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Name: Web Master
Date: 2006-03-23 10:30:08
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Name: Jorge Rodr
Date: 2006-03-29 00:53:45
Link to this Comment: 18716


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In his novel 'The Scarlet Letter', Nathaniel Hawthorne introduces us to an extremely conservative society with such fundamental values that no one in its population dares to stand in opposition of them. Despite the severity of the punishments that the protagonists of the novel fall victim to, they still conform to the rules of this society rather than rebel against them. Hester Prynne chooses to carry the burden of the scarlet letter even if it was not fitting of her crime, while Reverend Dimmesdale opts to suffer in silence before confessing that he broke the law. In this Puritan community, the only one who takes a stand against such cruelty is Pearl. Having been marginalized ever since her birth, young Pearl has only known a life spent in the outskirts of society. This motivates the child to alienate herself from Puritanism and view the rest of the community as her enemy. Therefore, by becoming a sort of living scarlet letter, as her mother and the narrator remark in the novel, Pearl represents the promise of change in the ruling Puritan society.

The relationship between Pearl and the mark that her mother displayed on her breast is first established in the novel when we are simultaneously introduced to both as Hester walks up the scaffold to be dishonored in front of the crowd. Although her first impulse is to tightly hold on to her baby in order to cover the 'A' on her dress, this moment indicates the shame that Pearl and the scarlet letter produce in Hester as they both remind her and the crowd of her sin. Furthermore, the first indication that Pearl is a kind of living scarlet letter is provided in this same passage as the narrator accounts how Hester "bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon" (Hawthorne, p. 40). Like the red 'A' on her mother's breast which represents her exclusion from society, Pearl was born in the outskirts of the community and had so far lived in the company of none other but her mother. Consequently, when she is presented in front of the crowd, she shies away from it, not only in fear of the sun which she did not know, but also to avoid the society that would take away her sense of individuality.

Pearl struggles to preserve her notion of individuality throughout her childhood by not allowing her life to be ruled by the same society that had marginalized her. While growing up, she proves to be rebellious as "the child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder" (p. 62). Much like the scarlet letter is a mark of having sinned against the laws of the community, Pearl becomes a living example of what it means to disrespect society's rules and to act against them. Since Pearl herself is the product of the crime and sin marked by the scarlet letter, she is bound not only to inherit her mother's sense of isolation, but to develop that feeling into a hatred and opposition towards the principles of the society that had separated them.

Therefore, Pearl identifies the members and leaders of the Puritan community as her enemies and as a child plays to destroy them: "The pine-trees, aged, black and solemn, and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted, most unmercifully" (p. 65). This violent childish game shows how Pearl, through her feeling of isolation and sense of individuality, has alienated herself from the Puritan community to such extent that she views them as their adversaries and finds hope only in getting rid of them. Although only an infantile game, the act of uprooting the Puritans indicates a secret desire to demolish the Puritan laws and principles that had marginalized her and her mother. Consequently, Pearl is the only character in the novel that provides us with the prospect of a change in the standards of this conservative society.

It is through her alienation from the Puritan society that Pearl consequently becomes "the scarlet letter endowed with life" (p. 69), as the narrator of the novel remarks. Even Hester confesses to feel the same way about Pearl as she says: "She is my happiness she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a million-fold the power of retribution for my sin?" (p. 76). Since both the scarlet letter and her daughter are marks of her sin, Hester is doomed to live with the memory of her crime. But moreover, Pearl takes advantage of her similarity to the scarlet letter to voice a protest against the harsh and conservative values of the community. It is not surprising then that Pearl has no problem in marking herself with a scarlet letter of her own: "Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother's. A letter,the letter A,but freshly green, instead of scarlet!" (p. 115). It is most remarkable that this young scarlet letter, not only endowed with life but also with a voice, wants to be identified by such a shameful mark and also takes prides in her association to it.

Since Pearl feels so strongly and closely related to the scarlet letter, she cannot bear to see her mother to part ways with the mark she always wore on her dress during that fateful day in the forest: " suddenly burst into a fit of passion, gesticulating violently, and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant contortions" (p. 134). Hester suggests that this tantrum is due to the fact that the child is so used to identifying her mother by the scarlet letter, that she know does not seem to recognize her without it. And indeed, Pearl is used to associating her mother with the label she wears on her bosom, but her outburst has nothing to do with a "change in the accustomed aspect of things that are daily before [her] eyes" (p. 134), as Hester suggests. Pearl reacts so violently because by getting rid of the scarlet letter, her mother seems to be eliminating the mark that sets her apart from the community that has been so cruel to them. According to Pearl's perspective, it seems that if Hester does not wear the red 'A' on dress, she is embracing the conservative laws and principles of Puritanism and rejecting the hope for change that Pearl represents. Therefore, since the scarlet letter and the child are so akin that they seem to be the same, Pearl views the dismissal of the shameful mark as a rejection of her opposition to the Puritan society, but most importantly, a rejection of herself.

Pearl considers that not only her mother is a partisan in her campaign against Puritanism, but views Reverend Dimmesdale as a supporter too as the infant somehow suspects that the minister has secretly sinned against the community like her mother. After repeatedly raising suspicion about the motives for Dimmesdale to keep his hand over his chest wherever he went, Pearl invites the minister to join her and Hester up on the scaffold in front of the rest of the town: "Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?" (p. 101). But unlike Pearl who takes pride in being associated with the scarlet letter, Dimmesdale does not have the courage to publicly display the burden of his shame.

When the minister does confess to the community to have broken its laws, Pearl embraces her father, willingly for the first time: "Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken...and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it" (p. 162). Instead of accepting her father's public confession, however, and welcoming him as a supporter in her struggle against Puritanism, she appears to be relieved of her duty thanks to the minister's revelation. It is mentioned that a spell is broken by which Pearl seems to be set at liberty to live a normal life without having to worry about fighting with conservative principles and laws. And it does seem to be the case that by upsetting the balance of the community by proving that one of its leaders can commit what was considered to be a terrible crime, Dimmesdale accomplishes Pearl's mission of destroying the fundamental principles upon which the Puritan's laws were based on. Therefore, she no longer has to continue her strife against the community which had marginalized her nor does she have to keep viewing all of society as her enemy and alienating herself from it. The spell of her anger, hatred, and isolation had thus been broken.

Pearl does indeed continue to live a normal life, especially after she receives the immense fortune she inherits: "So Pearlthe elf-child,the demon offspring, as some people, up to that epoch, persisted in considering her,became the richest heiress of her day, in the New World" (p. 164). Does this mean then that she did not live up to the prospect of change in the laws of the community that she offered as a child? Pearl in fact appears to have become a part of the society that once had marginalized her thanks to this inheritance, but this does not mean that her opposition to it as a child was a complete failure. It was thanks to her opposition to this society, however, that Reverend Dimmesdale is moved to speak out against the absurdity of Puritanism and consequently relieves her of this responsibility. Therefore, although she does not persevere in her strife all throughout her adulthood, through her father's confession at the end of the novel, Pearl does not fail in her struggle against the society that had discriminated against her. In fact, this inheritance may be viewed as a reward for the courage she displayed as a young child.

Why must we then continue insisting that the scarlet letter strictly stands for a word starting with the letter 'A'? It could just as easily stand for the young infant Pearl and her opposition to a conservative, Puritan society. Even if she is no longer a sort of scarlet letter endowed with life in her adulthood, she most certainly becomes the promise of change that the letter stood for during her childhood. This interpretation of the meaning of this shameful mark is no less significant in modern times just because we no longer live under the ruling of archaic Puritan laws and habits. As today we still have to cope with the oppression of absurd conservative rules and rulers, by interpreting the meaning of scarlet letter as Pearl's protest, we are given hope that these laws will change.

Work Cited:
Nathaniel Hawthorne. 'The Scarlet Letter'. 1850; rpt. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Sculley Bradley et. al. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978.

By Any Other Name
Name: Emily Feen
Date: 2006-03-30 21:24:21
Link to this Comment: 18752


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The pearl is the oldest gem known to man. It is a symbol of perfection and beauty, and was believed to contain magical powers by the Aztecs and Incas. In Latin, pearl literally means "unique" (American Museum of Natural History). In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the character of Pearl encompasses all of these descriptions. She is unique, resembling neither of her parents and no normal child, and she is connected with magical powers by the many names she is called, including "witch" and "demon." Pearl is a curiosity. Her uniqueness reverses the roles between parents and children, and makes her both a witch and a ruby, a demon and a pearl. It is this uniqueness, this drastic difference from her parents, which ultimately allows her to leave behind her evil character and become a pearl in the sweetest sense of the word.

Her mother, Hester Prynne, is a woman of great piety and sense, save for the moment that created Pearl. She obeys all rules and laws, and is a better citizen of Boston than any other. Pearl contains none of these characteristics. She is contained by no law or religion, and cares not for others, except her own mother. The most striking aspect of their relationship is the reversal of roles between mother and child that occurs. "Heart-smitten at this bewildering and baffling spell, that so often came between herself and her sole treasure, whom she had bought so dear, and who was all her world, Hester sometimes burst into passionate tears," upon which Pearl would show unsympathizing discontentment, laughter, or grief of her own (85). A mother does not normally cry in front of her child; rather, a child cries and is comforted by her mother. It is strange to see Pearl have to react to her mother's tears, because young children never see their mothers cry. Hester cries like a child, and Pearl reacts unlike the child that she is. Further on, the reversal is more distinct when children fling mud at Hester and Pearl. Where a mother would normally scold the children to make them stop, it is Pearl who "made a rush at the knot of her enemies, and put them all to fight. She screamed and shouted, too, with a terrific volume of sound, which, doubtless, caused the hearts of the fugitives to shake within them" (94). Hester stands and bears it, while Pearl forces the children to stop. And, once they stopped, she "returned quietly to her mother, and looked up, smiling, into her face," as if proud of herself for protecting her mother (94). A mother is usually the protector, and her child the object of her protection. Even with wild animals, a mother bear is even more aggressive than usual in her desire to protect her offspring. But with Hester and Pearl, Pearl is the protector of her mother. Pearl is so unlike her mother that she seems to hardly even need her. Pearl has more fire, more defiance, and more determination than Hester seems to have ever had.

If Pearl overpowers her mother's personality, she makes her father look like an empty jar. Reverend Dimmesdale is a weak, feeble, deeply religious, unconfident coward. He is constantly punishing himself for his act of adultery. He whips himself with a "bloody scourge," and fasts till "his knees trembled beneath him" (133). Where Dimmesdale finds a prison of guilt, Pearl finds, as Dimmesdale himself describes, "the freedom of a broken law" (123). Pearl cares not for the laws of the land or the laws of the Lord, while Dimmesdale is deeply and irreversibly connected to both. He hides his guilt from the village and punishes himself privately, cowardly, while Pearl frolics about the village unabashedly a symbol of a broken law. One night, when Dimmesdale wanders onto the scaffold in the middle of town, Hester and Pearl find him there. He takes Pearl's hand in his, and she asks him, "Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, tomorrow noontide?" (140). Somehow she has observed that he is the other guilty party, that Dimmesdale and her mother are guilty of the same crime, and asks him to face up to it. By him to appear on the scaffold with them in daylight, she is asking him to peel away his cowardice and admit his wrong as her mother did. When he refuses, her reaction is an accusation. She yells, "Thou wast not bold!-- thou wast not true!" (144). She realizes his cowardice and his guilt, and becomes angry. Much like with her mother, she is so unlike her father that Pearl reverses the roles. Where a parent would normally scold his child, Pearl scolds her father. Although he is the reverend and she is the child of a sin, she sees the right thing to do more easily than he does.

Where her father is weak and cowardly, Pearl is strong and bold; where her mother is pious and sensible, Pearl cares not for religion and shows little sentiment. She is a perfect contrast to her parents. Even in comparison with other children, Pearl makes no sense. She shows no innocence or inhibitions, and cares not for the company of other children. Her character can be observed through the many different names she is given throughout the book. In play, she is called an elf; by the neighboring townspeople, she is called demon offspring; by Mr. Wilson, she is called both a ruby and a witch; and by Chillingworth, she is called evil (89,91,101,107,123). Except for ruby, none of these names profess goodness or beauty. And yet, Pearl has her moments of goodness. She protects her mother from the children flinging mud, and tries to convince Dimmesdale to admit his guilt. She is always described as beautiful, especially in the fine clothes Hester sews her. Perhaps the best name for her, an umbrella name under which all of these descriptions are true, is her real name: Pearl. A pearl is opaque; no one can see inside of it, just as no one can understand the thoughts of Pearl. It reflects other colors, but in a blurry way that distorts the image. Likewise, Pearl reflects her mother's beauty, but all of her mother's personality characteristics are distorted. What is more, a pearl is hidden inside an oyster until it is pried open. In this comparison, the guilt of her father acts as the oyster that keeps her from showing her goodness. Pearl acts as a demon or witch while she tries to get Dimmesdale to admit his guilt. Once he more or less confesses, Pearl is unveiled; she becomes free from the scandal. The opened pearl shows its beauty, and Pearl escapes the gloom of Boston for a life of rich luxury and a family of her own in Europe.

The last question of Pearl is the question of her inheritance. Why does Chillingworth give Pearl all of his wealth? He is not related to her, and it is her existence that proves the adultery committed by his wife. In a narrow view, he should hate Pearl, hate her for representing the love forged between his wife and another. My explanation is twofold. One possibility is that he loves her for revealing the adultery. She proves the act. Without her, he would never know his wife had been unfaithful, and could never have gotten his revenge. As Chillingworth's revenge becomes his life, in a sense Pearl gives him the meaning of his life, the meaning of his revenge. But another possibility is simply that he sees in Pearl an evil like his own. He can relate to her, and can relate to her goal of getting Dimmesdale to confess. No matter which possibility, if either, is his reasoning, or if both had their influences, Chillingworth gives Pearl the opportunity to escape the village, an opportunity that Hester never took, and that Dimmesdale never had. Because of him, Pearl becomes the only character who takes hold of her fate and escapes a village of oppression.

Born from a moment of overwhelming and sinful passion, Pearl is unlike either of her parents, unique as the pearl for which she is named, and described by the townspeople as being more like the evil of that moment than anything else. She is difficult to understand, for she lives a life without inhibitions and without a care for rules or laws, qualities that make her appear evil or witchlike, but she also has qualities that are good. Her boldness protects and tries to help her parents, and she is more honest than most of the people of the village. While they all hide their sins, she wears hers on her sleeve. And finally, she is the only person bold enough to change her fate. Instead of staying in Boston, to be viewed her entire life as a child born from sin, she moves to Europe and begins a life with more freedom than she ever could have had in America. While it remains questionable why Chillingworth gave her his inheritance, it is this action that helps free her from the darkness and evil she held within herself in Boston. Pearl sheds her evil names of demon and witch, and becomes uniquely Pearl.

Works Cited
American Museum of Natural History. "Pearls." . 26 March 2006.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Bantam Books. New York: 1986.

Mother Knows Best: Pearl and Rosseau, a Confrontat
Name: Steph Hero
Date: 2006-03-30 22:30:54
Link to this Comment: 18755


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Pearl Prynne
18 Scarlet St
Bristol, BN2 1TS
United Kingdom

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
18bis Rue d'Mysogynie
75008 Paris, France

Cher M. Rousseau,

A mist of fog and humidity descended upon Bristol last week as I sat on my terrace and took the company of your latest work, The Social Contract. The haze thickened as I sunk further and further into the core of your intellectual ponderings, and I must say, M. Rousseau, the forecast remained obscure. Your ideas regarding the nature of the relationship between citizens and the state are intriguing, perhaps even worthy of implementation in several European governments. My concern, however, lies in your treatment of women. You claim that we cannot function as citizens in such a sovereign community, as our nature commits us to serving only in a "private" domestic sphere as mothers (Helm 1). Have you forgotten our conversations regarding my own unique childhood? Does not the story of my mother's dedication to my upbringing reveal the occupational nature of motherhood? I implore you to consider that motherhood is in and of itself a profession, and as employed individuals in a community, women deserve status as citizens.

Let us explore the nature of motherhood. Recent scholarly work has established that motherhood imposes three basic demands on women: preservation of the child's well-being, nurturing the child, and "training" the child to be socially acceptable (Ruddick 17). This preservation does not require enthusiasm or love, per se, but it maintains a need to recognize a child's inability to fend for herself (Ruddick 19). Nurturance involves accepting the idea that children are complex creatures, and have emotional as well as physical needs that must be met (Ruddick 19). In speaking of social acceptability, complex issues involving the social group a mother associates herself with are at stake. Mothers must assure that their children fit the "requirements" designated by that specific social group to enable her child to blossom in that designated social system (Ruddick 21). Women who choose to have children do not have the luxury of deciding whether or not to follow these guidelines of parenting. No matter how separated a mother may feel from the inner workings of a society, she still recognizes the command to "train" her children as a command placed on her alone (Ruddick 22).

Keeping these ideas in mind, I would like you to first consider the following assertion: motherhood involves active thinking, that is to say being a mother requires constant intellectual evaluation of a child's character. In her letters to me in recent years, my mother revealed her anxieties about my disposition while raising me, claiming to have said such things as, "'O Father in Heaven,...what is this being which I have brought into the world!'" (Hawthorne 88). Hester is clearly participating in a motherly sort of assessment of her child's character, and while this is not necessarily a positive assessment, it displays a commitment to understanding a child's nature in order to shape it so the child can be an affective member of the community. While my mother perhaps felt that my particular temperament was "elf-like" or "impish" in some manner, she still engaged in the logical act of thinking about the repercussions of such a temperament. Thus, being a mother involves more than simply a devotion to "family life," as you call it, but a commitment to engaging in rational debate regarding the societal implications of your child's personality. Women who become mothers are not cut off from logic and reason, then, but are constantly using these two methods to foster the growth of their children.

Because being a mother requires a lifelong commitment to serving others, I propose to you that motherhood is an occupation just like any other. Let us again turn to the example of Hester, who disclosed to me her thoughts regarding the relationship between her "sin" and my upbringing. She exclaimed in one memory, "'I can teach my little Pearl what I have learned from this!'" (Hawthorne 101). As a mother, Hester was bound to instruct me of the ways of the world, including such personal anecdotes as the ramifications of sinful behavior. Instilling an ultimate sense of wickedness and virtue in children is unarguably the most important role any person can play in a society, as it determines the future of ethics in that community. Motherhood, then, is more than an occupation; it is the very act of preserving and upholding a society's moral fiber.

Considering that through motherhood, women shape a community's future, should they not be considered the most prized and respected of citizens? How can it be that you propose to ignore the simple fact that without the diligent work of mothers, society as we know it would cease to exist? Women have clearly earned and more than deserve status as citizens. Many women, my mother included, often exceed the societal expectation placed upon them as women, not only rearing their children but establishing an additional role for themselves in society, occupying, as it were, two full time jobs. In addition to committing herself to raising a daughter without the help of a husband, Hester participated in good works in the community. She thus benefited our community both by molding me to be a decent member of it and by aiding those in need. Indeed, she "was a self-ordained Sister of Mercy;" my mother even mentioned comments she heard of herself in passing, such as, "'...our Hester...who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!'" (Hawthorne 148-149). If women go so far as to raise respectable future members of the community AND uplift current downtrodden members of the community to a status where they can better serve that society, how is it sensible, M. Rousseau, that you deem these women unfit for public service when the very nature of their status as a mother requires them to serve the public?

Clearly, motherhood is an infinitely more complex than the simple "private sphere" to which you confine women. Motherhood requires complicated considerations of a child's intellectual character and has the demands of any type of paying occupation. Most importantly, however, mothers set the standard for the future of the community in which they raise their children. Women's work as mothers, therefore, is an invaluable asset to a community, and without their vital craftsmanship of children into law-abiding, moral citizens, your sovereign nation, monsieur, would not exist. If the very architects of a community are not deemed "fit enough" to be its citizens, certainly their offspring are not "fit enough" to govern it.

