Review: Essay #3: Justice
Essay #3 will be in response to either the excerpt from
Cicero, Thoreau, or both.
Choose your topic from "Suggestions for Writing" on
pages 129-30, prompts 1-9 or on pages 157-58
prompts 1-6. The prompts are also listed on the
It should be a least two pages long but not longer
than three pages (excluding a works cited page).
It should be formatted MLA style.
It is due Friday, Week 8, at noon.
Please get out paper and pencil for a
What do you
Thoreau: A Brief Biography
Essayist, poet, and Transcendentalist
Born to a pencil maker in Concord, Mass. July 12, 1817
Went to Concord Academy and then to Harvard
Loved the outdoors
Best known for his book Walden
Once went to chapel in a green coat “because the rules
• Refused to pay his poll tax
• He died at 44 from tuberculosis
Transcendentalism is an American literary, political, and
philosophical movement of the early nineteenth century,
centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson. Transcendentalists
were critics of their contemporary society for its unthinking
conformity, and they urged that each person find, in
Emerson's words, “an original relation to the universe.”
Emerson and Thoreau sought this relation in solitude amidst
nature and in their writing. By the 1840s, they were engaged
in the social experiments of Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and
Walden; and, by the 1850s in an increasingly urgent critique
of American slavery.
Get into your groups
Spend 10 minutes preparing for our
discussion: rhetorical strategies and
“Questions for Critical Reading”: (page
1. What kind of government does Thoreau feel would be most just?
1. What is the individual‟s responsibility regarding supporting the
government when it is wrong?
2. How does Thoreau deal with unjust laws?
Thoreau uses balanced
sentence structure to
emphasize the ways that a
supposedly democratic and
representative government can
be corrupted through the
influence of powerful persons:
“[Government] has not the
vitality and force of a single
living man; for a single man
can bend it to his will.”
Thoreau uses a metaphor to
suggest that democratic
government, as it exists in his
day, is actually a sham:
“It is a sort of wooden gun to
the people themselves.”
In other words, Thoreau
suggests that government gives
people the mere illusion of power
while actually leaving them
The rhetorical question, "Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or
shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or
shall we transgress them at once? ..... Why is it not more apt to anticipate and
provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and
resist before it is hurt?
First-person narration allows
Thoreau to frame a complex and
abstract political issue in a voice that
personally bears witness to the
human effects and consequences of
government oppression. While
confident in his conviction that
slavery is morally wrong, Thoreau
generally avoids dogmatic,
authoritative statements in favor of a
more tentative, moderate first-person
voice. He prefers cautious
formulations such as "This, then, is
my position at present" over more
militant, definitive ones that might
alienate or put his reader on the
Thoreau personifies the State "as
a lone woman with her silver
spoons." He casts government not
as a mechanical agent of injustice
but as a feminized object of pity.
During his stay in prison, Thoreau
comes to the realization that, far
from being a formidable brute force,
government is in fact weak and
morally pathetic. That he should
choose the figure of a woman to
make this point reveals an
interestingly gendered conception of
civil disobedience, given the
constant emphasis on the virtues of
men in relation to the State, here
personified as a woman.
Chiasmus “Under a government which imprisons any
unjustly, the true place for a just man is in prison”
"But almost all say that such
is not the case now. But such
was the case, they think, in
the Revolution of '75. If one
were to tell me that this was
a bad government because it
taxed certain foreign
commodities brought to its
ports, it is most probable that
I should not make an ado
about it, for I can do without
He utilizes techniques such
as repetition to emphasize
certain points (Anaphora).
"It does not keep the
country free. It does not
settle the West. It does not
"If I have unjustly wrested
a plank from a drowning
man, I must restore it to
him though I drown
“It is truly enough said, that a
corporation has no
conscience; but a
corporation of conscientious
men is a corporation with a
• “the progress from an
absolute to a limited
monarchy, from a limited
monarchy to a democracy, is
a progress toward a true
respect for the individual”
• “If a plant cannot live
according to its nature it dies
and so a man.”
How would you
characterize the tone of
Is he chastising his audience? Is he praising it? What opinion
do you think he has of his audience?
Explain what Thoreau means when
he says, “But a government in which
the majority rule in all
cases cannot be based on justice,
even as far as men understand it.”
How is injustice “part of the
necessary friction of the
machine of government?”
Why does Thoreau provide us with
“the whole history of „My Prisons‟”?
Describe what being in jail taught
Thoreau. Why do you think Thoreau
reacted so strongly to being in a
local jail for a single day?
Choose an example of
Thoreau‟s use of irony, and
comment on its
Thoreau found it ironic to involuntarily pay money
to a society which he “has not joined,” and to
threatened for resisting orders.
Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the
Church, and commanded me to pay a certain sum
toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching
my father attended, but never I myself. "Pay," it said,
"or be locked up in the jail." I declined to pay (page
How might Thoreau view the
responsibility of the majority to
a minority within the sphere of
“It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to
devote himself to the eradication of any, even the
most enormous, wrong; he may still properly have
other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at
least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no
thought longer, not to give it practically his support.”
Unjust laws exist: shall we be content to obey them, or shall we
endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have
succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men, generally,
under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait
until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think
that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the
evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is
worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to
anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its
wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why
does it not encourage its citizens to put out its faults, and do
better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ
and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce
Washington and Franklin rebels?
Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for
a just man is also a prison.
How clear are Thoreau‟s
concepts of justice? On
what are they based?
Is it possible that when
Thoreau mentions “the
Chinese philosopher" he
means Lao-tzu? Would Laotzu agree that the individual is
“the basis of the empire”?
Q: Why does Thoreau say that the people who disagree and
countermeasure the actions of the government are the most
Q: Why does Thoreau assert men are incapable of making
intelligent decisions on justice or fairness in his work?
Q: Why does Thoreau feel free even when he is in prison?
Q: To what extent does Thoreau believe we should take our
civil disobedience? Is it worth putting ourselves in harm‟s way
to support our own beliefs?
Q: Could anyone have easily followed Thoreau‟s suggestions to
remove themselves from the society as he did himself?
Q: Where does Thoreau‟s sense of true justice come
Q: How does Thoreau relate to and differ from Laotzu?
Q: Going back to The Defense of Injustice, Philus
gave the example of how if a man had the right to
choose on being a slave or the master, any man
would rather be the master. Would Thoreau truly stick
to his principles if he were given this choice?
Q: How do Cicero‟s and Thoreau‟s ideas of justice
• In teams, discuss the
essay questions from
"Suggestions for Writing"
pages 129-30, prompts 19 or pages 157-58,
• Choose one to answer
Include a thesis statement for your essay
Respond to all parts of the prompt
Choose an original title
Include a works cited page
Use MLA style formatting (TNR 12)
Include page numbers after quotations
Essay #3 (2-3 pages): Choose your
topic from "Suggestions for Writing"
pages 129-30, prompts 1-9 or pages
157-58, prompts 1-6
Post #27 The introduction and thesis
for Essay #3
Post #28 QHQ: How can we apply the
philosophy of Cicero and/or Thoreau to
A Game of Thrones? Make sure to
include textual support in your post.