The Night Throe Spent in Jail

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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail Study Questions

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...
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