, Research Paper
Throughout the book The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail, there are many instances that suggest that language is a powerful tool for change. The main character, Henry Thoreau, uses language as his greatest skill to influence and teach those around him. For a fair portion of his life, Thoreau was a teacher, teaching students how to learn, using critical thinking as his teaching tool. His influencing words have a great impact on young minds, but in the end he fails at his task. The children are going home with insight that the community is not ready to accept. The parents of these children think it a better idea that students be taught the basics, like taking notes and memorization. Thoreau is greatly against this way of teaching, for it does not increase a child s ability to think; Thoreau believes that developing advanced thought process is important. The lessons learned by others, taught by Thoreau, are important examples of how the power of speech can influence and change the lives of others.
When Thoreau was first starting as a school teacher, he was teaching public school classes in concord. He began teaching in a different manner than the other teachers, he was trying to teach the students how to think, not how to repeat. Later in his teaching career, the chairman of the concord school committee, Deacon Ball, observes Thoreau one day. Ball is taken aback from the different teaching styles of Thoreau, and has many disagreeing comments with Thoreau arguing that learning by thinking is not as effective as learning from the textbooks. Thoreau then gives a word or two on the matter to his class, Class, you heard the Deacon, we shall stick to the approved books. Your eyes must not wander from the page you must not listen to a cricket or smell a flower that hasn t been approved by the school committee. You d better close both your ears and hold your nose-though you may have to grow and extra hand to do it. (p.21) The whole class goes up in laughter after this comment, and Ball is greatly insulted. Ball then tells Thoreau to punish the students by whipping them. Thoreau has no choice but to whip the children if he wants to retain his post as school teacher. He then whips the children one by one, hating what he is doing. After this is completed Thoreau is disgusted by what has been done. (Ball) I congratulate you. I am happy to be able to report to the school committee that school master Thoreau-(Thoreau) has administered the sacrament of the schoolroom; and he resigns as a teacher in the public schools of concord. (p.24) Thoreau believes that what he has done will have a negative effect on the children in terms of their education and can no longer continue trying to teach them if he is to continue things in this manner.
Thoreau teaches through observation. He now knows that he cannot teach the children if he has to follow the standard public school. Thoreau sets up his own school system based on critical thinking, not on textbooks. He takes his students out into the world to make discoveries. He is inspired to do this because of John who tells him that you can only teach the students how to teach themselves. Thoreau is talking to the students about a field and its complexity when he notices an older girl sitting in on the class while obsessively taking notes. (Thoreau) What are you doing? (Ellen) I m writing. (Thoreau) What? (Ellen) What you ve been saying so ill remember. (Thoreau) Don t just remember what I said. Remember what I m talking about. (p.26) Thoreau is explaining that having the paper remember what is going on so that you can repeat it later is not the point of his coming out to the field with the class. Instead, observation into the life of the field and thinking about things for yourself is the point of the excursion, not playing follow the leader as would be done in the regular public school classroom.
Thoreau loves Ellen. Thoreau has a need to teach Ellen about things that she did not learn in finishing school. When Thoreau was teaching Ellen in the past, he thought that she did not understand him, that his words were too complex at the time. Ellen however, does understand later on in the play when John meets his untimely death when he cuts himself with an old razor. She is starting to change her way of thinking because of Thoreau s influencing words. I wonder if-if God lets us be hurt-so we can learn to transcend the pain ? In the boat, I didn t understand really. But is it possible, Henry, that-even though he s stopped living, John continues to be? (p.51) Thoreau feels the urge to hug her for her spectacular insight but he refrains from doing so. Thoreau needs to know that he is making some progress with the people that he is trying to educate to make himself feel worthwhile. Thoreau s self worth comes from his success with other people; he helps them understand the world a little better. Thoreau feels as if he is a better person by educating other people with his powerful use of language.
Thoreau believes that figuring things out for yourself is the only real freedom anybody really has. He thinks that people need to use this freedom to make up their own mind. He tries to teach people how to teach themselves through by making the minds of others think and expand to new horizons. One of the things that Thoreau is strongly against is paying his taxes. He does not approve of the way that the money is being spent in the government. He is intent on bringing to light that the government is not spending the taxpayer s money the way that it aught to be spent. Thoreau is attempting to make the rest of the town understand where he is coming from. If one honest man in the state of Massachusetts had the conviction and the courage to withdraw from this unholy partnership and let himself be locked up in the county jail, it d be the start of more true freedom than we ve seen since a few farmers had the guts to block the British by the bridge up the road. (p.66) Thoreau is enlightening the other members of the community on the heart of the matter. Thoreau is trying to explain that one man can make a difference; he says that if you don t agree on paying taxes, why should you? It s a basic freedom that has been taken away from the people, the freedom to figure things out for themselves. Thoreau is trying to give this freedom back to the people by educating them with speech, changing the viewpoints of the people.
Speech is a very powerful tool for change. By voicing an opinion, a person can spark thought process within their community and change things for the better. Thoreau is attempting to change the people of his community by opening up their minds and teaching them how to figure things out for themselves. Language is the powerful key to make these changes and its up to people like Thoreau to educate people on how to use this power.