The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

The Cell Walls Symbol Analysis

The Cell Walls Symbol Icon
The play is staged so that the walls that enclose Henry and Bailey in their cell are imaginary. There is an imaginary window in the back wall, and the beds sit up against the imaginary sidewalls of the cell. The walls are a symbol of the power and importance of freedom of thought. Physical walls that can contain or restrict thought do not exist—Henry points this out more than once over the course of the play. The fact that the walls are not even visible to the audience underscores their irrelevance to Henry. What’s more, the walls in the play are “constructed” by the audience, in the sense that the audience imagines them into place around the characters on the stage. This emphasizes that thought can constrain as well as liberate if we are not diligent about wielding our intellect carefully and remaining open, inquisitive, and willing to challenge authority.
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The Cell Walls Symbol Timeline in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Cell Walls appears in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Education, Thought, Information, and Learning Theme Icon
The play opens on a jail cell, center stage, with imaginary walls and windows. “Time and space are awash here.” A man... (full context)
Education, Thought, Information, and Learning Theme Icon
In the jail cell area, snoring begins. It crescendos, and Henry gently wakes up his groggy cellmate. The man,... (full context)
Education, Thought, Information, and Learning Theme Icon
...his own name. Henry teaches him write in the dust on the floor of the cell. Henry makes the letters seem simple, and his teaching style is entertaining. Bailey says he... (full context)
Protest, Resistance, Community, and Action Theme Icon
The lights come up on the cell again. Henry asks a sleeping Bailey what he thinks of marriage, and Bailey only snores... (full context)
Education, Thought, Information, and Learning Theme Icon
The lights fade and come back up on Henry and Bailey back in their cell. Henry is telling Bailey about Walden, and Baily is thrilled and made envious by Henry’s... (full context)
Act 2
Protest, Resistance, Community, and Action Theme Icon
Education, Thought, Information, and Learning Theme Icon
Complacency, Conformity, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Lights rise on Henry in the jail cell. Bailey is asleep. Henry is pacing and thinking aloud. He laughs at the notion that... (full context)
Protest, Resistance, Community, and Action Theme Icon
Education, Thought, Information, and Learning Theme Icon
...her. Then Lydian asks him to take Edward with him. Henry saunters out of the cell into the imaginary meadow, which he now shares with young Edward. Henry teaches Edward how... (full context)
History and the Importance of Learning from the Past Theme Icon
Lights fade and come back up on the cell, where Henry and Bailey once again sit. Bailey asks Henry to be his lawyer, but... (full context)