On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
Thoreau wrote his famous essay, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, as a protest against an unjust but popular war and the immoral but popular institution of slave-owning. (From feedbooks.com)
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On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
Prior to reading this famous essay, it is important to note the context. Published in 1849, this essay was inspired after Thoreau (pictured below) was arrested for refusing to pay taxes. In fact, many believe that this writing was inspired in his jail cell the night of his arrest. His refusal to pay taxes was prompted by his opposition to the Mexican War and slavery (which his tax dollars would have supported). (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the following video clip of Representative Blake Farenthold speaking on the House floor in 2013. Farenthold, like Thoreau, argues for "a better government." Are their ideas of a better government similar or different? (This annotation contains a video)
Refer to the previous annotation to watch Representative Farenthold's 2013 speech. Identify what Thoreau and Farenthold each view as necessary for a "better government." Compare and contrast the perspectives of these two individuals. In what ways are their ideas of a "better government" similar or different? Cite at least two examples from each text to support your analysis.
Notice Thoreau's rhetorical question in the highlighted line. A rhetorical question is a literary technique wherein a writer poses a question not to elicit an answer but to emphasize a point. Observe how Thoreau utilizes rhetorical questions throughout his essay.
What rhetorical strategy does Thoreau employ to enhance his argument in the highlighted lines?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Notice the repetition of the word "it" in the highlighted line. This repetition is a rhetorical strategy known as "anaphora." Anaphora occurs when a word is repeated in successive clauses, generally to emphasize a concept or idea. What do you think is the effect of the anaphora in this line?
How does Thoreau present his argument in the highlighted paragraph?
Outline the key ideas in the highlighted passage, summarizing Thoreau's main points in the order in which he presents them to the reader. Which of his main ideas do you find most compelling? Why?
Watch the following video on aphorisms. Thoreau is famous for the many aphorisms present in his writing. The highlighted line is an example of one of these well known aphorisms. (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Thoreau describe feeling "free" despite his being locked in a jail cell?
Notice the effect of the first person point of view, particularly with Thoreau's repetition of the pronoun "I." How does his first person language influence the power of this essay?
Refer to the previous annotation to read Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Based on your understanding of both texts, with which of the following statements would both men likely agree?
Thoreau's essay and night in jail inspired many other activitists in the future, most famously Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who both employed civil disobedience to fight for their beliefs. Read Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" by clicking the link below. What similarities do you see between Thoreau and King's arguments? (This annotation contains a link)
The United States' Bill of Rights has been amended throughout the nation's history. Read Amendment 16, added in 1913: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." Although Thoreau wrote this essay prior to this amendment, how do you think he would respond? Cite at least three examples from the text to support your explanation.
Consider Thoreau's tone here. Although this essay is an argument, he strives to be respectful, particularly in these lines. Do you think this tone strengthens or weakens his argument?
What is the purpose of Thoreau's capitalization of "lawyer's truth" versus "Truth" in the highlighted line?
Some argue that Thoreau's ideas of individualism are a bit extreme. Do you agree with his views of individualism here?