With great respect,

Pearl Prynne

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Bantam Classic Books, New York, NY, 1986.

Helm, C. Rousseau and Women: Modern Political Theory. 17 Dec 2002. 29 Mar 2006.

Ruddick, Sara. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1990.

It just is
Name: Erin Bagus
Date: 2006-03-30 23:48:13
Link to this Comment: 18757


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In my last paper, I examined Uncle Tom's Cabin in relation to a Buddhism ideology of good and evil, which are, within this religion, considered in a very different light than they are in traditional Christian theology which is so central to the Big Books in this course. In my Buddhist reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin, I concluded that it is precisely the dualism of good and evil, which is so fundamental to Christianity that stands at the root of the problem. Using an essay entitled "On the Nonduality of Good and Evil," written by a professor at Bunkyo University in Japan, I tried to present the Buddhist view that good and evil play a part in all of us and that it is only when we externalize the battle between these two, which should occur within ourselves, that the real evil actions in the world arise. This is, of course, so different from the Christian polarity, which seems to encourage an alliance with good (God) and a war with evil (the Devil).

In the comments I received on that paper, I was encouraged to go a step further, to consider what happens when we give up these notions of good and evil all together. I had this in mind when Amelie Rorty came to speak to class last Tuesday. One of the steps in her short history of philosophical views of emotion was the philosophy of the Stoics. They believed, she asserted, that human suffering arises from attachments. Her example was that of someone who fights with and looses a friend. She may grieve for the loss of that friend, but if she takes a step back she will realize that the loss of a friend is not very important in the scheme of things, that friends do not play a part in her essential being, therefore, it is not something that amounts to much in reality. But at the same time, she must realize that as humans we form attachments, so the loss of a friend does in fact cause grief or pain. It is how we react to this suffering, if we can engage it and do not fall victim to it, that we escape its full effect. This discussion of suffering caused by attachment shouted out to me: BUDDHISM! and encouraged me to research further these concepts, which I knew had a great importance in Buddhist thought, though I could not remember exactly how. Also I had some sense that this might provide me with an answer to the challenge I received in the comments to my last essay.

What I found were the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, which are: 1) Life means suffering; 2) The origin of suffering is attachment; 3) The cessation of suffering is attainable; and 4) The path to the cessation of suffering (the Eightfold Path). Let us start with the first: Life is suffering. This is explained:

To live means to suffer, because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in. During our lifetime, we inevitably have to endure physical suffering ... and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression. Although there are different degrees of suffering and there are also positive experiences in life that we perceive as the opposite of suffering, such as ease, comfort and happiness, life in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This means we are never able to keep permanently what we strive for, and just as happy moments pass by, we ourselves and our loved ones will pass away one day, too.

The second noble truth the origin of suffering is attachment takes the first and expands upon it. It confirms that we suffer physically and/or psychologically and explains that this happens because we are attached to someone or something. Physical pain is a result of attachment to the body, while psychological suffering comes from our attachment to some-thing/one, which is impermanent. It has been written, "The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardour, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow." We suffer because we want or crave things we do not or cannot have as well as because we want to hold on forever to things that we have once had, when nothing can last forever.

Connected to this second Noble Truth and relevant to our discussion of good and evil, are two other things to which we can feel attachment: "ideas" and "a 'self'." The latter is explained to be "a delusion, because there is no abiding self. What we call 'self' is an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe." If attachment to ideas can lead us to suffering just as attachment to our bodies can, then perhaps our insistent use of the concepts of good and evil also lead us to pain. Furthermore, maybe we can connect this need for the categories of good and evil to our delusional idea that we have a "self," in that we in a traditional Christian conception, at least think of ourselves as good or evil. Part of the way that we understand who that "self" is is how we fit it into the duality of good and evil. It seems a valid question, though, how we can ever cleanse ourselves of these different attachments (to ideas and "selves" specifically) and it should follow, of suffering.

The Buddhists suggest in the fourth Noble Truth that the way to end suffering is through detachment, which is "a gradual path of self-improvement ... the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism)." One slowly learns to undo all his cravings and attachments by following the Eightfold Path, which will lead eventually perhaps even after many lifetimes to the "freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas" called Nirvana. The Eightfold Path includes Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

How can all this inform our reading of The Scarlet Letter?

The Salem society feels an intense attachment to categories of good and evil. Theirs is a community based on the ideals of a Christian church, with strict notions of what is appropriate behavior and what is not. When someone within the community does something that violates that stringent social code, they then feel the need to punish her, as was the case with Hester Prynne. It is interesting, however, that Hawthorne takes care to point out that so many in this society also wear some sin on their hearts, though it may not be publicly known and punished as Hester's. In chapter five, Hester is described as having been endowed by the Scarlet Letter with a special "sense." The narration reads,

She shuddered to believe, yet could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts. ... Sometimes, the red infamy upon her breast would give a sympathetic throb, as she passed near a venerable minister or magistrate, ... or... looking up she would detect the eyes of a young maiden glancing at the scarlet letter, shyly and aside, and quickly averted, with a faint, chill crimson in her cheeks; as if her purity were somewhat sullied by that momentary glance. (78-9)

She can see that secret sin, which so many hide within themselves so as to avoid public shame and punishment, though their private, internal punishment may be just as bad as in the case of Dimmesdale.

If nearly everyone has sinned, then no one fits into the perfect Puritan model, which expects one to be totally good. It seems that in order to maintain their social order, though, not everyone's sins can be revealed and punished, especially those of the community leaders who should serve as model citizens and believers. The sins of some, then, must be identified and these sinners must be belittled and publicly shamed so as to distract society from the sins of the very leaders who accuse and punish. Again we see the externalization of what should be an internal battle. The case of Dimmesdale seems to offer us an example of an internalized battle, but I would argue he has simply internalized the external battle, which is paralleled in the community's judgment of Hester. What I am attempting to get at is exactly that challenge that I was offered after my last paper: good and evil are values or categories created and believed in by the community. The have no real meaning in themselves, and therefore, could not torture Dimmesdale as some sort of natural phenomenon had he not already internalized the values of his society.

I think a Buddhist reading of The Scarlet Letter would be at once, both more and less hopeful. It would allow for the possibility that good and evil are ideas, which we define and to which we feel attachments, but that they have no inherent meaning. If we are willing and able to let them fall away, then we will stop judging. If we take the example of Hester and Dimmesdale's affair, I think that the Buddhist conception would see their actions as simply part of the universe, a happening that lacks any value judgment. When we see them in the forest and they discuss plans to leave their Puritan community for another place, we get the idea that they could be happy together as a family, had society's value system only allowed their union. It is interesting to think about their situation, completely removed from its Puritan context: they are two people who created a child together. Hester was married but to a man she did not love and whom she believed dead. Outside societal views of marriage, Hester and Dimmesdale's union is, for all purposes, a natural one. If Hester and Dimmesdale's relationship is to be considered in this way as a happening in the universe, which lacks value connotations then it seems hopeful that they might find some happiness together.

On the other hand, if the point of Buddhist teaching is that we are supposed to rid ourselves of attachment, then perhaps the resultant situation would be less hopeful for these two lovers. If we are not supposed to form attachments to ideas like good an evil, then certainly we must not form them to more concrete things, like people, either. Therefore, in the end, this reading would perhaps not leave them the free space to love and be with each other as I suggested above. In order to escape good and evil and the judgments that arise with these categories, Hester and Dimmesdale must also give up their attachment to each other, in every sense physically, emotionally, and psychologically. It's hard to decide if that is more or less hopeful. Perhaps it just is and we have to learn to see and accept the universe as such: simply being.

I Spy With My Little Eye...No Evil People in the S
Name: Marina Gal
Date: 2006-03-31 00:22:38
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In many forms of entertainment there are usually some good characters and some bad characters. The bad characters can even go so far as to be portrayed as evil, but that takes a lot of convincing by the author of the work. Evil is a very strong word; it brings to mind the idea of an almost supernaturally bad being. In the book The Scarlet Letter, the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, tries to depict certain characters as being evil. Not one of the characters in the book is in fact evil even though some of their actions may give the impression that he or she is evil. Hawthorne wanted to show how citizens going against Puritan ways were considered evil at that time and he tries to do that, but is unsuccessful if one looks closely enough at the characters and the outcome of the narrative.

One of the most obvious characters to be considered evil to both the reader of The Scarlet Letter and the characters is Mistress Hibbins. She is an outcast from the very beginning of the story and it can easily be seen in the description of Hester's feelings toward Mistress Hibbins when Hawthorne wrote, "feeling Mistress Hibbins to be of infirm mind; yet strangely startled and awe-stricken by the confidence with which she affirmed a personal connection between so many persons (her among them) and the Evil One" (Hawthorne 153). Mistress Hibbins is thought to be a witch by members of the town because of her unusual behavior. For example, she frequently travels into the forest and many people suspect she does so to visit the "Black Man" or the Devil. The forest is a place of freedom where one can do whatever he or she pleases whether it be meeting a lover or performing witchcraft; there are no bonds and society's rules do not apply in the forest. Also, she went out at night and hours of darkness have the feeling of concealment and secretiveness. Her actions lead the townspeople to believe she is strange. Unfortunately for Mistress Hibbins, at that time, all Puritans had to behave a certain way or else they were labeled as outcasts or, in her case, witches. Mistress Hibbins is not evil though. She is just not similar to all of the other Puritans living in that Bostonian colony. Just like Hester and Dimmesdale who go into the forest to be free, this woman finds solace in the freedom the forest provides. Just because she is different from other people of her time does not make her evil. She may have been seen as evil because she went into the forest at night frequently and people did not know what she was doing so they made up reasons that just happened to sooth their consciences, but ruin her life. In modern times Mistress Hibbins would probably be seen as a pretty forward thinker, maybe even a bit of a rebel, but luckily we don't cast people out of society these days for thinking like that!

Chillingworth is the next character who is thought to be evil, but is just a guy who lets a feeling take over his whole life. Hawthorne tries to represent Chillingworth very harshly, yet I believe it only serves to increase the ability of the reader to see how Chillingworth is not truly evil. He wants revenge on the man (Dimmesdale) his wife cheated on him with. That seems like a reasonable urge, the only problem is he lets his feelings of jealousy and anger get out of control. Any reasonable man would be upset that his wife cheated on him and produced a child, but to want to seek revenge to the point of causing bodily harm is when one must question their own sanity. On Serendip Lauren said, "You can tell that Chillingworth is (literally and figuratively) twisted" (Lauren Comment 18610). Her statement is very true in the sense that Chillingworth was changed greatly after coming to Boston and experiencing the situation with Hester and Dimmesdale; it took away some of what was left of his niceties and left anger and hatred. He turned into a shell that could only focus on other's lives. For all intents and purposes, Chillingworth only was punishing himself, in the end, by punishing and seeking revenge on others. That shell that he became, though it lacked almost all of its kindness, did not turn evil. His saving grace that keeps me from believing he was is that after he died, he provided for Pearl in his will. Pearl was not even his own child and in essence he was taking care of the child that was created from what he was attempting to chastise between Hester and Dimmesdale. That final action showed that whatever hatred, anger, or jealousy Chillingworth had for Hester and Dimmesdale, he did not blame Pearl and he even felt sympathy for her. He was a generous, kind man in the end. An evil man would not do what Chillingworth did for Pearl.

Yet another character who Hawthorne tries to make appear evil in various aspects is Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale is a pious man who is respected greatly among the townspeople. The fact that he has a weak moment when he commits a sin against God and breaks a Puritan belief upsets him terribly. He, for unknown reasons, lets Hester take the blame for the adultery, thus suffering horrific self-inflicted psychological and physical torment. Dimmesdale constantly tries to rid himself of his guilt though confessional-like sermons, but to no avail. He should have acknowledged Pearl as his daughter, but he didn't. He should have helped Hester earlier in the novel and again he could not. He could not help not because he didn't want to, but because he was too weak. His weakness is evident when he first is interrogating Hester on the scaffold and he said, "This child of its father's guilt and its mother's shame hath come from the hand of God, to work in many ways upon the heart, who pleads so earnestly, and with such bitterness of spirit, the right to keep her. It was meant for a blessing [...] for a retribution too; a torture to be thought of at many an unthought of moment; a pang, a sting, an ever-recurring agony, in the midst of a troubled joy!" (Hawthorne 77). The quote clearly shows that Dimmesdale is trying to justify why this happened to them and also perhaps justify himself to his peers as well. He finds the only way to truly free himself is to make a confession of his own, however it kills him. Dimmesdale's real problem is weakness. He is not evil, he is a pushover. If he had found the strength in himself to do the right thing and not let Puritan life ruin his own life and others, maybe he would not have died and early death. An early death might have been a punishment that Hawthorne gave Dimmesdale to show the readers not to be like him and if you are similar to him the outcome will be unfortunate.

Pearl a.k.a. the spawn of the evil deed or the consequence of the sexual sin is the last, so called, evil character in The Scarlet Letter. She is thought to be evil for a few reasons. She is not only considered evil because she is the offspring of a sinful relationship, but she also behaves in a bad way at times. She is not evil though, only a pesky child who got the short end of the stick in life when it came to who her parents were. She is a punishment and a blessing to her mother. She even helps her mother not give in when tempted by the "dark side" and this is evident in the passage when Hester says to Mistress Hibbins, "'I must tarry at home, and keep watch over my little Pearl. Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black Man's book too, and that with mine own blood!'" (Hawthorne 79). At the thought of loosing Pearl, Hester almost gives up on her life. Pearl is a good child, albeit an unusual one. She asks pointed questions to adults that most children of her age would never ask or even comprehend which makes her seen very bizarre. Her oddness obviously makes her a target for the label evil in Puritan times and especially in the context of this novel where many of the characters look as if they are evil or have wicked qualities. Perceptiveness is not a sin and neither should it be portrayed as one either, so for Pearl to be called evil would be wrong. She is a very young girl with the special ability to understand more about her surroundings than her peers and with the unfortunate fate of having adulterers as parents.

After carefully examining these characters one may ask herself, where is the evil in the book if it cannot be found in these characters? The answer to that question is in the Puritan beliefs and the Puritan society. The Puritan society is too stringent for these characters to exist happily. Some people may just not be built for a Puritan lifestyle and those people are probably the ones that were considered sinners, witches, or evil. Any sort of swaying from group norms was out of the question, so obviously Dimmesdale and Hester did not do well after their adulterous affair. Mistress Hibbin's atypical actions and Pearl's strange thoughts and questions made them both outcasts of sorts. They all became an outsider tribe in a way although they did not interact together. Chillingworth was also not built for a Puritan life after what he went through with Hester. He became so wrapped up in revenge and Puritans are not about revenge. He was surviving off of his revenge and once it was gone he withered away and died. The Puritan society of The Scarlet Letter was slowly depleting its own members through its too strict take on how things should be done and how people should behave. One can clearly see that it was not the character's faults, but rather the Puritan societies fault for the various problems the characters faced.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings." Leland S. Person

New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 77-153.

Lauren . "Hawthorne's Spoiler." Serendip. 2006.

Let h= Hester
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-03-31 01:15:38
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gSoclet me get this straight Professor Hawthorne. I should let ehf be all variables in the subspace eHesterf and let edf be all variables in the subset eDimmesdale.f Addition of the subset and subspace give mec o yes; the valid epf constant encompassing all variables in the vector space ePearlf with the subscript letter esf of course. Now I get it!h This is just a snippet of my gcranial diagramh while reading Hawthornefs The Scarlet Letter. This coming from a girl who looks at her alarm clock in the morning and does not see 9:30 but 30/9=3.33. So, when I read the first page of gThe Custom House,h I saw a linear matrix on every page; every stamp in the custom house, every page in that pile of old papers, even that old scrap of cloth was a column of coefficients. I approached the novel to find that thread, that one theory that ties all the other equations together. At times, I enjoy the helping hand, the hint at the end of the question. However, the majority of the time I want the credit to be only due to me. Of course, Hawthorne does not cater to my approach with his diverse interpretations of a solitary object, person or concept. Yet, my mind does not see this method as an obstacle but rather a problem set to review my knowledge. How does a future mathematician see the daily actions of this Massachusetts settlement? Can I separate the knowns from the unknowns in this adulterous formula? First thing that came to mindc x= Hester, that is for surec but is there more than one value for xc can I apply it to more than one polynomial?

Section one: The Prison-Door. Already, I feel my desk is empty. I have my problem (the novel), my paper and pen (the mind). But I feel I need something more. Professor wrote, gThe founders of a new colonychave invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prisonh (36). It seems the villagers have accepted the unavoidable evils and inevitable deaths in the colony. The problem seems to feel it has intimidated me from the start. However, it has not. I do not give up. There is someone in this colony that will defy the boundaries of sin. I will find the answer. So, I get out that extra paper and the text book and lay it next to me on the desk; I do not write on the paper and I do not open the textbook but I feel their presence. Ok, moving onc gcould pity and be kind to himch (36)c AHA! The first equation has arrived.

Section one, problem one: The Rose Bush. Alright Professor Hawthorne, what have we got? You seem to have given me two interpretations of this one object. I pull out Hessfs Law. The Law states that when I am given two equations that seem to be slightly connected from the first glance, I can, instead of dismissing one and choosing the other, combine the two to create the correct equation. Sub-equation one gives the option of the rosebush equaling a plant gthat had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed ith (37). Sub-equation two gives the option of the bush being supernatural, an entity that ghad sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison-doorh (37). Equation one seems to have a concrete answer; the bush is a determined ancient plant. Equation two seems to have a more gfantasticalh explanation; the bush was not planted but magically sprung up beneath the shoes of a courageous woman. I am usually quick to eliminate the irrational explanation (the magical choice). However, I trust Professor Hawthorne enough to know that I should pay attention to even the most unlikely detail. He even left a hint writing, gIt may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrowh (37). My final answer: the rosebush exists. It is concrete vegetation that represents something more than a concrete idea. The red color of the bush shined brighter and bolder when Ann Hutchinson walked past it that those who did not seem to notice, pointed the roses out and named the bush as a symbol of hope in a sinful community.

Section two: The expected, but unwelcome detail. Professor Hawthorne created a pretty tricky problem and always in a tricky problem, you forget about that one small detail in the solution that could threaten the integrity of the entire answer. In chapter three, gThe Recognition,h I am introduced to the nuisance, Roger Chillingworth. He is the major obstacle, outside of the entire Puritan society, that portends Hesterfs happiness. He is the negative sign I forgot to remove in my solution to the enthalpy of formation of nitric acid on my last chemistry test. He is the small gTh I did not put on top of the adjoint matrix on my linear algebra midterm. Sneaky, but necessary to the success of the solution, Chillingworth is not to be trusted. His twisted choice of words when he converses with Hester saying, gI seek no vengeance, plot no evil against theec But Hester, the man lives who has wronged us both! Who is he?h (53). In this case, Hester is now me. She established that Chillingworth is in her life again however, she does not give in to answering him. She chooses not to ignore him but rather faces the turmoil he causes her everyday. That negative sign will not get the best of me and I will put that T down but I will not let either of them manipulate me.

Section three: The function you need but donft want. There is always that one complicated function or graph in trigonometry or geometry that at initial glance you hate. After some time though, after wielding that function in other problems, you come to realize that you need it despite the fact that you hate that you need to use it. For me, it is the y=lnx graph. Dimmesdale is my lnx graph. Hefs cowardly, inwardly tormented and oozes a spineless essence as he utters, gWhat can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him-yea, compel him, as it were-to add hypocrisy to sin?h (49). However, I like Hester and in order for her equation to follow through, she needs Dimmesdale, her love, and thus I need to be acquainted with him too. He is another necessary variable in the formula.

