The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail


Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee

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Themes and Colors
History and the Importance of Learning from the Past Theme Icon
Protest, Resistance, Community, and Action Theme Icon
War Theme Icon
Education, Thought, Information, and Learning Theme Icon
Complacency, Conformity, and Responsibility Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
War Theme Icon

The play is decidedly anti-war, and promotes a generally pacifist message throughout. The play emphasizes what it sees as the senselessness of soldiers’ deaths. When Henry’s brother John dies from an infection after nicking his finger with a rusty blade, Henry is disgusted by the absurdity of such a death, and wonders how God could possibly let a good man die for such a silly reason. Later, Henry dreams in jail of fighting in the Mexican War. During the dream, John is shot—and Henry begs John not to die—“not again.” There is a suggestion in these “two deaths” of John’s that his wartime death is just as senseless and absurd and meaningless as John’s original death.

The play itself engages in a kind of activism by demonstrating the uselessness of war during a time when a huge amount of America’s resources were tied up in the particularly expensive (in terms of both capital and human lives) Vietnam War. The play asks its audience what, exactly, are those sacrifices in the name of? In doing so it joined a chorus of protest artists asking similar anti-war questions at the time.

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War ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of War appears in each act of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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War Quotes in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

Below you will find the important quotes in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail related to the theme of War.
Act 1 Quotes

I refuse to commit murder. That’s why I’m here.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker), Bailey (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2 Quotes

You might try getting yourself born in a more just and generous age.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker), Bailey
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

I gotta git to Cañada!

Related Characters: Henry Williams (speaker), Henry David Thoreau
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

Always do the right thing, even if it’s wrong.

Related Characters: Mrs. Thoreau (speaker), Henry David Thoreau
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Seems to me I’ve got several more lives to live.

Related Characters: Henry David Thoreau (speaker), Bailey
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis: