enough to refer to it over
David Kent
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
This play was a wonderful surprise. As I read it I could envision the stage direction clearly, to the point where I would love to find it being produced today.

Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (no, not the Civil War one) have collaborated on several famous plays (Inherit the Wind, Auntie Mame). This play was extremely successful as well. It depicts Henry David Thoreau spending a night in jail for not paying taxes, with many reflections on the state of the world and himself and others (including
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, I don't think I like reading plays lol. the format is just so different lol.
second, this was another one of my "read from high school and re-read" book.

Henry chose to be alone as a free man with his thoughts and philosophy. If I understood this play correctly, he advocates for thinking for yourselves with your own decisions, even if it goes against the flow of the general public. And if the government's action is against your philosophy, you should stand on your believes and
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short play and fun thought experiment for Thoreau fans. Set during a night spent in jail for unpaid taxes, full of flashbacks, philosophical musings, and ruminations on civil disobedience and our obligation as free-thinking citizens. A reminder to follow the beat of your own drummer. Little has changed since the 1840s.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I thoroughly enjoyed this play. It really made you think and I couldn't help but love Thoreau who was so ahead of his time and who thought so much he couldn't think in a straight line. His thoughts went from point A to D to Y to H to F to Z and finally to B where it was headed. He was extremely progressive and utterly himself. So himself it made everyone else appear the same. I loved it.
Steven Specht
Feb 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The struggle of Thoreau is that of anyone who exists on the continuum from ineffective rabble rouser to changemaker to sell-out. He is as relevant today as ever in a time of identity politics where one would rather look good and lose than look bad and win.
Jackson Barkstrom
It's like transcendentalism on easy mode. It's not that deep or interesting in terms of ideas, and it wasn't that funny either. I would have much rather read Thoreau himself. Overall, it's a decent play that I'm sure would have been better live.
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would just love to see this play live! The transitions between different events is rather beautiful. Thoreau has never been one of my favorite writers, but this play gave me a new perspective about a complicated man.
May 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very enjoyable read of a play.
Emma K
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the play and last bed how the author portrayed Thoreau and his philosophies. However, the setting was sometimes confusing.
Ruth Woodman York
Jun 27, 2017 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.
Lance LoRusso
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic read and exploration of the mind of a man who took nothing at face value. Think deeper, live to learn, and question the status quo.
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this- I've always been a fan of transcendentalism so that probably bumped up the review a star.
Wt Prater
Witty, deep, and very thought provoking. It has some terrific one-liners in there. I would to see it live!
It was okay, I read it for school and it was a bit confusing for my taste. Not bad though!
Jul 17, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Some funny and ironic parts, and very clever too, but ultimately a bit dry for my taste. Still, it's a good companion to studying Thoreau and Emerson.
Pretentious trash.
Tracie Nicolai
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nice take on Thoreau's Transcendental philosophy, with obvious excerpts from his essay re: civil disobedience. Easy to understand in this format for younger students.
It was surprisingly interesting and I enjoyed it.
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic, plays, favorites
This may be one of my all-time favorites. In my copy, almost every page has lines highlighted and stuff written in the margins. Everything was so beautifully written in this play and I wanted to remember every bit of it. It also discusses one of my favorite topics, which is civil disobedience. At its most basic core, this play is about doing the right thing and damning the consequences because sometimes the law is wrong or unethical. This book is so short but is packed with tons of amazing ...more
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