Section four: My least favorite aspect of math. I now return to the gph vector space which happens to encompass the worst exercise known to math; proofs. As I read chapter nineteen, gThe Child at the Brook-side,h I come across a certain passage that reads, gThe ministerc bent forward and impressed [a kiss] on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl broke away from her mother, and running to the brook, stooped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcome kiss was quite washed offcShe then remained apart, silently watching Hester and the clergymanh (136). My approach to this excerpt is quite different in that I reversed my method; I analyzed as an English major then transposed the interpretation to a mathematical system. Pearlfs disdain for Hester and Dimmesdalefs transformation in the woods suggests that the couple is not proceeding under a new moral code but rather the two are attempting to defy the already established old social rules. My brain immediately turns to proofs; I put in so much work to try to disprove already established theories under the impression I am making my own new mathematical criteria when in reality I am opposing accepted, credible postulates. I wash my hands of this exercise as well.

Section five: My final answer. After all my quantifying, dividing, adding and theorizing I have sorted out the equations, ranked them, manipulated them and found the one answer that fits the last piece of the puzzle. The gAh on Reverend Dimmesdalefs chest was real. In order for the tale of the branded gAh to exist, an ounce of truth must have sparked this legend. The smallest glance is evidence. Someone must have seen the gAh in order for the story to exist. Professor Hawthorne has not given us any clues or equations that would lead us to deduce that Dimmesdale had in his possession a brand with an gAh at the tip. Yes, there are clues that suggest that Dimmesdale engaged in self-mutilation however, the supernatural factors outnumber the realistic factors in the novel, and numbers do not lie. Therefore, I am led to believe the branded gAh came from the internal guilt plaguing Dimmesdalefs body. Mathematics is accuracy. The reason as to why the young man in the custom house still feels the heat of the gAh depends heavily on the concept of infinity. The number sequence, asymptotes, and limits lead to this continuous answer. Thus, the limit as the scarlet letter approaches future generations is . The only question left is, what grade will the professor give me?

Hester and I
Name: Marie
Date: 2006-03-31 02:02:32
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My first reading of the Scarlet Letter took place in high school. As a young and nave girl, with virtually no relationship experience, I felt no real connection to the work. However, rereading the book almost five years later, among greatly changed circumstances, I feel a more personal attraction to the work and its characters. This is due to the fact, and I'm almost afraid to say it, that I, like Hester, am an adulterer.

That may be a bit dramatic, but about nine months ago I cheated on my long-term boyfriend. Understandably, the situation between Hester and I is different- obviously, I was not married, did not bare a child, and was not publicly condemned and jailed by Puritan society. Nonetheless, I do not find this comparison silly or useless, for like Hester, I continue to harbor feelings of guilt and shame, and am forced to face people's judgments. Just as Hester's affair shaped her very existence, this event proved extremely meaningful in my own life, and affected me in ways I never could have imagined. As a result of my past actions, I identify myself with Hester more than anyone and anything in the novel and thus believe it interesting to juxtapose our two stories. By offering a modern retelling of Hester's plight, I hope to analyze the basic emotions and consequences that inevitably accompany "cheating." Furthermore, in examining two similar cases set in two very different times, I question the value of the lessons learned in a contemporary reading of the Scarlet Letter. My "Hester-like" personal experience illustrates that more than one hundred and fifty years after its writing, these Puritanical conceptions of judgment from sin still remain dispersed throughout society.

In the Scarlet Letter, the reader knows very little details about the affair between Dimmesdale and Hester; the reader of this essay will not have the same dilemma. After dating my long-distance boyfriend John* for almost a year and a half, I made a decision to cheat and engaged in a three week "affair" with a friend from high school. Feeling lonely and unloved, and seeing that John was hardly ever around, I justified the secret to myself until finally caught. Filled with hatred and pain, John acted out, becoming quickly vengeful towards me. Feeling no need to hide the details of my "affair," he immediately called friends and family members, and exposed my sinful deeds. Word spread quickly, and soon almost everyone knew my story. Forced to acknowledge the truth, the next few days were tough and filled with tears; I constantly felt a mixture of pain, guilt, and humiliation towards John, my family, my town, and most importantly, myself. I now had a reputation and was more than aware of the truth within my mother's disappointed words: "This is how people may remember you."

The beginning of my story draws many parallels with Hester's own situation. Writes Hawthorne, "Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed eyes...She had borne, that morning, all that nature could endure" (50). Similarly, both our sins were not merely personal matters, but matters that circulated throughout society. Thus the quote covers two feelings- the shame Hester herself felt for cheating on her husband, and the shame she felt when exposed to the public. In looking inward, it was naturally difficult to internalize the reasons for my
action- the last thing I needed and wanted was to explain these reasons to people who did not truly know me. Without truly knowing the circumstances, they could never truly
comprehend my feelings, and thus never really understand why I did what I did. The same holds true for Hester, though her situation is more extreme and also more unfortunate. Condemned by the law, she had no means of escape from the scorn of society. Ransacked with emotions, Hester exclaimed, "I have thought of death-have wished for it- would even have prayed for it, were it fit that such as I should pray for anything" (52). At first, I felt that she greatly over-dramatized her response to the situation, but then I remembered my own reactions. I cannot say that I wished for death, but I recall yelling out, referring to myself as "a piece of scum" and "worthless." The emotions one feels after cheating are all encompassing and characterized by despair. Though Hester and I felt no real love within our relationships, the pain, guilt, and shame, especially when exposed to society, nonetheless caused tremendous suffering.

Eventually forced to face people again, I felt extremely vulnerable to what seemed like everyone's stares. The people who shunned me the most were those closest to John and his family, but seeing that they had been my friends too, this made things particularly difficult. For instance, one friend told me that her mother had exclaimed, "I didn't think Marie was that kind of girl!" Again, I felt immoral, distressed, and hurt. Yet, shamed as I was, leaving was not an option. School would eventually render an escape, but the entire summer was before me. Therefore, I acknowledged my mistake, and escaped from "the shadows"- eventually, I even learned to accept it.

Similarly, Hester, who never denies her wrongdoings, stayed in Boston and by wearing the "A," recognizes her immoral action. Writes Hawthorne, "There was more life for Hester Prynne here, in New had been her sin; here, her sorrow;
and here was yet to be her penitence" (165). Furthermore, Hester, in accepting the letter, controls her fate, and doesn't allow society to completely exert its power over her. While recognizing the apparent differences between Puritanical and contemporary society, one still discovers that society contributes to these negative feelings and acts as another wall, which significantly hinders the personal conquering of the emotions that accompany the "sinful" action. These feelings do not easily go away and cannot simply be ignored. States Hawthorne, "Here again was the scarlet misery, glittering on the old spot! So it ever is, whether thus typified or no, that an evil deed invests itself with the character of doom" (135). Still, Hester fought through it all and with time "they said that it meant Able, so strong was Hester Prynne with a woman's strength" (111).
Accordingly, many students viewed Hester a "strong woman." However, I believe this was, in part, due to her entire story being laid out before them, for they knew the conditions of her "sin" and could empathize with her constant pain. Further, they knew of the peculiarities of her "relationship" with Chillingworth and the true nature of her character. Aware of these details, the reader is reluctant to condemn. Similarly, my relationship with John marked a year of enduring emotional abuse and borderline depression. Whether my actions were a form of "lashing out" remains unseen, but is an essential aspect in assessing the situation. One would be foolish to judge an action as
immoral without knowing all the facts and circumstances that surround it. Yet, this is exactly what the Puritans did, and contemporary society shows little change.

Thus, for me, the Scarlet Letter is symbolic of a larger personal journey, especially in respect to the plight of Hester. "Had Hester sinned alone?" (60). No, she did not sin alone- I, along with countless other women and men, have sinned with her. Writing this paper gave me an opportunity to release the shame and guilt I felt. More importantly however, the similarities between our two stories shows how the Puritanical notions of sin, judgment, and condemnation, remain, unfortunately, fixed in society, despite changing times. Still, I wear my scarlet "A" not proudly, but courageously, and through acceptance and personal forgiveness, I, like Hester, am able to move from the past to the future. Likewise, the novel concludes with Hester's leave from Boston, which is symbolic of her own individual absolution. Though she returns, and continues to wear the "A," it takes a different meaning, and is no longer a stigma. I'm sure that she, like me, will always feel some guilt, no matter what the circumstances of our sin may be. But ultimately it is we who must forgive ourselves and move on, looking beyond the judgment of others Hopefully society will eventually realize the value of this lesson learned. Unfortunately, it has not happened yet.

Thanks to Dr. Phil: Cultural Influence in Emotiona
Name: Angeldeep
Date: 2006-03-31 07:41:40
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Dr. Phil is a prominent figure on television in modern day America, bluntly describing the emotional truths of people who came to him for advice in the matter of their life and relationships. He is among many others who shape the way in which American culture views and understands emotion. Using Mark Schulz's experimentation regarding innate human ability to read and interpret emotion, a case can be made for the impact of culture on the ways in which emotions are expressed and understood. The Scarlet Letter serve's as a great case study for another instance of a culture that regulated and shaped emotional understanding of its citizens, as they used this understanding as a power to maintain status-quo within Puritan society.

Marc Schulz from the psychology department discussed the idea of having an innate ability to read and understand emotions. He spoke with us about an experiment carried out to study the accuracy of the observations made by their interpreters without them being provided with any indication of what the subjects they were viewing should be feeling, or how to read particular emotions. The study was carried out using video footage of couples talking about a conflict that had arisen between them. The subjects had been asked to document their emotions at the time by viewing the video footage recorded while they were talking to each other. The assessments made by the subjects about themselves were then compared to the assessments made by the college students participating in the study. The college students identified emotions with remarkable accuracy, even though they had not been formally trained in the field. While Marc accounted for the observed accuracy by suggesting that human beings have an innate ability to read emotions being exhibited in those around them, I believe there is a cultural element to the conclusions that the college students reached. This kind of cultural influence on understanding and reading emotions and conditions can be seen in The Scarlet Letter.

Culture has a huge role to play in the way in which emotions are expressed, understood and defined. While there are some aspects that will be constant cross culture (with a smile indicating happiness), a lot of the more detailed ways of expressing oneself are culturally affected. For example, in the modern day US of Dr. Phil and Oprah doing psychological studies of people's behavior on television for the whole country (if not the whole world) to see, college level American students have an understanding of emotion that is based in the present day psychological explanation of emotion. People are quick to point to the personality disorders that people have as described in clinical terms, using terms such as A.D.D. and depression in common vocabulary. This argument allows for the congruent results obtained by Marc Schulz, as he was using a group of people who had grown up watching marital disputes being worked out on television for everyone to see while a trained professional provided a clinical interpretation of the emotions he or she was seeing. Both for the group of couples as well as the group of college students viewing and trying to understand the couples have been exposed to the same kind of culture, and thus would reach the same conclusions when trying to describe emotion. The overabundance of professional terminology being used to describe emotions by laymen is a cultural phenomenon that does not extend all over the world. Personal experience from living in another country has showed the lack of such a tendency to psychoanalyze everything in other populations. It seems that the basic way to explain emotion comes from the cultural situation a society finds itself in.

Within the world of The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynn found herself in a Puritan society, who's reading of emotion and psychological states is very far removed from the understanding we have today. The citizens of Boston at that time were deeply entrenched in the social system based on the religion of Puritanical Christianity, complete with the hierarchy that was set up for the leaders of the society and the roles that were ascribed to them. People were conditioned to read and understand situations purely within this framework and literally refused or were unable to see anything that went contrary to what they understood. The starkest example of this comes in the form of the Governor's sister, Mistress Hibbins. There is every clue to show that Mistress Hibbins was a witch; she spoke of her excursions on her broom and even asked Hester to join her some night in her exploits. Yet, the society refused to acknowledge this aspect of Mistress Hibbins' behavior. It was unthinkable that the Governor would have a sister who was a witch. The society lived within its convenient fictional world and refused to read the signs that were in front of them. These fictions regarding reading emotions and states pervade every aspect of their lives. To them the world is made of black and white binaries, and all the citizens fall into some category or another. They are unable to read emotions in the complex way we do today, as can be seen by the fact that they considered Hester the epitome of sin and were unable to understand what she felt or even recognize it. Their reductive system forced people into a strictly categorized system that was well demarcated.

The other sinner existing in this situation was Dimmesdale. Since his sin was unknown to the people, he was both spared and shamed because of a categorized reading of his character. Since he was the minister that of the community Hester lived in, the function of his existence was to provide spiritual guidance for the people he advised. It was impossible to think that the minister of the village to do any spiritual and cultural wrong. He committed the heinous act of adultery and began to fade away because of the guilt that he felt, and yet no one read his emotions to correctly ascertain the issue he was grappling with. The idea that he was the other party to be shamed in the sin of Hester Prynn was unconscionable to the citizens, leading to a cultural inability or refusal to see the signs that highlighted his sin.

Placing Dimmesdale and Hester Prynn on the outside of this societal system, one placed out by the citizens, the other removed because of his own conscious, allowed them to see the world around them using a different sensibility. To a certain extent, being excommunicated from Puritan Boston placed them a different culture and gave them new tools with which to read the emotional and psychological circumstances around them. Hester is able to rise above the constraints of the society that believed her to be sinful and was able to find a way in which to understand her place there. She could read the shame within those around her and began to see that she wore the scarlet letter to pay penance for all the sins her fellow men had committed. Similarly, Dimmesdale was acutely aware of the falseness of the Puritan categorization because of his own transgressions. He was able to transcend the sensibilities of the society he was a part of and was able to truly feel the shame that came with being sinful. He was able to be a much more effective preacher because his sermons regarding sin came from his own experiences of trying to make peace between the duality of his private and public lives. His ability to read emotions and understand them is completely overturned by this personal experience, allowing him to go beyond his cultural understanding.

The symbol A made by the meteor in Chapter XII can be seen as one such sign that is read differently by two different groups of people exposed to two versions of a culture. While the citizens of the Boston colony see the A as a mark that Governor Winthrop, who died that night, had ascended to the heavens and become an Angel. However, Dimmesdale saw the sign in the sky illuminating the town to reveal his sin as an adulterer to them. As seen in this instance, the citizens insist on continuing to see what they want throughout the novel, and persistently understand emotions as they were culturally trained to do, in order to keep the Puritan system in power. This is proved wrong about Hester and Dimmesdale, because they were removed from the preached cultural essence of Puritanism.

The world of The Scarlet Letter helps further illustrate the argument that the culture of a particular set of people can shape the way in which they understand the world around them, including the emotions and psyche's of other human beings around them. Thus, the cultural capital used in such a situation cannot be taken lightly. Perhaps repeating some of Marc's experiments using interpreters from other cultures and strata of society could provide more concrete data to support the idea.

Stupefying Language in the Scarlet Letter
Name: Adina Halp
Date: 2006-03-31 10:47:15
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The storyline in Nathaniel Hawthorne's the Scarlet Letter is symbolic of many different situations. I appreciate the characters in the text and relate to them. I am interested in the idea of inaction that seems to run throughout the novel. But there is one aspect of the text that I cannot quite grasp: the language used in the text. To me, the text reads beautifully, like music. But what is it about the Hawthorne's words that captures me so fully? It is certainly not flowery or overdramatic. To help me to grasp the power of these words, I look to the theories of two linguists: Benjamin Lee Whorf and Ferdinand de Saussure.

Whorf writes about language and cognition. He argues that language has a direct influence on thought process. A person only formulates thoughts according to what that person's language allows them to say. Whorf makes his point by contrasting Standard American English (SAE) with the Hopi language:

"But the difficulty of appraising such a far-reaching influence is great because of its background character, because of the difficulty of standing aside from our own language, which is a habit and a cultural non est disputandum, and scrutinizing it objectively. And if we take a very dissimilar language, this language becomes a part of nature, and we even do to it what we have already done to nature. We tend to think in our own language in order to examine the exotic language. Or we find the task of unraveling the purely morphological intricacies so gigantic that it seems to absorb all else...Then we find that the exotic language is a mirror held up to our own" (1956: 137-8.)

One example that he uses is the SAE use of tense. In SAE, past present and future are three discrete tenses; and tense is essential in most utterances. By contrast, in Hopi, the exact same scene would usually be described in a very different way. The Hopi do not emphasize tense; but rather, the validity of the speaker and the speaker's association with the event.

However, this does not mean that a speaker of Hopi would not be able to express the idea that an event happened in the past, in the present, or in the future. Conversely, a speaker of SAE is capable of acknowledging her or his place in relation to the event. Whorf translates the SAE statement "He is running" to "Running. Statement of fact," the literal translation of a Hopi equivalent. But a speaker of SAE could still say something like "He is running, and I know this for a fact." It situates the speaker in the realm of knowledge that the running occurred (although it does not avoid a use of tense.) However, the point is that when a speaker of SAE describes a scene, that speaker's source of knowledge is not important unless an outside factor causes the speaker to point out validity, for example, if someone does not believe the speaker is telling the truth.

Whorf's theory can be applied to the Scarlet Letter. Close examination of Hawthorne's descriptions lead me to theorize that his language is so captivating because almost every word in almost every sentence conjures its own image. When Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl leave the forest after Hester and Dimmesdale have their (second) passionate love affair and Pearl behaves in a very peculiar manner, "The dell was to be left a solitude among its dark, old trees, which, with their multitudinous tongues, would whisper long of what had passed there, and no mortal would be the wiser" (Hawthorne 2005: 136).

Reading the same words, two different images can be formed in my imagination. I can mentally translate the sentence to something like, "nature knew what happened there but people did not," or I could be left with a resonating image of a small and wooded valley or hollow newly vacated and left all alone. With solitude, I could feel lonely and sad, yet pensive. The trees are dark and old. This leaves a color image in the mind as well as a sinister and sad sensation, and a feeling of eternity. The "multitudinous tongues" could be the leaves or branches of the trees, and their whisper could be the noise that the wind that ruffles them causes them to make. Or else the whispering tongues could be something even more metaphorical in that it does not represent a physical entity but a feeling of nature's knowledge and the secret that nature does not keep. Most likely, it is a combination of the two. The whisper is long, and again there is an image of eternity, or near eternity. The forest has always been there and will always be there. Mortals people believe that they know all and that they are wise, but they are not wise. They do not know the secret of Hester and Dimmesdale only the forest knows that. The forest, with the same dark qualities exhibited in Hester, Dimmesdale, and especially Pearl, and in Hester and Dimmesdale's passionate yet forbidden act, will keep the secret of these people and this act that are so similar to its character.

So where does Whorf's theory fit in here? He could have just written "nature knew what happened there but people did not." But the words he chooses forme a paragraph worth of images in my mind. He chooses words that could have meant many different yet similar things and left it up to the reader to choose their meaning. Moreover, he does not write the paragraph that I wrote above but instead manipulates the Standard American English words available to him to succinctly say what he means. It would seem that the linguistic ability of a speaker of Standard American English would make it extremely difficult to even think of a sentence with such meaning. Yet Hawthorne is able to use the tools at his disposal (words) to create sentences that make me think of images and situations that are not usually constructed in other SAE texts or even conversations.

Ferdinand de Saussure theorizes about signs. Jonathan Culler (1976: 28) explains, "The sign is union of a form which signifies, which Saussure calls the signifiant (signifier), and an idea signified, the signifi (signified)." In other words, a sign is the combination of a concept and a sound image. This relationship is arbitrary in that there is no inherent correlation between the signifier and the signified. There is no reason why a certain item or concept should be represented by any particular word or sound. A four-legged item with a board across the top is a "table" simply because we recognize it to be called that.

Very little action occurs in the Scarlet Letter. As was discussed in class, an event happens, that is, Hester and Dimmesdale have sexual intercourse and Hester becomes pregnant with Pearl, but this event is not described in the text and has already occurred when the text begins. After this, the characters seem to be resigned to their destiny: Hester to her shame, Dimmesdale to his inner turmoil and eventual death, Chillingworth with his obsession with revenge, Pearl with her wild nature, and the townspeople of Salem with their contempt for Hester and exemption from punishment as long as she is punished. But Hawthorne uses the signs suggested by Saussure in such a way that they conjure many images in a very succinct way. That is why I finished the text feeling like I had gone through an entire journey when really very little had happened. The sentence previously quoted is an example of this. The signs that Hawthorne employs cause so many mental images to appear in such a short period of time; many different scenes are mentally constructed very quickly.

