The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

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The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail Characters

Henry David Thoreau

Henry is the defiant, young, Harvard-educated protagonist and the play’s imaginative interpretation of the historical Henry David Thoreau, who was a leading thinker in the Transcendentalist tradition and wrote the book Walden. Henry is… (read full character analysis)

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Henry’s mentor, whom Henry met while at Harvard. “Waldo” is a deeply respected and famous scholar and lecturer. Though he is intellectually deft and very insightful with respect to abstract concepts, Henry argues that… (read full character analysis)

John Thoreau

Henry’s beloved brother. John, like Henry, is thoughtful and passionate, and the only person Henry seems to love with unbridled affection. John dies from an infection caused by a rusty razor blade, a death… (read full character analysis)
Minor Characters
Henry’s cellmate in the jail, an uneducated man who is accused of arson and awaiting a trial. He is deeply impressed by Henry’s intelligence. Henry eventually persuades Sam, the constable, to give Bailey a speedy trial.
Mrs. Thoreau
Henry’s mother, who worries about her son getting into trouble more than anything else, and doesn’t seem to have a moral compass. She fears shame more than she fears wrongdoing.
Lydian Emerson
Waldo’s wife. Lydian and Henry have a deep mutual affection for one another that approaches attraction, but they are both too loyal to Waldo to ever act on it.
Edward Emerson
Waldo and Lydian’s son. Edward is an inquisitive boy who wishes Henry were his real father, since Waldo is so often absent as he travels and lectures.
Deacon Ball
The authoritarian and highly traditional head of the school board where Henry once taught. Ball and Henry butt heads over Henry’s refusal to follow the school board’s directions about education policy, including its insistence that Henry dole out corporal punishment to students.
Ellen Sewell
Ellen is a beautiful young woman whom both Henry and John are attracted to. Though she is curious and fairly intelligent, she resists the Thoreau brothers and their thinking because her father disapproves of Transcendentalism.
Sam Staples
The constable who—unwillingly—takes Henry to jail. He follows orders even when he does not wish to. Though he is not a bad man, he is a deeply compliant one.
Henry Williams
The freed slave whom Henry meets at Walden. Williams dies while trying to escape to Canada.
A curious young boy in Henry’s classroom, whom Henry is forced to punish.