Furthermore, standard literary tools are used throughout the novel. Specifically, Hawthorne often uses alliteration. The latter part of the sentence that I have deconstructed uses the sound (w) many times. The dell has trees "which, with their multitudinous tongues, would whisper long of what had passed there, and no mortal would be the wiser." This gives this part of the sentence an eerie feel to it. The first part of that sentence uses an unusually great amount of (d) and (t) sounds, many of which do not start the words but are laced throughout them: "The dell was to be left a solitude among its dark, old trees, which, with their multitudinous tongues." It is peculiar that so many (d)s and (t)s are used in the same sentence, because these are hard and soft consonants that are closely related.

It is not unusual for authors to use literary tools such as alliteration. However, that Hawthorne is able to use them in such a way as to conjure such images is amazing. Since signifiers are arbitrarily assigned to signifieds, Hawthorne has a limited number of signs from which he can choose to create the appropriate sounds; yet he still manages to create stunning imagery that causes inaction to appear in fast motion. Hawthorne manipulates signs and words to perform many functions at once.

The theories of Benjamin Lee Whorf and Ferdinand de Saussure can be used to try to explain just what it is about the words that Nathaniel Hawthorne uses in the Scarlet Letter in order to make them so enchanting. However, these are certainly not the only reasons why I found Hawthorne's words to sound beautiful. Other linguistic theories could certainly be used, as well as theories in other fields, the most obvious being literature. But this is a start, and it shows that there really are certain qualities in the writing that causes it to appear magical.

Works Cited:
Culler, Jonathan. Ferdinand de Saussure. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1976.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. 1850; rpt. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Sculley Bradley et. al. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978.
Whorf, Benjamin Lee. "The Relation of Habitual Thought and Behavior to Language." In Carroll, John B. (ed.) Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge: The MIT Press. 1956.

The Pearl and the Rose
Name: Jackie O'M
Date: 2006-03-31 11:29:56
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Some consider the natural world to be a wild place. From a scientist's point of view, however, this wild world has become quantifiable and definable. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter depicts a civilization in the early days of America. The city of Boston is a town on the edge of an untamed country. This strategic setting allows for the use of nature and the natural in an illustrative way throughout the novel. Pearl, for example, is surrounded by natural imagery in The Scarlet Letter, which emphasizes her wild spirit. The crucial scene between Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl in the forest is another example of Hawthorne taking advantage of nature to give even more depth to a text already full of meaning. A biologist's reading of The Scarlet Letter can uncover this depth, showing the way in which nature can often be a more accepting place than society. The wilderness is also a part of our natural history as a species, and this connection is still seen in a mirroring of human and natural qualities in The Scarlet Letter.

Aside from some very apparent themes in The Scarlet Letter religion, guilt, and social order, to name a few the presence of nature and the biological world lends an additional way of reading some of the scenes. The opening chapter of the novel, The Prison-Door, describes the town prison and a "wild rose-bush" near its entrance (Hawthorne, 45). Hawthorne presents some options as to why the rose bush has survived in that location as long as it has, and gives it a special importance by saying, "we could hardly do otherwise than to pluck one of its flowers and present it to the reader" (46). That very rose bush comes back to the reader later on in the story when Pearl declares "that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses, that grew by the prison-door" (99). Pearl equates herself to one of the roses from the bush that has survived since it was part of the New England wilderness. In doing so, Pearl presents a comparison between herself and a very tough and hearty group of organisms in the plant kingdom. Roses grow quite fast and are often found to grow where other plants cannot. The thorns on roses known technically as prickles (Swanson, 3-15-06) are thought to be both a defense mechanism and a way to grab on to other plants as the roses grow up over them ( These are interesting characteristics to keep in mind when considering the behavior of Pearl. In The Prison-Door, Hawthorne is presenting the reader with something strong and potentially painful but beautiful at the same time. Pearl herself is also simultaneously these things. She is angelic in her appearance but often harsh in her actions, and she is strong enough to survive in a difficult environment.

Hawthorne describes the naming of Pearl as a result of the "great price" that Hester, her mother, paid for her (Hawthorne, 80). Pearl possesses "nothing of the calm, white, unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the comparison" (80). Upon closer reflection, however, Pearl has dark features, and is still very beautiful even at a young age (81). This picture of her leads to another comparison: not to a pearl that is white and pure, but to a black pearl. Black pearls are highly valued for their rarity. While all pearls are formed from an irritant inside the shell of a mollusk such as a particle of sand inside an oyster shell black pearls are rejected from the mollusk sooner than pearls of other colors ( Pearl is born rejected from society. There is no other child like her, and she is extremely valuable to her mother and to the course of the novel. Pearl's name is, in a way, quite accurate when her dark and mysterious behavior is considered.

The pivotal scene between Hester and Mr. Dimmesdale in the forest is saturated with natural imagery and symbolism. While Hester and Dimmesdale are talking, Pearl amuses herself by fluttering around the forest:
The mother-forest, and these wild things which it nourished, all recognized a kindred wildness in the human child. (Hawthorne, 178)
Pearl is "gentler" in the forest than in town or at their cottage (178). In the wild she is no longer outcast, as she other places. This scene illustrates another side of the issue of social acceptance, which is one of the themes of the novel. Nature does not know when someone has sinned. It does not know what myriad possibilities a scarlet letter "A" could stand for; nor is it aware of the oddities of an equally scarlet-clad child in a Puritan settlement. Nature does not judge or discriminate in the way that the townspeople of The Scarlet Letter are wont to do every time they encounter Hester and Pearl. In this scene the reader sees acceptance of social outcasts. The sun shines on the three characters, and Pearl plays with the birds and flowers of the forest (177). By pairing the freedom and wildness of nature with this freeing scene, Hawthorne shows us that the rules of society are not necessarily the rules of the natural world.

The attitude of the individual facing nature can alter his experience of it:
"The great black forest stern as it showed itself to those who brought the guilt and troubles of the world into its bosom became the playmate of the lonely infant, as well as it knew how" (Hawthorne, 178).
Pearl was not brought up within the strict confines of Puritan society since "a great law had been broken" in the creation of her life (81). Her relationship with the world is one of disorder and wildness. It is only fitting, therefore, that the wilderness of New England is a comforting place to her, a place where she is welcome. The rest of the townsfolk do not see the wilderness in this way they stay out due to a fear of witches and the "Black Man" (161). Nature has its own laws, which can be a terrifying thought to those who thrive in a strict society but is a freeing realization for Pearl.

The biological meanings of the natural imagery in The Scarlet Letter may not be readily evident to all who read it. This is proof of the reader's opportunity to draw multiple interpretations from the events in The Scarlet Letter, and from Hawthorne's telling of Hester's story. Hawthorne's use of nature in various scenes is a subtle way of enhancing the complexity of his novel. One of the most crucial scenes in the novel occurs in a forest. The duality of the forest scene complex personal interactions mixed with the intricacies of the natural world suggests that nature can mirror human life.

Nature's mirroring capability is literally shown in the interaction between Pearl and a pool of water in the forest scene. Pearl finds herself standing apart from Hester, on the other side of a small brook in the forest. The brook has been "murmuring" along (Hawthorne, 163) until the place where Pearl happened to stand:
Just where she had paused the brook chanced to form a pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure, with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality. (181)
The pool of water a biological barrier to many organisms that just "chanced to form" where she stood acts as a barrier between Pearl and her mother, or Pearl and the society that she has never been a part of, but that her mother would be a part of had she not had Pearl. One of the most important events in the evolutionary history of our world has been the colonization of land by plants and animals. The loss of a dependency on water was a very difficult obstacle to surmount, and the evolution of this can be seen in many areas of nature. Certain land species frogs and salamanders, for example need a water source to lay their eggs. The idea of water as a necessity for life and also a barrier to development of a house or a road, for example is almost intuitive. In that same way, the brook is a barrier between Pearl and her mother, as Mr. Dimmesdale says, "I have a strange fancy . . . that this brook is the boundary between two worlds . . . is she an elfish spirit, who, as the legends of our childhood taught us, is forbidden to cross a running stream" (182)? The ability of the water to reflect and enhance the image of a flower-covered Pearl can be interpreted as a link between the qualities of nature and those of her humanity.

We have all come from the "wilderness" so to speak. Our biological roots exist in the oceans as simple organisms. The strict Puritan society of The Scarlet Letter is, quite possibly, one of the furthest things from the natural origins of life on earth. By placing Hester and Pearl, the outcasts, in a wild, natural setting, Hawthorne shows how the natural world that we came from can be a more accepting place than the societies we find ourselves in now. Pearl is surrounded by and characterized by nature in many ways, even in her name. She shows how we in fact mirror nature in many ways, and how the societies we create, however strict they may be, still have ties to the biology of nature and the wilderness that we came from.

An "A" Paper
Name: Laine Edwa
Date: 2006-03-31 13:00:16
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Throughout Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1850 novel, The Scarlet Letter, the appearance of the letter "A" on Hester Prynne's bosom is a consistent reminder of the town's judgment of her character. The letter initially represents Hester's sin of adultery; however, throughout the course of the novel the letter's meaning changes according to the whims of the townspeople. As time passes and Hester's original sin becomes faded in the memory of the town, the meaning of "A" adjusts to the feelings of the community and begins to symbolize the various roles that Hester occupies within the town. The scarlet letter, in effect, is not so much a steady reminder of Hester's sin, but is instead a fluid symbol of the townspeople's constant judging of her character.
The Puritan community in which Hester lives thrives on the constant battle between good and evil. The townspeople turn their religious fervor into a sort of competition, each trying to outdo the other in terms of piety and faith. When Hester first emerges from the jail that first morning a large group of villagers awaits her. There is a group of women who take particular interest in Hester and the punishment that is about to ensue. The women are outraged at the magistrate's leniency towards Hester because they feel her transgressions reflect directly upon them and the congregation of Reverend Dimmesdale. The hatred that these women feel towards Hester is not mitigated in the least by their common bond as women, but instead appears to be strengthened by their shared femaleness. One matron goes so far as to prescribe death for Hester, saying, "This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book" (122). For these women, Hester's sin is a reflection of the moral quality of the entire community and they feel that a harsher punishment is necessary in order to atone in the eyes of God.
The women of the town are not the only community members who find the punishment of Hester to be a redeeming quality of the village. When Hester's former husband, Roger Chillingworth, first sees her on the scaffolding he asks a village man about her crime. The man answers with pride in his town's punishment of the perpetrator, stating "methinks it must gladden your heart, after your troubles and sojourn in the wilderness to find yourself, at length, in a land where iniquity is searched out, and punished in the sight of rulers and people" (130). The townspeople of Boston see it as their natural right to place judgment on sinners and they take pride in their ability to do so accurately. Hester, therefore, is the unfortunate victim of the townspeople's penchant for equating "justice" with shame and discrimination.
The Scarlet Letter begins with Hester's "A" symbolizing her sin of adultery. She gives birth to a child out of wedlock and refuses to name the father so that he may share in her shame. Her punishment, therefore, is to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her dress as a reminder to both herself and to others of the true nature of her character. For the townspeople "she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify an embody their images of women's frailty and sinful passion" (142). In the weeks and months immediately following Hester's time atop the scaffolding the townspeople view the "A" as only a symbol of Hester's disgrace because that is the only role she is allowed to occupy in society- that of an "example" to other potential sinners. As time passes, however, Hester becomes freer in her actions and moves about the village with a renewed sense of purpose. The villagers take notice of her behavior and consequently the meaning of the "A" comes to symbolize roles other than that of adulterer.
In the years after her public shaming Hester takes on a role of public service to the village community. She tends the sick and the dying, she clothes and feeds the poor, and the letter begins to symbolize her ability to do good works in the village. No longer does the "A" stand solely for adulterer, but its meaning changes due to the townspeople's altered view of Hester. For the townspeople, the shame inherent in the "A" is lessened and it is tempered with a greater respect for Hester's good deeds. Hester gives comfort to the other villagers in times of need and for her "power to do, and power to sympathize [...] many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able" (202). Originally, the townspeople view Hester as a pariah within the community, however, her role changes as the villagers find in Hester a woman with whom they share a common bond and this is a comfort to them because in her, they also see themselves and their own proclivity towards sin.
From the time the scarlet letter was first sewn on to her dress, the letter "A" set Hester apart from the other villagers. The "A" announces Hester as a sinner and the townspeople keep away form her in case that they too might be tempted to sin. The public interpretation of Hester's "A", however, is very different from the villager's private notions of what the letter symbolizes. Because Hester provides such comfort to the villagers during sickness or at the time of death they come to rely on her. They cannot continue to shun her in the way they previously and in order to let her back into the community a collective shift in understanding the meaning of the letter "A" is necessary.
Slowly, as Hester reestablishes her reputation and her credibility increases, the townspeople allow her to reenter the community as a woman who has been shamed, but is nonetheless a valuable member of the village. The wrath of the group of women has been subdued and they are ready to recognize her skill in sewing and tending the sick. Although there is a shift in the group understanding of the meaning of the "A", it is an unspoken shift that happens quietly and privately. There continues to be a stigma surrounding Hester and her sin, however, the community is read to forgive and this comes about through the mutation of the symbol of the "A" from "adulterer" to "able". Hester demonstrates her understanding of this shift when she explains to Pearl the reason for the "A" on her dress. Hester thinks to herself that the letter may be "a talisman of a stern and severe, but yet a guardian spirit" (215). The "A" undoubtedly transforms Hester in the eyes of the townspeople, but it also changes the way that she views herself. The scarlet letter becomes a badge of humility allows Hester the freedom to be true to herself and her sins in a way that the other villagers are not.
Although the Puritan community in Boston proclaims to be extremely pious, one of the many ironies of Hawthorne's novel is the sin inherent in passing judgment on another sinner. The "black man" has also tempted those who judge Hester harshly for the truth of her sin. The only difference between them is that Hester's sin has become public knowledge due to the birth of Pearl. In the seven years that pass between the beginning of the novel and the end, the townspeople begin to recognize themselves in Hester. As sinners themselves they can commiserate with her suffering. The guilt that they experience as time passes softens their judgment of Hester and the community understanding of the meaning of the letter "A" shifts to allow Hester to be partially reinstated as a member of the community.
The scarlet letter that Hester Prynne is forced to wear as part of her punishment for committing adultery marks her as an "other" in the Puritan community of Boston. Her role as an "other", however, gradually forces other members of the town to recognize within themselves the sins that they have committed. While Hester is never exonerated of her adultery, the collective understanding of the meaning of the letter "A" is allowed to shift to include meanings far more favorable than "adulterer". Hester's good works with the sick and dying and the townspeople's recognition of the impact she has had forces them to reconsider their interpretations of the letter "A" in a way that will allow them to bring Hester back into the community. The transformation of Hester's scarlet letter comes about both as a result of her good works in the community, but also and more importantly, because of the townspeople's recognition of their own sins and their inability to further condemn Hester for her adulterous relationship with Reverend Dimmesdale,
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Ed. Rita K. Golin. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002

No One Is Alone
Name: Margaret M
Date: 2006-03-31 13:03:47
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When examining the similarities between Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Stefan Zweig's Letter from an Unknown Woman, the themes of the duality of public and private selves, sin, and love emerge. These themes are still present when the time and place of the story is changed. This suggests that these themes are universal and are part of what it is to be a human. By using texts to compare the ways that the themes are expressed, we can examine the ways that society has changed in not only how the characters deal with the themes, but also how the authors express the themes.

In Zweig's Letter from an Unknown Woman, a writer known as 'R' receives "several dozen hastily penned sheets in a feminine hand-writing" addressed "To you, who have never known me." (Zweig, 71) This is similar to The Scarlet Letter, in that the author "found the record of other doings and sufferings of this singular woman" in the Custom-House at which he worked. (Hawthorne, 27) The unknown woman who has written the letter tells 'R' about her lifelong love and devotion to him. She begins by reminiscing about her childhood and when he first moved in next door. She explains that, when she was older, they had had a brief affair and, unbeknownst to him, she had conceived his son. She goes on to explain that she is writing this letter next to their son's deathbed and that she herself is expected to die soon.

In both Letter from an Unknown Woman and The Scarlet Letter, the mother protects the father by withholding knowledge about their child. The unknown woman tells 'R' that she never told him about his son because "it was my pride that I should never be a trouble or a care to you all my life long. I would rather take the whole burden on myself than be a burden to you." (Zweig, 91) She feels that she is able to protect him from the burden of the knowledge of having a son. This is similar to Hester's refusal to say who the father of her daughter is. She replies "would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!" (Hawthorne, 49) Hester is trying not to protect the father from knowing that the child is his, but from the community knowing the child is his.

Their need to protect the fathers put Hester and the unknown woman in situations which many people would feel compelled to leave. Indeed both are given opportunities to leave, yet both choose to stay. The unknown woman tells 'R' that she had received many proposals of marriage from wealthy admirers. She could have had a "sedate, distinguished, and kind-hearted husband," but instead she decides to "remain free-for ['R']." (Zweig, 96) She doesn't want to take the opportunity to leave because she wants to be sure that if 'R' should ever need her, she would be there. Another reason she never leaves is that she "did not wish to live content away from you; so I buried myself in a gloomy world of self-torment and solitude." (Zweig, 83) Her love for 'R' and her need to be there if he needs her keeps her tied to Vienna, their hometown. In the conclusion of The Scarlet Letter, the reader learns that although Hester and Pearl disappear after Chillingworth's death, years later Hester not only returns, but even continues to wear the scarlet letter. The author suggests Hester returns because "there was a more real life for Hester Prynne, here, in New England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home." (Hawthorne, 165) Hester's need to live where she had known sin, sorrow, and penitence keeps her tied to Salem.

Another similarity is that both texts concern the difference between the public and private selves. The unknown woman writes that when they first met, she was aware that 'R' "led two lives. One of these was known to all, it was the life open to the world; the other was turned away from the world, and was known only to [himself]." (Zweig, 76) She believes that 'R's public self was a foolish and fashionable young man, while his private self was a serious and thoughtful old man. She also believes that she is one of the few people who understand this duality in his personality and even acknowledges it when she declares her love for him and writes, "I love you just as you are, ardent and forgetful, generous and unfaithful." (Zweig, 90) Hester is also aware of the duality of Dimmesdale's personality. Publicly, he is the saintly, pious young minister of Salem and privately, he is Pearl's father and has committed a serious sin. The author writes that "no man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true." (Hawthorne, 137) While Hester is able to protect Dimmesdale by refusing to identify him as the father, she is unable to protect him from his duality.

Before he dies, Dimmesdale attempts to reconcile his private and public selves by admitting to everyone that he is Pearl's father. In this final confession he asks the townspeople, "Stand any here that question God's judgment on a sinner? Behold! Behold a dreadful witness of it!" and reveals "a SCARLET LETTER-the very semblance of that worn by Hester Prynne-imprinted in the flesh" of his chest. (Hawthorne, 161-162) He wants everyone to recognize his private self and, in doing so, recognize his sin. The unknown woman also seeks to be recognized before she dies and so she writes the letter to 'R'. Each she writes about one of her many encounters with 'R' over the years, she mentions that each time he didn't recognize her. She acknowledges this when she writes, "I had to endure what has always been my fate; that you have never recognized me. I must die, unrecognized." (Zweig, 86) By writing the letter, she is attempting to get 'R' to remember her and recognize her.

While there are many similarities between the two texts, there are also many differences, most of which concern differences between the time and place of the stories. However, one major difference stands out: the roles that Hester and the unknown woman play in society. In an effort to give her child an expensive upbringing, the unknown woman turns to what, by puritan and even 21st century standards, could be called a life of sin. She writes to 'R', "I sold myself. I did not become a street-walker, a common prostitute, but I sold myself. My friends, my lovers, were wealthy men." (Zweig, 95) Her original sinful act of having a child out of wedlock led her to commit many more sins. This is in stark contrast to Hester. Although the original sin remains the same, Hester became a pillar of virtue in the community. The author writes that "in the lapse of the toilsome, thoughtful, and self-devoted years that made up Hester's life, the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness." (Hawthorne, 165) Hester does not turn to a life of sin to support her child and, through her virtuous behavior, is even able to change the negative stigma associated with her original sinful act. This difference may be due to the different societies that the women are part of. In 20th century Vienna, while her actions may be looked down upon, the unknown woman is not punished for either her original sin or the sins that follow. Hester has been punished and isolated from the puritan community because she committed adultery. She does not turn to a life of sin because she believes what she did was wrong and knows that she will probably be killed if she sinned again.

The similarities between The Scarlet Letter and Letter from an Unknown Woman highlight the universal themes of love and what women do in the name of it, sin and its aftermath, and the differences between our public and private selves. This suggests that, although we live in different times and in different places, there is something that ties all of humankind together. Zweig's unknown woman writes that "there is nothing more terrible than to be alone among human beings." (Zweig, 82) If we are all connected by these universal themes, can any of us really be alone? Is it not reassuring that at some other time, in some other place, someone went through what you are going through? Even if you are physically alone, someone has/is/will be going through the same experiences with you. So, in the words of Hester, "Thou shalt not go alone!" (Hawthorne, 128)

Multiplicity, Myths, and Dimmesdale, Pharaoh?
Name: Alice Brys
Date: 2006-03-31 13:16:32
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First, a myth:

In a distant land, in the days of its first rulers, there lived a wise man most concerned with the relation of his people to the gods, who had come from across the sea. He was called the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale.

(In the days of the distant past, the great god Osiris, son of Nut, reigned as Pharaoh over Egypt. A wise king, he sought to bring enlightenment and knowledge to his people (Osiris 8).)

There was also, in those days, a woman called Hester Prynne, who was married to another man of great wisdom, who remained still in his native land. She was alone in the new country, and while waiting for her husband to come to her, she had an affair with Dimmesdale. She bore a daughter, who she named Pearl. (Hawthorne 45)

(Isis, the wife of Osiris, was the greatest sorceress and wisest of goddesses; she ruled alongside Osiris and in time they had a son together, and he was called Horus (Osiris 8). )

Hester's adultery was discovered by the other denizens of her city. But unknown to them, her husband, bearing a false name, had come to the new land. He watched in secret her humiliation, and vowed vengeance on the father of her child. (Hawthorne 45-54)

(Set was jealous of his brother Osiris's achievements and power, and sought his downfall; he began to conspire against Osiris (Osiris 10).)

Hester's husband, who practiced the arts of medicine under the name Chillingworth, made himself and his purpose known to Hester; he asked that she reveal to him the secret of her lover. She refused, but knowing the secret of his true name as well, she agreed to reveal neither secret. (Hawthorne 54)

(Isis, in her past more distant, gained much of her power from the old god Ra, by means of a trick; she poisoned him and then offered to cure him for the price of his secret name (Isis 5-8).)

Dimmesdale languished in his own hidden guilt, and grew sick; Chillingworth approached him and offered to treat his illness, although he quickly discovered that Dimmesdale was the man he sought vengeance on. Offering him a cure, Chillingworth began to live with his patient, and began planting the seeds of his revenge. (Hawthorne 78-84)

(Set's plot came to fruition at a banquet; he had made a beautiful casket exactly to Osiris's size, and Osiris lay down in it to see if it would fit. Set immediately sealed him inside and threw him into the Nile, killing his brother (Osiris 17).)

After her confinement was over, Hester left the center of her city with her babe, Pearl; they made their home in an isolated cabin, away from the judgment of the people and away from the evil of her husband (Hawthorne 56).

(Isis fled to a secret isle in the Nile Delta with her child Horus, to protect him from his uncle's machinations (Osiris 18).)

Under Chillingworth's treatment and the weight of his own guilt, Dimmesdale's torments only grew worse. While not properly punished for his crime, Dimmesdale could not move on and could not forgive himself. And Chillingworth only made matters worse, tormenting his so-called patient, and taking him to pieces over time.

(Without the proper funeral rites, Osiris's spirit could not enter the land of the dead (19). And after Isis reclaimed her husband's body, Set, in a rage, tore him into fourteen pieces and scattered his body across the land of Egypt (31).)

Hester worked for the good of the city, doing beautiful embroidery work and attending at sickbeds.

(Isis labored twice to find her husband; once, in his casket, which had floated to the land of Byblos (Osiris 18), and once to find the fourteen pieces that she needed to reassemble him and finally perform the funeral rites (35). On Byblos, she taught serving girls how to braid their hair; she blessed children and tended to the infant Prince of Byblos (22-23).)

After seven years of separation, Hester finally resolved to speak to Dimmesdale and attempt to convince him to run away with her and begin a new life, away from Chillingworth and away from the shame of the scarlet letter. They met in the forest, by an old fallen tree (Hawthorne 126).

(Isis reclaimed her husband's body on the island of Byblos, where it had drifted after being cast into the Nile. It had landed in the roots of a tree, and grown into part of the tree, which was then cut down and made into a pillar in the palace of Byblos. Isis returned the casket, and body within, to Egypt (Osiris 25-26).)

Before they could escape to Europe, Chillingworth thwarted their plans. Without any other options, Dimmesdale mounted the scaffold where Hester had stood seven years prior, and revealed his identity as the other adulterer, before dying absolved (Hawthorne 162).

(When Isis finally gathered all the pieces of her husband's body, save one which she replaced, she performed the correct funeral rights and buried him according to custom, so that Osiris could enter into the land of the dead at last. He became the god of the dead. (Osiris 37).)

Chillingworth, left without purpose, died soon afterwards, and left all his substantial property to Pearl, who became the richest heiress in the land (Hawthorne 164).

(When Horus was grown, he challenged Set in order to avenge his father. After a bloody war, Horus slew Set and became the new ruler of Egypt (Osiris 56).)

So what is this? Why am I bothering to match the Scarlet Letter up against the story of Osiris, Isis, and Horus? On one level, it's a reaction to the strong trend towards Christian allegory and Christianity as a moral background in the nineteenth century Big Books we've been reading. Ever since we launched into Moby Dick and its ocean of Biblical allusion, the class has been complaining of the heavy Christianity in the works we've read. Either the books are difficult to understand if you don't come from a Christian (or even Abrahamic) background, or they're impossible to understand fully if you're not Christian, or they're just plain annoying to someone who doesn't want to be preached to. Why not try a different angle, a different basis of mythology? I'm interested in seeing whether a story like The Scarlet Letter, based in a Christian moral landscape, can be translated to a different religion and a different moral viewpoint. In this case, it's managed to cross the gap fairly complete, (although certain moral points were dropped in my telling, and the conditions for entrance into a good afterlife are completely different). The emphasis, when it is laid beside the Egyptian myth, moves from Hester and Dimmesdale's crime onto Chillingworth's revenge; it becomes the central action. Although, in the book, Chillingworth's revenge is a central action--it's just not the central moral transgression. The book isn't about the shameful scarlet letter R, for revenge. But through this myth, I'm able to look at Chillingworth's actions as the central crime; it's one way of achieving a multiplicity of interpretations, by placing the story in a different allegorical context.

Hawthorne holds up to his readers the multiple-choice interpretations of his books--the rose, the scarlet letter on Dimmesdale's chest, and so on. This is, in a way, the multiple-choice allegory; if Scarlet Letter can be translated into Egyptian myth, it holds out hope that other nineteenth century books that our class has been struggling with on the basis of their overwhelming Christianity can be read either without reliance on a religious tradition (an atheist mythology, if that isn't a contradiction in terms. But that's neither here nor there) or with the canon and background of a different tradition entirely. And not just a switch between the Abrahamic faiths, or the "Big Five", but between an entire canon of mythologies that are often just alluded to (most often Greek). For instance, it would have been interesting to compare The Scarlet Letter to the story of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra; it seems like a reverse of the outcome of that adultery, with the wronged husband seeking to destroy the adulterers, and not the other way around. Of course, it's also an example of the fact that, given enough time and desire, you can squish any two things together until they fit. But I wonder, if the story can be bent to fit any mythology or moral system, does that mean that the story was bent to fit Christianity as well? If the Scarlet Letter, or any other story, exists first as a story; it's set in front of a background of a certain moral/religious tradition. And just as it's set into and taken in context of a morality (often that of the writer, although readers can bring their own morality to a story as well), it can be consciously separated from its context and put into a different moral context, or even none at all. That's something to search for; the way to strip a story down to the actual bare bones of "what happened", without moral judgment or allegory.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. ed. Leland S. Person. WW Norton and Company: New York, 2005.
Isis, Egyptian Goddess. 2002-2005.

OSIRIS Online Documentation. "The Tale Of Isis and Osiris". Updated Feb. 16, 1999.

Body Language at the Scaffold and in the Forest; T
Name: Laura Otte
Date: 2006-03-31 14:00:41
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In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, there is a critical difference between what happens in the town, in an environment of feigned perfection and scrutiny, versus what happens undetected in the shadows of the merciful forest. Each location serves as a stark contrast to the other, but how often are the characters altered by their surroundings? Are Hester or Dimmesdale physically or emotionally changed depending on their setting? In the town, both Hester and Dimmesdale remain physically guarded in order to adhere to social restrictions. The forest has an impact on both, but this change is due in part the privacy of their physical environment and in part to the emotional comfort they find in one another.

Hester exhibits guarded and apathetic physical characteristics when she is within the town. The reader first encounters Hester on display, "Hester Prynne had been standing on her pedestal" (pg. 46), upon the scaffold. The town magistrates are determining her dreaded fate and during their discussion, she physically appears vulnerable, "as she lifted her eyes towards the balcony, the unhappy woman grew pale and trembled." (pg. 47) Mr. Wilson, one of the town leaders, tells Hester that instead of their further probing the Reverend Dimmesdale will encourage her to speak. He says, "'knowing your natural temper better than I, he could the better judge what arguments to use, whether of tenderness or terror, such as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy;'" (pg. 48) and with this statement, he gives the reader insight into the town's perception of Hester. The community believes her to be a 'hard' and stubborn woman, which means her manner in the town, even before her offense, must have been cold and distant. Once Reverend Dimmesdale's questioning and urging ends, Hester refuses to give any information and physically gives a clear sign to her eager audience, "Hester shook her head." (pg. 49) "'I will not speak!' answered Hester, turning pale as death," (pg. 50) and therefore physically showing that although secure in her decision, she is fearful. The scene goes on, and the town leaders begin to preach about the horror of sin, referencing Hester as their live example. "Hester Prynne, meanwhile, kept her place upon the pedestal of shame, with glazed eyes, and an air of weary indifference." (pg. 50) At this point, she has created a mental barrier against their hurtful words and her bodily features reflect that apathy. Her new baby even begins to cry and she quiets in "mechanically" (pg. 50) without breaking from her removed spell. Once the episode is over, "with the same hard demeanor, she was led back to prison," (pg. 50). This incident on the scaffold existed in a stifling environment, and Hester's physical reactions responded to that setting. However, it is important to recognize that before this scene, Hester had been uncomfortable in the town environment, as reported by Mr. Wilson through his comments about her 'hardness and obstinacy'. What caused her discomfort prior to her sin? Where does she really belong?

Different from Hester's demeanor, Dimmesdale's physical characteristics throughout the scaffold scene display his intense fear and anguish. Dimmesdale is first described as "a pale young man" (pg. 48) when Mr. Wilson places a hand upon his shoulder and calls him to speak with Hester. Mr. Wilson describes Dimmesdale's "over-softness" (pg. 48) which indicates that, to the community, the Reverend Dimmesdale appears very delicate. "He was a person of very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow, large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be tremulous, expressing both nervous sensibility and a vast power of self-restraint." (pg. 48) Physically, he is a wreck, "there was an air about this young minister, - an apprehensive, a startled, a half-frightened look," (pg. 48). His inner struggle and pain is clearly affecting his outer physical state. Dimmesdale's task to appeal to Hester seems to overwhelm him, "the trying nature of his position drove the blood from his cheek, and made his lips tremulous." (pg. 49) Finally, however, he finds the nerve to speak and "the young pastor's voice was tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and broken." (pg. 49) The pressure of the scaffold setting undoubtedly causes Dimmesdale physical torment. In general, throughout the rest of the novel, his physical state within the town environment is nervous and sickly. As the reader, we understand the reason for his discomfort, for he lives a life tainted by sin and continuing in hypocrisy. Where will this man finally find peace?

Later on in the novel, Hester and Dimmesdale encounter one another in the depths of the forest. However, for each individual this new setting spurs different physical behavior.

Contra to her presence on the scaffold, the physical characteristics that Hester displays in the woods are free and uninhibited. Upon revealing the true identity of Chillingworth, Dimmesdale's horror and anger causes Hester to have an outburst and "flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him," (pg. 125) she begs for his forgiveness. "With sudden and desperate tenderness, she threw her arms around him, and pressed his head against her bosom...He would have released himself, but strove in vain to do so. Hester would not set him free," (pg. 125). Once the town resides in the background, Hester's release allows the reader to understand her real personality. In the forest, her basest emotions rule her physical actions and she has no reason for restraint. Dimmesdale and Hester speak openly about their sin. Hester grieves for Dimmesdale's utter hopelessness and her sorrow physically manifests as "tears gushing into her eyes." (pg. 126) Desperately craving a future with possibilities, Hester proposes that the two of them run away together. They agree and in triumph, Hester unpins her scarlet letter and casts it aside. "The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit." (pg. 130) Her relief then infects other aspects of her physical appearance. "By another impulse, she took off the formal cap that confined her hair...there played around her mouth, and beamed out of her eyes, a radiant and tender smile...a crimson flush was glowing on her cheek, that had been long so pale." (pg. 130) Her potential for happiness is gained within the forest setting, an arena which provides her comfort and hope.

One might assume that the forest would provide the same relief to Dimmesdale as it had to Hester. However, initially, when walking through the woods, "he looked haggard and feeble, and betrayed a nerveless despondency in his air," (pg. 121). Similar to his physical characteristics in the village, Dimmesdale's body still appears weak due to his mental state of depression. "There was a listlessness in his gait; as if he saw no reason for taking one step further, nor felt any desire to do so, but would have been glad, could he be glad of anything, to fling himself down at the root of the nearest tree, and lie there passive, forevermore." (pg. 122) Once the minister begins to talk with Hester, there is little change in his unstable physique. When Hester finds the courage to tell Dimmesdale about the real identity of Chillingworth, "the minister started to his feet, gasping for breath, and clutching at his heart, as if he would have torn it out of his bosom." (pg. 124) After he had calmed down from his initial shock, "he sank down on the ground, and buried his face in his hands." (pg. 125) Physically his abrupt actions demonstrate that his is distraught. He voices terror at the circumstance, "'And I! how am I to live longer, breathing the same air with this deadly enemy?' exclaimed Arthur Dimmesdale, shrinking within himself, and pressing his hand nervously against his heart," (pg. 126). He is physically collapsing at the thought of Chillingworth. Though their meeting in the woods begins with the sharing of negative information, there is hope for change when Hester suggests they run away together. In response to her idea, Dimmesdale has a telling facial reaction, "Arthur Dimmesdale, in whose eyes a fitful light, kindled by her enthusiasm, flashed up and died away," (pg. 128). Although there is a spark of excitement, this early glimmer of hope soon fades, perhaps proving that neither the new environment of the open forest nor the faith of a loved one can alter his troubled personality. "He lacked energy to grasp the better fortune that seemed within his reach." (pg. 128). At this point in the novel, Dimmesdale has resolved to die for his sin, and his physical cripplings are not due to environmental stress, but the inner conflict he cannot escape.

When Hester and Dimmesdale meet together in the forest, their encounter is different from their interaction on the scaffold. They speak in confidence and may touch one another. Their physical bodies offer evidence about their mental states in this intimate environment. "So strangely did they meet, in the dim wood, that it was like the first encounter, in the world beyond the grace, of two spirits who have been intimately connected in their former life, but now stood coldly shuddering, in mutual dread;" (pg. 122). At first, they are afraid and shake in the presence of one another. It has been so long since their private relationship that they are physically startled at the idea of continued contact. "It was with fear, and tremulously, and, as it were, by a slow, reluctant necessity, that Arthur Dimmesdale put forth his hand, chill as death, and touched the chill hand of Hester Prynne." (pg. 122) The intense feeling of cold is mutual, possibly because they are terrified to be indulging their desire for the relationship again. However, slowly they adjust as they relax and remember that they trust each other. It is with this newfound comfort that their physical actions become smoother, reflecting a peace of mind. Before entering conversation, "they glided back into the shadow of the woods" (pg. 123) and "sat down again, side by side, and hand clasped in hand, on the mossy truck of the fallen tree." (pg. 126). They revert to the constructs of their previous relationship, giving the readers a chance to witness the peace and happiness that a societal sin brought to these two people. The woods provide a safe haven from the critical town. Without the change of physical environment, their physical bodies would not have been calm and, likewise, their minds would not have detected the cues and followed their physical example.

Hurt So Good: The Derivation of Pleasure From Pain
Name: Lauren Swe
Date: 2006-03-31 14:09:13
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Lauren Sweeney March 31, 2006
Big Books of American Literature/Professor Dalke
Paper III

Hurt So Good: The Derivation of Pleasure From Pain in The Scarlet Letter

Throughout The Scarlet Letter, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale appears to restrain his emotions and feels imprisoned by his silence. Though Hester is able to confess her sin to the public and reach absolution through a penance of selfless works, Dimmesdale lives in fear that his secret will be revealed and yet envies Hester the chance that she is given to relieve her conscience. Though it appears that Dimmesdale’s fear of exposure and the ruin of his reputation keeps him from revealing the secret of his affair with Hester, in a way, he enjoys the act of repression and silent suffering. It is not only fear of exposure and the ruin of his public image that keeps him silent, but also the perverse pleasure that he gains from his pain and how he even uses his physical suffering to raise the esteem in which the pious community holds him.

The condition of the minister’s physical health leads to a discussion of the paradox of his survival up until the end of the novel. Though his health takes a nosedive during the seven years between the affair and its resolution, this is a considerable length of time to be dwindling on the edge of existence. If his condition is so severe, how can he survive it? Why does he not die? If he is truly in pain, how does he keep himself from utter despair and self-slaughter? One might suppose that he would announce his sin and allow his conscience to be cleansed as Hester is forced to do. If he was really desperate, he could have run away to Europe and commenced a new, anonymous existence without the fear of discovery. If the silent torture was really as horrible as it seems, why does he not succumb to the power of his suffering and collapsed beneath it in incapacitating physical illness or suicide. By choosing to keep his sin secret, the minister also chooses to prolong his physical and mental suffering.

Dimmesdale uses the deterioration of his health to his advantage by engaging the sympathies of the community. The first words that Hawthorne uses (to give the reader something more than a physical description of the Arthur Dimmesdale,) are written from as though from the voice of the townspeople:

“…the young minister, whose health had severely suffered, of late, by his too unreserved self-sacrifice to the labors and duties of the community.” (100)

Though Hawthorne delivers this line with something like sarcasm and incredulity, it allows the reader to understand the unenlightened community’s perspective. In their eyes, the minister is a damned innocent; the afflicted saint who patiently and selflessly devotes his life to others despite his own earthly misfortunes. They are duped into believing that this ultimately selfish man is the most selfless of them all. Just because they have never seen him commit a sin and because of the respect that they have for him as one of the leaders of the community, they assume that his suffering is unjustified.

Later in the novel, Hawthorne does supply a more detailed physical description of the minister, but he emphasizes particular aspects of his appearance very carefully.

“...The young minister at once came forward, pale, and holding his hand over his heart, as was his custom whenever his particularly nervous temperament was thrown into agitation. He looked mow more careworn and emaciated than as we described him at the scene of Hester’s public ignominy; and whether it were his failing health, or whatever the cause might be, his large dark eyes had a world of pain in their troubled and melancholy depth.” (104)

In this passage the voice of the narrator again plays a role in the reader’s perception of the minister. He suggests that it might not be Dimmesdale’s “failing health,” but something else that has accounts for his altered appearance. What that alternative reason might be is not directly revealed, but the seed of suspicion is planted in the reader’s mind.

The pale, thin face, large, sad eyes and hand placed over the heart are characteristic of typical depictions of saints and martyrs in the classical Christian tradition. Dimmesdale
assumes this appearance because he knows it will help his cause. If he looks like the recognizable figure of a martyr, the public will associate his image with that of a holy man. He abuses himself physically and mentally as a means to an end. Dimmesdale is a method actor who knows that he must “look the part.”

The most obvious example of Dimmesdale’s decision to suffer is revealed through his relationship with Chillingworth. He “thin-slices” (Gladwell) Chillingworth and recognizes him as Hester’s husband from the very start, but he also recognizes in Chillingworth a justified punisher.

“I might have known it!” murmured he.” I did know it! Was not the secret told me in the natural recoil of my heart, at the first sight of him, and as often as I have seen him since? Why did I not understand?” (178)

As Hester’s husband, Chillingworth is the man whom Dimmesdale has offended and therefore fulfills the role of appropriate judge. Dimmesdale has sinned against Roger, and sees him as a man who is worthy and willing to punish him. Dimmesdale accepts Chillingworth’s friendship and even moves in with him. They enter into a sadomasochistic friendship that benefits both of them; each feeds the other’s perverse desires, Chillingworth to torture and Dimmesdale to be tortured. Just as Pearl is the physical manifestation of the Scarlet Letter and the evidence of Hester’s sin, Chillingworth is the bodily representation of the guilt that is so close to Dimmesdale’s heart.

When Hester and Dimmesdale agree to run away, he experiences a new sense of freedom that is manifested in his uncontrollable desire to sin:

“In truth, nothing short of a total change of dynasty and moral code, in that interior kingdom, was adequate to account for the impulses now communicated to the unfortunate and startled minister. At every step he was incited to do some strange, wild, wicked thing or other, with a sense that it would be at once involuntary and intentional; in spite of himself, yet growing out of a profounder self than that which opposed the impulse.” (198)

There is a discussion of the duality that exists within himself"the id revolting against the super-ego or the devil on his left shoulder pricking the angel on his right with a flaming pitchfork. His inner self, the one with the inclination towards evil, the one that he felt he had been smothering for his whole life, and yet the one which was driving his ever action from the beginning, his selfish side tries to burst forth when it is given the least bit of leeway.

Hawthorne finally gives the reader a blunt statement about Dimmesdale’s less-than-altruistic motivations when the minister asks Hester when their ship Europe will set sail.

“Now, why the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale considered it so very fortunate, we hesitate to reveal. Nevertheless,"to hold nothing back from the reader,"it was because, on the third day from the present, he was to preach the Election Sermon; and, as such an occasion formed an honorable epoch in the life of a New England clergyman, he could not have chanced upon a more suitable mode and time of terminating his professional career. “At least, they shall say of me,” thought this exemplary man, “that I leave no public duty unperformed, nor ill performed!” Sad, indeed, that an introspection so profound and acute as this poor minister’s should be so miserably deceived! We have had, and may still have, worse things to tell of him; but none, we apprehend, so pitiably weak; no evidence, at once so slight and irrefragable, of a subtle disease, that had long since begun to eat into the real substance of his character.” (196-197)

Through the voice of the narrator in this passage, Hawthorne reveals what he alludes to throughout the novel. That the narrator has had suspicions about the content of Dimmesdale’s character and though it pains him to do so, reveals to the reader the honest truth about the minister. Dimmesdale’s behavior is ultimately selfish.

In the midst of all his confusion, while he is “in a maze” and repeatedly tempted to perform random acts of wickedness, his focus remains to the success of his reputation and what people will think of him. He loves the idea that he sinned and is able to suffer for his sins. He is proud of his martyrdom and this is why he lets it go on. He wants to be seen as someone who suffers and ultimately dies for his belief in a particular faith. He is the opposite of Uncle Tom; he does not die to save anyone but himself. He loves that the village people see him as the perfect minister. When he goes out into the scaffold both under the cover of night and at the end of the novel, it is because he wants the people to understand the full extent of his suffering, not because he wants to be freed from the repression of his secret and the resulting guilt. He never says that he regrets sleeping with Hester, but it becomes obvious that he is glad that he sinned so that he could suffer for his faith.

Dimmesdale uses the public opinion to his advantage, and the manifestations of his private suffering only reinforce the village’s perception of him. Dimmesdale uses the pre-established system of the community to make himself look better and thereby give him some degree of political power and help to regain his philosophical autonomy. He works the system. He lets the people believe what they want to believe about his situation. He wants to be the hero that they imagine him to be, but he also gains some pleasure from seeing them believe the lie. He likes knowing that what they believe could not be further from the truth, and because he knows more than them, he feels powerful. He has the power to reveal or not to reveal the identity of Pearl’s father, but he chooses to remain silent because he sees that as the best decision for him. He behaves rationally because his suffering and sense of power through knowledge makes him happy.

This discussion of Dimmesdale leads me to wonder if Hawthorne himself was not something of a masochist. He and Dimmesdale actually have much more in common than the author does with any other character. He is the one who created this character; a young man, an upright citizen of the nascent New England community. Both suffer in the guilt of a sin, committed long in the past but just like Dimmesdale, might Hawthorne himself have derived some variety of fascinated pleasure from the romanticized vision of his familial guilt? The sin he confessed was that of his forefathers and, in actuality, had nothing to do with him. He adopted their sin as his own and used it for his own gain. He used their experience as the basis to write this now classic work of American Literature. He created for himself an image of a suffering artist, surely disowned by the spirits of his pious ancestors who would have no respect for his life’s work"but this is the definition of a true artist; one who gives up everything for his work. The greater the suffering the greater the capacity for emotion expressed through art. This performance of “suffering artist” is comparable to Dimmesdale’s active perusal of the role of “suffering saint.” Like Dimmesdale, the suffering makes the product of his sacrifice appear more authentic. It's good for his image.

Works Cited:

Malcolm Gladwell. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005. 3-47.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam Books,


Rorty, Amelie O. Lecture. March 28, 2006. Bryn Mawr College.

Ross, David. Lecture. March 30, 2006. Bryn Mawr College.

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Teaching the ScA<
Name: Laura Sock
Date: 2006-03-31 15:12:53
Link to this Comment: 18770

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Our experiences of texts are always shaped by the histories we bring to them. This is particularly true of the "big books" we have been reading for this class. Because these works are considered classics, many of us are not reading them for the first time. As we have discussed on the forum, this has a great influence on how we read the texts later in life. Some of our memories enhanced our pleasure when returning to the texts, either because we had such positive experiences the first time around or because we are surprised at the difference in our perspective at a later point in life. However, particularly when we began to read The Scarlet Letter, some of us expressed a reluctance to return to a text of which our memories were not so fond. Allison Reingold's earlier experiences left her believing that "it was the most boring, useless book ever to plague American readers" (Big Books). My own prior experiences with Hawthorne in the classroom left me similarly prejudiced. However, I wonder whether my opinion of Hawthorne and his works would be different had they been taught differently when I first encountered them. As an education certification candidate, I will likely have to teach The Scarlet Letter at some point in the near future. What about my earlier experiences shaped my dislike of Hawthorne? And how could I approach teaching this work to prevent this resistance and frustration in my future students?

In my high school classrooms, The Scarlet Letter was approached in two ways: as a lens through which to learn about and evaluate Puritan culture, and as a warning against hiding one's sins. One topic for our final essays on The Scarlet Letter in eleventh grade was to identify the "sweet moral blossom" of Hawthorne's tale (Hawthorne 41). I answered that "it is better to live truthfully than to hide sins," and I am certain that all of my classmates who answered the same question did the same. Although we may have pushed some cognitive boundaries by sympathizing with Hester Prynne, our interpretations were still molded by a rigid, Puritanical approach: we replaced the "Hester = Bad, Dimmesdale = Good" dichotomy of the town with the equally simple "Dimmesdale = Bad, Hester = Good." Our readings of the text were largely defined by binaries: symbolism, themes and characters were all created in opposing sets; man versus society, dark versus light, Hester versus Dimmesdale. This approach limited our ability to work with the text.

My goal in teaching The Scarlet Letter would be to have my students move beyond the obvious binary distinctions in the novel and work in the "grey areas" between. I would want them to be able to think about the dilemmas in the text from multiple perspectives and negotiate opposing arguments. I have thought of several activities that might help me reach this goal when working with the text in a high-school classroom.

Activity: Reading Hawthorne
One of the biggest problems I had with Hawthorne as a high school student, and a reason I think I was frustrated by the choice of The Scarlet Letter as a summer reading selection when I was thirteen, is the difficulty of parsing Hawthorne's language. I would want to give my students practice reading Hawthorne so that they become more fluent in the language that he uses.
One way I could accomplish this, while moving toward the goal of having students approach the text from multiple viewpoints, would be to have different students read the same segment aloud. This would be particularly valuable for working with sections of The Custom House and the first chapter. I would have students read these first sections of the text in-class, rather than as a homework assignment, so that we could discuss students' frustration with Hawthorne's language and ways of approaching the text to make Hawthorne more readable. By having multiple students read the same segment aloud, students could also be introduced to the idea interpreting the same text in multiple ways. We could discuss the different ways in which people choose to read the same words aloud and the changes in meaning that accompany such decisions. Hearing the differences between students literal "readings" of the text would provide a starting-point for introducing students to the concept of producing multiple readings of a text. While this activity would help the students develop fluency and strategies for navigating Hawthorne's sentences, it would also lay the groundwork for having students think about the text from multiple perspectives.

Activity: The Human Barometer
Although this is a common activity, I think it is particularly useful for approaching The Scarlet Letter. I would give the students in the class a moral dilemma from the text and give them two opposing viewpoints. Students would then physically place themselves on a continuum between the two points. Students at different points on the continuum would have the chance to explain why they chose to agree with the statement they did, and the other students would be free to change their position on the barometer in response to what other students say. Students who change position would then be encouraged to share why they originally chose their position and what made them change.
I think this activity would be particularly valuable for challenging some of the binary oppositions in the text. Because students are able to physically occupy the space between opposite ideas, they are able to explore and articulate the aspects of the plot that do not neatly fall at either end of the dichotomies. In addition, because they are able to change their position during the course of the activity, students will begin to challenge their own initial reactions and beliefs about the text and become more comfortable changing their minds and accepting different opinions.
Another way in which I could use this activity would be to have students assume the identity of a character in the novel and use this mindset to approach the barometer activity. Students would be assigned hypothetical identities such as "30-year-old married mother" or "14-year-old male, son of one of Boston's prominent citizens." In thinking about taking on these roles, they would be able to think about the intersection of individual interests and societal influences. I hope that this activity would reduce the tendency of students to see Hester and the other members of the community as in conflict with one another and help illustrate the fact that a community is not a unified body but a collection of individuals.

Activity: The Believing/Doubting Game
Like the human barometer, I think this is another common activity that could be particularly useful for high school students reading The Scarlet Letter. I would specifically use this activity to address some of the binary distinctions frequently made with regard to the themes and symbolism in Hawthorne's work. To begin the activity, I would have students brainstorm ideas about symbols and themes in the work. In the standard high school curriculum, these commonly take the form of "X versus Y" statements. I might also have students use study guides, such as SparkNotes, as a source for these ideas. I would then have them practice Paul Elbow's practice of "believing and doubting" some students would criticize an idea and look for evidence that it was flawed, and other students would endeavor to accept it (Grayson). This game would be useful for thinking about the kind of statements, such as "light is used to symbolize good and dark is used to symbolize evil," that typified the way The Scarlet Letter was taught in my high school. There are many examples in the work where the use of light is not so clearly associated with good. However, the idea can also be a useful framework for approaching the use of light and dark in the text. By having students think about when they "believe" these statements and when they "doubt" them, and asking them to provide textual evidence for both positions, students would come to appreciate the way The Scarlet Letter resists binary distinctions.

Activity: Switch Debates
I would want to use this activity to challenge some of the assumptions that went unquestioned in my high school classes. Among these are the ideas that it is better to admit your sins than to hide them and that personal happiness is more important than community stability. I would have the students form small groups to go through the text and find evidence in support of their position in the debate. However, without informing the students beforehand, I would have the students "switch sides" halfway through the debate. I remember from my own experiences that, when we had debates, people would become very wedded to their group's position, even if it was not something they personally supported. This activity would help people challenge the belief that one side is "right" in a debate. Like the believing/doubting game, this activity would help students appreciate both sides of an argument. However, because the students would have spent a great deal of time preparing their argument for the debate and crafting their opinions, it will be more challenging for them to "believe" the other side.

Activity: Trials
In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne challenges the idea of what constitutes justice. In order to illustrate this in the classroom, I would have the students enact a trial in which they would take on roles similar to characters in The Scarlet Letter. Although I would not want to use the exact case as presented in the book, I would have students "accused" of similar moral transgressions during the same time period. Other students in the class would take on other positions in the trial accomplices, victims, government officials, religious figures, etc. The rest of the class would compromise the jury. By acting out the process of casting judgement and assigning punishment (or not), the class would see the ways in which one's position in a society influences the way one interprets a crime.
Another interesting way in which to use this activity would be to have the students who make up the jury take on the role of a character in the novel. For example, in the case of a trial of adultery, students could be asked to assume the roles of Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale and Chillingsworth, and to debate the appropriate course of action from these viewpoints. This would help students see the story from multiple perspectives.

My goal as a teacher in facilitating these activities would be to have students move beyond the binary distinctions that are often delineated in Hawthorne's text and discuss and negotiate the space between "opposing" ideas. By taking on multiple viewpoints and being willing to challenge their initial beliefs about the text, I would hope to give them the skills and attitude necessary to interrogate the text at a more complex level. Instead of accepting the good/bad, society/individual distinctions that were made when I was first taught The Scarlet Letter, the students would use the text to challenge these clear-cut distinctions. Although not every student will come to love Hawthorne, I hope that this approach would leave students less frustrated with the work.

Works Cited

Big Books of American Literature Course Forum. 31 March 2006.

Grayson, Randall. "The Believing and Doubting Game." 2002. 31 March 2006.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Philadelphia: Courage Books, 1991.

Current Forum: Philosophizing, economizing... and
Name: Jessica Ro
Date: 2006-03-31 15:31:58
Link to this Comment: 18771

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philosophizing, economizing...and Big Books?
Name: Anne Dalke (
Date: 03/28/2006 13:23
Link to this Comment: 18714

We are hosting two visitors this week: We were given a "mini-lecture on the philosophical history of the passions and emotions" by Amelie Rorty this morning; on Thursday we'll be having a discussion w/ David Ross about "rational choice and economic behavior." Please post here your anticipatory and reflective comments, and/or musings on the relevance, to the BigBooks, of all this philosophizing and economizing....

wise words of Aristotle
Name: Hester Prynne (
Date: 03/30/1652 12:03
Link to this Comment: 18743

Looking forward to this weekend, and the opportunity it will afford me to sit alone in my room, sew, and think about all I've done wrong this week, I wanted to talk a moment first and reflect on Amelie Rorty's lecture concerning the history of emotion.

It seems to me that Aristotle said it right, recognizing passions as an invasion. We have a soul, an original self that is pure, and right, and the passions that strike us do just that; attack, violently, and from the outside. In this way, all passions are the same, whether it is the passion for hurting another person, or the passion for... say... sewing. Like all other joys, I reject it as sin. But when the urge comes to you, or a flare of creativity, the desire, the need, to burning passion to sit down with your needle comes upon you, it is obscenely hard to resist.

But we must do just that to have virtue, as Aristotle recognized. Sewing is but one example in a world filled with temptation after temptation. Though we cannot erase our desires, there is no excuse for not learning how to manage the passions, to suppress them until we no longer have to hear them. If, perchance, we are so successful at this suppression, that we no longer know ourselves, that is, sadly, the price we pay. If we do not succeed in deflecting our pathos, then the punishment is ours to bear.

Now I'll dive into Huck Finn! It's about time we heard from some children in this course, many, I find, are wise beyond their years, beyond what we give them credit for.

saying "how interesting!"
Name: Roger Chillingworth (
Date: 03/30/1652 15:21
Link to this Comment: 18745

Honestly folks, I do not know why everyone was so enamored with this Rorty woman. Clearly she is hiding something. I saw through her "cute old Jewish grandmother" guise within seconds of her entering the room. No one else could see there are secrets there?

She did, however, do a fair job of explaining some of the crackpot theories of emotion, as well as one of the few grains of truth I've heard this semester. The stoics, it is so clear to me, are one of the few groups of philosophers who understand the proper way of dealing with emotion.

It is true, as they say, that we, as human beings, are relationship forming beings. We may, (though we are likely to later regret it), bond with other human beings, through marriage, friendship, or some other, perhaps inappropriate relationship. Intimacy is not to be discouraged. But there is a step further: what we do and how we behave when these relationships invariably go wrong.

Grief is inevitable, but rather than suffer that grief, the Stoics are correct: one must use the grief to understand better the secrets of the human heart. Not everyone is suited to this type of investigation, but for those of us who are, it is our duty as human beings with highly developed minds to look inside, deep inside, those around us. When we do this correctly, passions will disappear, and turn into something greater.

the passion of me
Name: the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale (
Date: 03/30/1652 22:58
Link to this Comment: 18746

I know, I know, no one will be surprised by this. Dimmesdale sides with the Christians again. Didn't he cry enough at the end of UTC? you'll all say. And now here he is again, going on and on about the "Christian" thing to do. Well sorry guys, but that's what you get when you welcome religion majors into your 19th century literature class.

And can anyone convincingly argue that of all the philosophers Ms. Rorty presented us with in class, can anyone really say that the Christian theories didn't get it most right? Yes, Hester, certainly Aristotle was wise in recognizing passion as a deflection from the natural course. We all know that the wrongs we have done were motivated not from within, but rather forced upon us like shiny-haired, wild-eyed coquettes. And yes, sometimes we give into these passions. But what, I ask, shall we do with this reality? Simply investigate it, as Chillingworth claims? Investigate, sure, but then what?

Christ died for our sins, and in this way we have the modern model of what it is to be active in emotions and passion. The way we deal with the emotions presented to us come from ourselves, and we must go beyond virtue, we must be Christ-like in our suffering, taking on the pain of others, suffering for them, understanding their sins and carrying that weight.

I have tried to do that in all of my work and studies. I suffer, believe me I suffer. Probably more than anyone of you can even come close to understanding. I have problems. Big ones. You cannot begin to imagine what I deal with. And I know some of you have some gripes of your own that you think are suffering. I, as the religious leader of this class, want you all to know that I am taking on those passions for you. I live so deep within my dark passion and pain filled soul, you might not even recognize me some days. But it's me alright. Carrying that weight. Don't thank me, please. Just hate me.

mind and body
Name: Pearl Prynne (
Date: 03/31/1652 0:39
Link to this Comment: 18749

It was such a shock to come in from playing in the new spring sun, bathing on Merion Green, tossing the disc around, to find all of you so serious on the forum. And to find myself in such forceful disagreement!

I just one to throw in my vote for the wise old Descartes. Sure, passions come from outside, claim that, if you all would like. But what, I ask, is the difference between the outside, and ourselves?

We are made up of equal parts mind and body. And the way those parts of ourselves perceive the outside world is fascinating. But we have to accept that Nature, every leaf, stick, drop of water rushing down the creek, every other person out there, is a part of us. The mind deals with the passions that come to us from the body, and the body is a part of everything else.

I refuse to sit in at this computer and argue with you all. It's a warm night; I'm going for a walk. Maybe I'll go read Huck Finn on the moon bench, see what's in the sky tonight.

all of you have interesting points, but there are many of us, and what we say goes
Name: Puritan townspeople of Boston (
Date: 03/31/1652
Link to this Comment: 18750

All of you are getting at different things, and that is surely interesting to turn over in the marketplace. But enough debate already.

Listen here: passions are evil. Fact. We like Rousseau; the idea that women cannot be citizens is a rather obvious one, but he makes a decent defense of this un-debatable point. And it is important to stress that the example the mother sets for her children in the early years are critical. Which is why we cannot afford to have un-Christian women raising children in our community. (Unless they happen to be amazing seamstresses.)

But Rousseau's idea that we must preserve cooperation, become free and independent, and not fashion ourselves to please each other? Ridiculous. If we are not forming ourselves in comparison to each other, how will we know what is good and what is bad? How will we make clear moral judgments? How will we pass judgment?

Rather, we'd like to embrace only a few sentences of Spinotza, and throw out the rest. There is a totality to everything, and it is to that all encompassing universe, say, us, that individuals are responsible. We are not sure that's exactly what he meant, but most of us think its right enough.

On to Huck Finn. Right away, this boy looks like trouble. He will, we are certain, have to be punished.

Wondrous Strength and Generosity of an Author's Wo
Name: Jillian Da
Date: 2006-03-31 16:16:51
Link to this Comment: 18773


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In talking about Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter outside of class, the subject came up of just when it became apparent that Dimmesdale was the father of Hester's daughter. I was surprised when the person in question (in this instance, Alice) remarked that she hadn't realized the truth of Pearl's paternity almost until it was declared outright. I was surprised by this, as I myself had come to the conclusion upon reading the first chapter in which we ever see Dimmesdale and Hester interact. In going back over the chapter to discover why, I found I had picked up on a number of stylistic clues that I argue Hawthorne seems to have employed intentionally, to spark the reader's suspicions about the young minister from the first.

Even before Dimmesdale himself begins to speak, Hawthorne is dropping hints in the form of ironic remarks from John Wilson, who says of his younger associate: "Knowing your natural temper better than I, he could the better judge what arguments to use, whether of tenderness or terror, such as might prevail over your hardness and obstinacy" (48). While we have no way of knowing whether it was Hester who seduced Dimmesdale, or if the young minister himself made the initial move, the statement certainly suggests that, had he had it in mind to do so, Dimmesdale would likely have known just what to say to ease Hester's nerves regarding the sinful nature of their attraction, not to mention the act of their adultery. Furthermore, Wilson reveals that Dimmesdale "opposes to [me], that it were wronging the very nature of woman to force her to lay open her heart's secrets in such broad daylight, and in presence of so great a multitude" (48). If Dimmesdale were as accomplished a scholar and minister as everyone made him out to be, would have not have known "the shame lay in the commission of the sin, and not in the showing of it forth" (48), one of the most basic teachings of Christianity? In overlooking so critical a point, it is abundantly clear that Dimmesdale has an interest in sparing Hester from humiliation, pointing to some less than platonic affection for her, as well as an interest in keeping the father's name a secret, which could only the case if he already knew who it was. Because he is described as a man full of religious fervor, and a well educated one at that, Dimmesdale is unlikely to have protected any man from being revealed as an adulterer, unless in fact that man was himself, in which case self preservation alone would cause him to go against the teachings of the Bible.

Apart from being described as reticent to demand the truth from Hester, Dimmesdale is also described physically in such a way as to make him seem flighty and nervous. Hawthorne says, "there was an air about this young ministeran apprehensive, a startled, a half frightened look...the trying nature of his position drove the blood from his cheek, and made his lips tremulous" (49). The description makes it abundantly clear that Dimmesdale is nervous, which, given that his job is to lead the community and mete out justice when necessary, seems strange. Even if one were to chalk it up to a fear of public speaking, or large groups of people (as is suggested on page forty eight, when Hawthorne describes him as being something of a recluse whenever his position allows), the description of his position as a "trying" one insinuates there Dimmesdale is experiencing some kind of emotional conflict unrelated to irrational fears phobias, but rather in response to a real danger to himself and (if we assume he loves Hester) someone he cares for.

Further evidence to suggest that Dimmesdale is indeed the father of Hester's child comes less than a paragraph later when, bowing his head in prayer, and gazing down steadfastly into her eyes, he says in a voice broken and full of feeling, "[Thou] seest the accountability under which I labor...I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow sufferer...What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt add hypocrisy to sin...who, perchance hath not the courage to grasp it for himself" (49). Dimmesdale isn't just dropping hints here, he's dropping anvils. He seems to be speaking to Hester directly, as though she were the only person present, in a way that can only be described as leading. From the perspective of the reader, Dimmesdale comes across as having an unaccountably guilty conscience, unless of course he is the man about whom he is speaking, in which case his words make complete sense. He half wants Hester to reveal him for the adulterer he is, if only so that the burden of his terrible secret will be lifted. Furthermore, if we are to believe he does truly love her, to watch her suffer alone is an additional agony that he must bear, since he himself does not have the courage to declare his shame publicly.

Hester does not grant him this satisfaction, however; her love for him, at least, is revealed in her response, when, staring back into his eyes just as intently, she declares, "It [the scarlet letter] is too deeply branded! Ye cannot take it off. And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!" (49). The significance of Hawthorne's descriptions of Dimmesdale and Hester's actions and body language in this scene is a contextual one. At no point prior to this does Hawthorne relate in such detail what other characters in the book are doing; they have only their words, tones, and feeling to represent them. In the cases of Hester and Dimmesdale, their feelings are hidden from us, and we are left instead to interpret their emotions through body language, action, and vivid description that is lacking in the cases of others. It is as though they are the only two people in the book who are represented in a "real" fashion; that is, they seem to be character studies of true, complete, three dimensional human beings, instead of two dimensional representations of stock extras.

In addition to this, the dialogue itself is important; the visual connection along with the passionate delivery of the line suggest that, as Dimmesdale has just done to her, Hester is speaking directly to him, blocking out the community behind her, and reaching out to him as the man she loves, not as her clergyman. In addressing him in such a direct but covert way, Hester is letting Dimmesdale know that she has no intention of revealing his sin for him; it is his responsibility to be a man and do it for himself, if he is to do it at all. Presumably she doesn't want him to; her love for him and her refusal to give up his name indicate a willingness to sacrifice herself in order to protect him.

This selflessness seems, to Dimmesdale, both an amazing thing and a relief, as is apparent in both his words and actions towards the end of the encounter. While indeed there was some part of him (and, arguably, everyone who does something they know to be wrong and possesses a conscience) that wished to be discovered in his criminality, a second part, that dedicated to self preservation and dominated by fear, wants to protect its own self interests, which would make maintaining the lie a positive thing. That much is expressed in his response to Hester's defiance, even in the face of a familiar voice (presumably Chillingworth) that makes her turn pale with fright. "'She will not speak!' murmured Mr. Dimmesdale, who, leaning over the balcony, with his hand upon his heart, had awaited the result of his appeal. He now drew back, with a long respiration. 'Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart! She will not speak!'" (50). From this, it becomes evident that Dimmesdale was undeniably anxious about what Hester's response was going to be. When he learns that, miraculously, she has not given him up to the masses, his relief, and the strength of his pride in and affection for her are revealed. After all, not only is his particular word choice a bit more impassioned than is strictly appropriate for a minister trying to bring one of his strays back to the flock, but he says it in plain hearing of the rest of his companions.

While the clues which Hawthorne plants throughout the scene in suggestion of Pearl's paternity are subtle, there are not only present, but numerous. The individual actions, words, and expressions of Hester and Dimmesdale, both as individuals and as a pair engaging in dialogue, form a cohesive network of insinuations and hints which, should the reader pick up on them, raise strong theories that Dimmesdale is in fact Hester's lover. It is my belief that Nathaniel Hawthorne did this knowingly and intentionally, and that his stylistic choices in this scene leave little room for doubt as to where who Hester's "fellow-sinner" is, and by extension, the direction in which the novel proceeds towards its, I feel, inevitable conclusion.

Escaping the historical context?
Name: Catherine
Date: 2006-03-31 16:41:26
Link to this Comment: 18774


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The world has never been anything but uncertain; there are no constants and change is inevitable. Every generation must feel as if they are on the edge of a precipice, witnessing unparalleled transformations. There is the realization that the actions of the individual have the potential to fundamentally alter the course of history. The group will determine whether or not they fall over that cliff. The mid-nineteenth century marks perhaps one of the most crucial crossroads the United States has ever faced. The period witnessed a rapid increase in political tensions between the Democrats and the Whigs, unprecedented hostilities across the geographical divide of North and South, and the questioning of understood social norms and institutions. Literature published at this time clearly reflects some of the social turmoil and uncertainty occurring. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, is no exception. It illustrates that a writer can never be free of his historical context, and that he or she can often use their piece as a way of subtly influencing public opinion.

The novel is a Romance telling the tale of a doomed love affair in the Puritan community of Massachusetts. Hester Prynne, a married woman who, believing her husband to be lost at sea, has an affair with the colony's reverend, Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester gives birth to an illegitimate child but refuses to name the father. As punishment, she is isolated from the community and is forced to wear the scarlet letter A to signify her sinful act. Hester's husband reappears, but under the assumed name of Roger Chillingworth, only Hester knows his true identity. Chillingworth is able to discover who Hester's lover was and proceeds to seek his subtle revenge in secret. Hawthorne uses themes of love, passion, sin, guilt, judgment, revenge and redemption to explore aspects of human nature. Hawthorne uses the problems he highlights in his description of Puritan society as a means of critiquing the events he sees occurring around him in 1850. The tale of the Scarlet Letter forces the nineteenth century reader to consider the problems still inherent in life. Hawthorne gives the reader the tools he or she needs to introspect life around them, and to evaluate the ways in which the reader interacts with the political and social events occurring around them. The United States was at a crossroads and the unlikely heroine, Hester Prynne, shines a light on both possible paths to follow.

Before Hester Prynne's tale begins the Hawthorne uses the narrator as a stand in for himself in the introductory chapter, The Custom-House. Unlike the rest of the book the narrator is writing from the perspective of 1850. He frames the story for us by relating how he came to work in the Custom-House, how he came to find a package containing the scarlet letter worn by Hester as well as documents explaining the events. The chapter is significant for various reasons, but perhaps a large part of its importance lies in the fact that it is the one passage of the book where Hawthorne's opinions and perspectives are clearly made known to the reader.

As stated previously 1850, was a period of growth and tension. The previous decade alone had witnessed major events like the boarder disputes between Great Britain and the United States over the Oregon Territory, the annexation of Texas, the Mexican-American War, the discovery of gold in California, shifts in political parties, and religious revivals. The greatest source of conflict, however, stemmed from the issue of slavery. Questions over whether or not slavery was morally wrong, did the South have a right to expand the institution of slavery into the newly acquired Western territories, and whether the North had the right to meddle in the economic affairs of the South were all issues the public was trying to grapple with. Compromises like the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 did little to limit the antagonism and hostility that was growing exponentially between the North and the South.

Hawthorne never overtly states that any of the above mentioned issues are weighing on his mind, yet the reader can gather from certain passages in The Scarlet Letter are indeed influencing his writing. The tensions of 1850 are perhaps most overt in the Custom House chapter. In this introductory chapter the narrator highlights problems within politics in his description of his job at the Custom House. The moral and social tensions are addressed in his conversation about his ancestors, co-workers and future generations. Hawthorne then uses these unconcealed themes to create the feeling of similarity between seventeenth and nineteenth century America.

While the idea of slavery was not a current issue in the Puritan era when this novel was set, it is a current issue when the book was written. Although it was never directly addressed by Hawthorne the implications of it might have been readily visible to the nineteenth century reader. In the Custom-House Hawthorne, through the voice of the narrator, discusses his feelings of guilt for the crimes his ancestors have committed in the past. The narrator informs the reader that he is the decedent of one of the very judges who persecuted innocent individuals during the Salem witch trials. The ancestor, "made himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of witches, that their blood may be fairly said to have left a stain upon him." The narrator tells the reader that his ancestor's crimes weigh heavily on his conscience; in order to absolve some of the guilt he must tell the story of Hester Prynne, who is another example of a wrongful persecution. But how do the ideas of guilt, responsibility and redemption play into the idea of slavery? Is there a relationship between the actions of the puritans and the actions of Hawthorne's current generation?

Although far removed the narrator views himself just as culpable in the persecution of innocents accused of being a witch. The Salem witch trials are his cross to be bear, but he hopes his decedents will not have that cross to bear, "My children have other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots in unaccustomed soil." Hawthorne must realize, however, that his children and all of his subsequent decedents will bear the cross of slavery. From literature written at, or very close to, the same time it is apparent Hawthorne thought of slavery as a wretched institution. In his piece, The Life of Franklin Pierce, Hawthorne examines the issue of slavery and states, "there is still another view, and probably as wise a one. It looks upon slavery as one of those evils, which Divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances." That being said it is still his hope that the institution of slavery will at some point reach an end, "the progress of the world, at every step, leaves some evil or wrong doing behind it." It can be argued that Hawthorne wanted to remove himself from the guilt of his past and hoped that his children and grandchildren would not be stained with the guilt of slavery.

The theme of slavery emerges throughout the rest of the book. Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, they are all held captive and are in some form or another slaves. Hester can never leave the community she is part of. The final chapter of the novel states that for a time Hester did leave but came back because she could never fully get away from her past actions. Just as surely as George in Uncle Tom's Cabin is branded so that all will know he is a slave, Hester and Arthur are each branded with the letter A. From the moment Hester pins the A to her chest she is marked with a visible difference from the rest of the community. She is then made to carry the burden of not only her sins, but those of her neighbors as well. As the years go on Hester recognizes in the glances she receives from individuals she meets in the Market Place that they are guilty of the same crimes she is. She is forced to labor under the weight of this knowledge.

Roger Chillingworth becomes a slave to his revenge. His sole purpose is to slowly destroy Arthur Dimmesdale for seducing his wife. When Dimmesdale dies, Chillingworth is left with nothing and succumbs to death himself. Before this occurs, however, Hester confronts her husband and pleads with him to stop his evil actions. Chillingworth replys that, "By thy first step awry, thou didst plant the germ of evil; but since that moment, it has been a dark necessity." This quote can also be seen as reflecting the very idea of slavery. One of the deciding factors for all thirteen of American colonies to revolt against Great Britain was the issue of slavery. The South demanded it be allowed to keep the institution of slavery. Despite protest from Northerners it was a necessary evil to achieve the goal of revolution. Afterwards it became a necessity, essential for preserving the Union. Again, Hawthorne states in The Life of Franklin Pierce, that it has become recognized that, "merely human wisdom and human efforts cannot subvert it [slavery] except by tearing to pieces the Constitution, breaking the pledges which it sanctions, and severing into distracted fragments that common country that Providence brought into one nation through a continued miracle of almost two hundred years." It is clear from Hawthorne's writing that he does not necessarily have a clear solution to deal with slavery. In many ways the captivity of the protagonists in The Scarlet Letter, their inability to go backwards, their inability to move forwards without creating destruction around them, symbolize the attitudes of Northerners and Southerners in the United States during 1850.

Hawthorne never explicitly states that he is writing about the events and tension happening in 1850 but an examination of the narrator and the characters of his novel reveal that the problems could not have been far from his mind. He has no solution to offer because he does not know what will happen in the future. It is only 1850; he has no means of knowing that in decade the country will be thrown into a bloody war. It is only 1850; all we know is that the United States is on the brink of some extraordinary event.

A is for affect
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-03-31 16:59:21
Link to this Comment: 18775


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Allison Eiselen
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Anne Dalke
31 March 2006
A is for Affect
From the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne attributes qualities and attributes to Hester's character that makes her inherently separate and unique from the other people in the town. A powerful visual for this separation is of course her stance upon the scaffold in the market place, upon which she stands in full view above the rest of the Salemites. The religious imagery that is depicted in this scene of the mother and child is distorted by the knowledge that Hester's motherhood is the result of "deepest sin" (42). With this imagery, Hawthorne takes a stab at the logic behind the Christian belief in the "Divine Maternity" (42) because even the religious and political leaders who uphold the belief in the divinity know that even though no one confess to being an abettor to adultery, in order for a woman to have a child she needs the help of a man and so of course a father to the child must exist.
Much to the disapproval of the Puritanical society in which she lives; Hester has deviated from their righteous path in pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. Hester's passions of love, lust, and desire, bring her into a forbidden a sexual relationship. Her passions are procreated and embodied in her daughter Pearl. In remaining silent, Hester's partner does not assert paternity of the child, and in effect, he is not declaring possession of his passions.

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Although there is another who is guilty of the crime for which Hester is punishment, it is Hester alone who proudly wears the symbol of their combined passions and endures the public exposure of their sin: "On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy" (Hawthorne, 40).
Rather than yield to this repentance, Hester is able to regulate and quell the shame and ignominy of being displayed upon the scaffold. "Possibly, it was an instinctive device of her spirit, to relieve itself, by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality" ( ). In the tradition of his psychosexual analysis, Freud would have probable assessed that Hester's ego defense mechanisms had saved her from the pressures of anxiety and were allowing her to continue to function adaptively in her stressful environment.
Considering passion to be a motive for Hester's actions and the exhibition of and taking accountability for her passions to have "saved" her, it is shown though the illness and demise of Arthur Dimmesdale, the consequences of not shedding light, be it perchance the light of dawn, on the possession of your true passions. Perhaps it is through this function of Dimmesdale, the religious leader as a sinner, that Hawthorne sheds light on a criticism of the belief that the passion of Christ was his suffering.
According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, affect is a psychological term for an observable emotion. "Affect is the expression of emotion or feelings displayed to others". Within the constructs of this definition, Hester expresses her
Eiselen 3
passions with the outward display of the letter A. Arthur Dimmesdale, on the other hand, does not wear such a symbol and he conceals his passions for seven agonizing years. Further in the definition of affect it is quoted that "People with psychological disorders may display variations in their affect. A restricted or constricted affect describes a mild restriction in the range or intensity of a display of feelings" (Thakery, 2003).
When considering the familial connection between Hester, Arthur, and Pearl, through the sin of adultery, it is perhaps suggested that the sin of suppressed emotion and blunted affect is more highly punishable on a moral level. The emotions which Dimmesdale hides, Hester displays and in accordance with the definition, the outward physical expression of an emotion is affectso, "A" symbolizes affect.
In recognition of the significance of expression of passion, through Hester's ornately decorated "A", the family unit has been intact for seven years, despite Dimmesdale's silence. Therefore, it may also be suggested that in psychological terms, Arthur's blunted affect is the cause of his suffering. Although Hester is more publically acknowledged for the sins of her passions, Hester and Dimmesdale's shared passions, do not result is shared suffering.
The metaphor for Dimmesdale's unwillingness to take ownership for his passionate emotions s inability to control his emotions is displayed in his awkward confrontations with the embodiment of his passions in the wild behavior of Pearl:
"The old minister seated himself in an arm-chair, and made an effort to draw Pearl betwixt his knees. But the child, unaccustomed to the touch or familiarity of any but
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her mother, escaped through the open window and stood on the upper step, looking like a wild, tropical bird, of rich plumage, ready to take flight into the upper air. Mr. Wilson, not a little astonished at this outbreak,--for he was a grandfatherly sort of personage, and usually a vast favorite with children,--essayed, however, to proceed with the examination"().
The inward manifestations of Dimmesdale's guilt and shame over his sinful passions, instills an unhealthy mental state and an altered vision of reality. The essence of the problem is perhaps that the young minister insists on maintaining the pretence of holiness and purity, when in reality he is as stained with sin as Hester. When Dimmesdale flooded by sunshine and the power of accepting the truth of his past, he his elated. This lack of light or dimness on the truth of a situation and freedom through light and reality is also referred to in the Customs House:
It was a folly, with the materiality of this daily life pressing so intrusively upon me, to attempt to fling myself back into another age, or to insist on creating the semblance of a world out of airy matter, when, at every moment, the impalpable beauty of my soap-bubble was broken by the rude contact of some actual circumstance. The wiser effort would have been to diffuse thought and imagination through the opaque substance of to-day, and thus to make it a bright transparency; to spiritualize the burden that began to weigh so heavily; to seek, resolutely, the true and indestructible value that lay hidden in the petty and wearisome incidents, and ordinary characters with which I was now conversant. The fault was mine. (45)
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And the fault really was his. Unfortunately, Dimmesdale's acceptance of the truth is a case of too little to late. Ironically for a minister in the profession of saving the souls of sinners, Dimmesdale dies when he shows the same affect of Hester. So of the two sinners, the one who is punished daily lives, and the other who suffers in private dies. Perhaps Hawthorne is suggesting to his reader the need not only for being true to yourself by expressing thee motions that you feel, but also the importance of acting on your instincts and impulses which are perhaps the truest and best lit emotions.
When the young woman--the mother of this child--stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress. In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbors (45).
Looking back on the tale of how a woman of passions and instincts was able to succeed despite adversity, is a true testament to the importance of trusting who you are and what you feel.

A is for affect works cited
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-04-01 11:17:21
Link to this Comment: 18780


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Works cited:

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter, W.W. Norton, 2005

"Affect." Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. Ed. Ellen Thackery. Thomson Gale, 2003.

Giving The Scarlet Letter its Second Reading
Name: Alison Rei
Date: 2006-04-05 23:46:19
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When we began The Scarlet Letter, I was personally plagued with a deep aversion to the story, the author, and the style of writing and was bolstered but not surprised that my fellow classmates felt the same. The aversion was borne of many circumstances: the novel was included as summer reading among five other classics, I was at summer camp and was in no state of mind to read Hawthorne, my class never discussed what makes this book interesting. However, the most irritating aspect of the book was the characters and how each refused to make a "proper" decision. I believe young students dislike The Scarlet Letter is its characters are not relatable to them. Hawthorne's characters bounced off the "personality coating" I had during high school and I was ready to dismiss the novel forever.

What makes any novel good? Or valuable? No person can answer that but I believe a central tenet of any book that has resonated within me is the ability to form a relationship with the characters. Relatability is not linked to sharing a novel's time or place, sharing the characters' sex or age, but allowing the reader to touch a character's humanity. Seeing a recognizable humanity that reflects something in our experience opens the novel and allows the reader to accept the logic used and the actions taken even if they are not what we would have chosen. If we cannot see something human in them, we dismiss them. The difficulty of The Scarlet Letter in high school began from my inability to see value in Hester, Dimmesdale, or Chillingworth as they were written.

My first objection to Hester from a high schooler's standpoint was my inability to see her submit willingly to the town's punishment and accept their sentence as appropriate. In this instance, I mixed my feminist views with my anti-authoritarian streak and demanded that Hester enact a vengeful retribution for her treatment that would devastate the Puritan society and make them regret and reform to her vision. The fact that Hester did not follow the ideas about feminism and equality assumed to be universal confounded me and my classmates into dislike for Hester as she passes on chance after chance to act against the patriarchal community. We knew Puritan New England was a different time, but surely anyone could see that the punishment was unfair and they had no authority. If Hester was able to buck the system in her relationship with Dimmesdale, it seemed logical that she would fight the system everywhere. Yet Hester stays in the town, year after year, alone in the world with a child she does not relate to, working as a humble servant. When she stares into Dimmesdale's face on the scaffolding and refuses to call him the father of her child, I saw weakness and foolishness. Rereading the scene now, Hester seems saddened but not pathetic; her silence is a way of excluding Dimmesdale from the situation that is not meek or hateful. I can see her silence as her accepting a burden that was meant to be solitary. When she meets Dimmesdale in the forest, it could have been a prime opportunity to "stick it to him" and make him miserable. Previously, I saw her tenderness towards him as carrying on her foolish infatuation for a man who did not care enough about her to help her. Rereading it, I am touched by her strength and love for someone who is not as brave as she is. The scarlet letter gives her insight into other people's sins yet she does not derive satisfaction or anger from seeing their guilt. Instead, "there was nothing else so awful and so loathsome" (78). What I could not accept then was that Hester does not abhor the society she lives in and breaking its rules does not mean she wants to spite the other town members. She stays because she belongs there, even as an outcast. Now, she is restrained enough to be polite and respectful enough of other people's views to follow to them.

Dimmesdale is the easiest character to hate because he is, in all of his actions, weak. He mixes pride, fear, and cowardice into his weakness and has the stamina to endure it all without any action towards breaking the cycle. As the years after Pearl's birth pass, I wanted Dimmesdale to do many things: to admit his fatherhood, to suffer for a time, to apologize to Hester, to be hated by the community. The only action he can accomplish is suffering. He feels deep painful guilt for his sins and his pride; he hates himself for being exalted and hates himself for enjoying the adoration. He calls himself "a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners, an abomination" but he "well knew subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was! the light in which his vague confession would be viewed" (126). While self-loathing is infuriating for readers who want action for Hester, reading Dimmesdale for the second time, Hawthorne has given him a personality that seems to be exaggerated but is actually exactly and painfully life sized. He was willing to suffer until an end overtakes him because of a fear of disgrace and shame, a fear that every reader has inside himself. How often have we found ourselves in a rut, letting guilt and unhappiness overwhelm us into inaction because it is safer and more familiar? When I first read Dimmesdale, I was, like I believe many adolescents are, unwilling to admit to weakness or guilt in myself. I preferred belief in action and refused to see the natural role inaction plays in our lives. I can still want action from him but I do not have the moral outrage and indignation to demand it.

Chillingworth is the most relatable character, both then and now, because he taps into our desire for villains and revenge. He is an unlikable character but does nothing to promote himself and takes most of the actions we would want to take as a bystander. Chillingworth is evil because he needles away at Dimmesdale's soul without any pretense of improving the community. He begins his inquiries innocently enough, "desirous only of truth," but becomes a "sexton delving into a grave" (113). He says of the destructive cycle he and Hester and Arthur are part of, "It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may!" (152). His evil deeds create "something ugly and evil in his face" (112), his visage so transformed that Hester wonders if evil is his constant companion or if he creates it himself (153). If we believe we are nothing like Chillingworth, he may serve as a warning to avoid other people's emotional and psychological entanglements, even if we believe our efforts toward the truth are useful. However, Chillingworth's villainy is more than a byproduct of nosiness; it is a portrait of each person's capacity for malevolence. No one wishes to psychologically torture a priest to death but I believe everyone has, at one point, wished someone to suffer painful guilt for his transgressions; everyone has let a friend wallow in discontent instead of springing directly into action; and everyone has asked someone a question knowing it will make him uncomfortable. These are all petty actions we take, assuming they will not become a destructive habit or backfire until serious injury is done. If we see a small part of ourselves and our misdeeds in Chillingworth, he serves as a warning against our darker nature and the slippery slope of involving oneself in wickedness.

It sounds uncomfortably presumptuous to say that I am more mature now than when I read The Scarlet Letter for the first time but I do believe my second reading takes on a more charitable focus because I no longer resist the humanity in the characters. I can appreciate Hester now because I see her actions as pure reflections of her beliefs, not as mistranslations of my beliefs. Dimmesdale is a coward but I have lowered my guard and cannot feign ignorance of the weakness that surrounds him. Chillingworth is no longer a one dimensional character, but a true villain, meaning he warns us of where our natures could lead us if given different circumstances. Professor Dalke told us about how King Lear becomes newly meaningful after one has many adult experiences. I believe The Scarlet Letter functions in the same way; when we are ready to admit some of our own humanity, we will see it in the characters.

Works Cited Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin Classics, 1986.

Economists do it with models
Name: Allie Eise
Date: 2006-04-17 21:43:31
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Allie Eiselen
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Anne Dalke
17 April 2006

"Economists do it with models"
2006 econ. dept. majors' t-shirt slogan.

In our class discussion about the economics of story telling, guest lecturer and BMC Economics Professor, David Ross, described how as observational science, the focus of economics is predicting and describing how society allocates its resources in response to collective needs and wants. These predictions are based on the Rational Choice Model of economics. Whereas literature tells the story of individuals, economics tells the story of groups. Interestingly enough, the story economists like David Ross tell about a rational societal groups begins with a theory about individuals: individuals act so as to maximize their utilitysome sense of happiness. David Ross acknowledged that although, the rational choice model does a poor job of explaining individual choices, it does however, yield accurate predictions about collective choices. This unpredictability would seem to imply that individuals make inherently irrational decisions, however as economist Barry Schawrtz says, "People don't have the resources, the time to learn enough in all of these different areas of life to make wise decisions" (Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice).

In a attempt to "solve" this paradox, societies have (or have not) chosen irrational individuals to represent them. Unfortunately it is the case that not everyone in a society is represented fairly and so someone always looses out. Considering how the courts attempted to keep even abusive white parents together with their children (Huck and Pap), but had no problems separating a loving black father like Jim from his children, it is all to apparent that in the society in which we live, who looses how much is largely dependent on biased political agenda rather than economic models of allocative efficiency. Governments, for example, which are supposed to make the best choices for society, are run by individual politicians who enact legislation out of their own self interestreelection and/or private funding, which may or may not be the best policies for society as a whole. With regard to the significant political ramifications of choosing between personal happiness and the happiness of society as a whole, perhaps Huck's Pap says it best: "A man can't get his rights in a government like this" (Twain, 39).

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck tells an economist's story, in which he observes and predicts the decisions that others make from his construction of models of societal behavior. Huck's model of life in religious society is based on the information he gathers from his observations of Miss Watson. Although Huck disagrees with Miss Watson's religious beliefs, her desires to go to heaven, and the teachings of the Bible, (which as an authoritative religious doctrine, serves as an her model for thought and behavior) he knows that these religious sentiments do not have as much value to him as they do for her. Thus, Huck does not attempt to alter Miss Watson's desire to go to heaven based on his own opinion that such beliefs are of little value: "Well, I [Huck] couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn't do no good" (16). This notion that the same good or service (which in this case is religion) can have different values for different people based on individual preferences alone, reflects the economic subjective theory of value. For Huck, the benefits of "correcting" Miss Watson, are far outweighed by the costs of the futile effort to change the thoughts and decisions of someone so tightly affixed to such a powerfully descriptive and predictive model of Christian behavior that he observes the Bible to be.

It is obvious that Huck's own thoughts are firmly rooted in economic theory and principle. Compare for example, how Huck's unease about the good Christian altruism that Miss Watson's religious model prescribes reflect Huck's similar ideas of the necessity for mutual benefit to both trading partners, which Adam Smith identifies in The Wealth of Nations:
Huck Finn: "[Miss Watson tells me that] I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself...I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn't see no advantage about itexcept for the other peopleso at last I reckoned I wouldn't worry about it any more, but just let it go" (23).

Adam Smith: It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages. (Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I Chapter I).

When the novel begins, Huck is "rich" (13) because of the money he accrued in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Despite his wealth, Huck spends most of the novel living on very little money at all. Although it does not seem likely that loosing six thousand dollars would make anyone, let alone an economist "happy", giving his fortune to Judge Thatcher was Huck's best choice. With knowledge of Pap's return, Huck performs a cost benefit analysis in which he decides that in order to maximize his utility, or escape from his abusive father; the best alternative is to forgo the six thousand dollars he predicts his father will do anything to get.

Although Huck analyzes the costs and benefits of the decisions that he makes as well as those decisions he observes others make, for Huck the choices are limited: to conform to a model or to run. Rather than attempting to judge or influence the decisions others make, Huck avoids or escapes from those situations in which the cost of his involvement outweigh the benefits.

How then does a thoughtful economist who utilizes rational model predictors and cost benefit analyses, like Huck, justify the seemingly irrational decision to go along with Tom's dangerously elaborate plan to free Jim at the end of the novel?
In a 2003-2004 Brown Bag Lunch discussion on "Bucks, Values and Happiness" David Ross is summarized as saying that "the advisory and prescriptive aspects of economics and possible the market institutions it describes, all contribute to changes in individual preferences and values that are inconsistent with whom we want to be." As an economist, Huck Finn holds Tom Sawyer to be the model boy. "Here was a boy[Tom, as described by Huck] that was respectable, and well brung up; and had a character to lose; and folks at home that had characters; and he was bright and not leather headed; and knowing, and not ignorant; and not mean, but kind..."(242). However, as boy himself, Huck's is able to see that his boyhood is very different from that of Tom Sawyer.

Consistent with the argument of Davis's Brown Bag conversation, by constructing models of the allocation of resources (be them freedom or money), Huck has found his life inconsistent with the model of what he wants it to be. Although Huck the economist knows that Tom's decisions are not always utility maximizing; being comfortable, carefree, loved, and having the luxury and the capacity to conquer pretend dangers without a real fear of consequence, is happiness maximizing for Huck the boy.

In contrast to his friend the economist, Tom Sawyer disregards cost benefit analyses or concern for efficiency; he does however, utilize the power of models as mechanisms with which to manipulate the behavior of others for his own personal benefit and enjoyment. As the center of attention, Tom acts as a politician, in that he is elected by his peers or self-proclaimed to be the tyrannical leader of the larger group of boys.
Tom discourages individuality, free will, and deviation from "Tom Sawyer's Gang"(20) by asserting his knowledge of the stories told in books as superior to the knowledge of the other boys. Tom insists on the use of his "stories" in order to gain authority in a position of power whether or not he understands the meaning of what he reads is not always a positive prescription for behavior. "I don't know[what ransom is]. But that's what they do. I've seen it in books; and so of course that's what we've got to do...Don't you reckon that the people that made the books, know's what's the correct thing to do?"(22).

Tom's support of a literal interpretation of books as authoritative models as a way to manipulate the behavior of his friends for his own pleasure, is not unlike Miss Watson's tendency to regard the Bible as a divine guide for "ideal" behavior in order to control a hyperactive fourteen-year-old boy. Wherein Huck says that it is of no advantage of him to follow Miss Watson's religious model, he must then gain some personal happiness or subjective value by conforming to Tom's model. Even when Huck is alone, he has a strong desire for Tom Sawyer's company, or at least in knowing that in the perfect boyhood world of Tom Sawyer, the situations that Huck finds himself in, would not have such imminent danger. "I did wish Tom Sawyer was there, I knowed he would take an interest in this kind of business, and throw in the fancy touches" (45). As an admiring constituent, Huck allows himself to be manipulated by the political savvy of Tom Sawyer, with hopes of potential earnings of happiness in an ideal boyhood, by choosing to follow Tom's model of irrational choice. In this way, perhaps Twain uses Huck's story to convey to the reader that it does not matter so much if the choices we make as individuals are viewed as rational or otherwise, so long as we have the option of making the decision for ourselves.

Works Cited:
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885.
Ross, David. Economics and Rational Choice lecture notes. 2006.
Ross, David. "Bucks, Values, and Happiness: When Counting Changes What We Are Counting" as prepared online by Anne Dalke. November 10, 2003.
Schultz, Barry. The Paradox of Choice. 2004.
Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations, Book I Chapter II. 1776.

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Word?
Name: Lauren Swe
Date: 2006-04-17 23:04:24
Link to this Comment: 19069


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“… thoughts are to that, as words to the body, troublesome; much speaking as thinking, spends, and in many thoughts as well as words, there is sin. True silence… covers folly, keeps secrets, avoids disputes, and prevents sin.”
-William Penn, Advice to His Children

There are a certain number of words in the English language that are identified only by their first letter. These words are most often spoken in shocked and furtive whispers by children, repeating an overheard instance of profanity to their peers or elders. This is a strategy for communicating the offending word without actually saying it and might be used for any word that the child believes she might be punished for speaking. The infamous f-word is probably the most famous of these “unspeakable” terms, but there is one word which adults and children, if they can bring themselves to say it at all, inevitably call “the n-word.”
Though there are multitudes of words in the English language, it is almost universally understood that the n-word means “nigger.” The word “nigger” is a term considered to be so offensive that people in polite society often refrain from saying it at all for fear of offending someone or appearing racist. This is such a loaded word that people are afraid to say it and feel safer by simply saying “the n-word,” though the implied meaning is understood and essentially the same. Not much changes whether a child says “fuck” or “the f-word;” the word is understood in both cases, but the way it is used keeps the child from being guilty. The same is true of “nigger.” Whether the word is spoken or merely implied, its meaning remains the same.
“Nigger” is a word whose meaning is almost universally understood, but it is hard to say and surprising to hear, particularly in an academic setting. So many stigmas and negative, offensive have become connotations attached to it that it is difficult for many people to speak it out loud without prefacing it or justifying it in some way with a form of disclaimer. After hearing the testimonies of students who were taught Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in high school I was confounded by the lengths to which people would go to avoid saying “nigger” during those lessons. I have since come to the conclusion that choosing not to say this unspeakably offensive word is an ignorant, immature and counterproductive form of self-censorship. By choosing not to say this word, its meaning gains even more momentum.
In speech, silence is a sign of reverence reserved for the most important of words so that they might retain their sanctity. To remember the dead or suffering we often arrange “moments of silence” as a sign of respect and honor. It seems strange an offensive term should be treated in the same way that certain orthodox Jews treat the name of God. They consider His name to be so sacred that they are not worthy to speak it, but by choosing not to say “nigger” we treat the word with the same kind of respect. This is a sign of respect that such a word does not deserve.
Human beings invented language for our own benefit and so that we might be able to communicate with one another. In the instance of nigger, we have let the language take over; we have become subject to our own invention. We have let the meaning of “nigger” escape our grasp to the point where we cannot even say it in conversation about language without first offering an explanation and the recognition of the term’s volatility. We are afraid someone will misinterpret the “sign” that we offer them and they will become offended. We have let the meaning of the word “nigger” get away from us. Under these circumstances, the word’s meaning controls us and affects our behavior rather than us controlling the meaning of the word.
There are only two options for a word like “nigger.” One is that it falls into disuse and loses all meaning for the common English-speaker, as was the case with “thaumatrope.” No one knows that a thaumatrope was a simple toy from the Victorian era because we have no need for this word anymore. If people just stopped saying “nigger” altogether, the term would lose its meaning and exist in a word’s most harmless form, buried only in the most comprehensive of dictionaries. However, because books like Huckleberry Finn are still taught and because this word is still alive in our culture, it cannot die. Because it is still used, “nigger” will fall into the second category; it will stay alive, but its meaning can be altered. There are plenty of words whose meanings have changed over time. The Biblical sense of the word “cock” is not the same as it is to modern American youth. The meaning of “gay” today is not the same as it was even fifty years ago. However, the only way to change the meaning of words is by using them. “Gay” took on its current meaning because some people used it to describe homosexual men, and then this usage became widespread. The situation with “nigger” is not irreversible because words are dynamic. Their meanings are constantly in flux, but in order to change our interpretation of “nigger” we must first change our attitude towards it.
It seems that in our current society, prominent members of popular black culture are taking matters into their own hands. People like film director Spike Lee do it self-consciously, and in a way that reflects current society. One of the characters in his film Bamboozled intentionally takes the word into his mouth. In one scene, the son of the aging black comedian asks his father:

Delacroix: Why do you always use that word “nigger” so much?
Junebug: I say “nigger” a hundred times every morning. Keeps my teeth white.

Though this is certainly a myth that the father tells his grown son, and one that he does not expect Delacroix to believe, there is still a sense that through an active, intentional repetition of the word, it will somehow improve his well-being. Like brushing his teeth, he does it every morning and it “keeps them white.” Junebug says “nigger” a hundred times every morning to desensitize himself to its power. Like any other exercise, it conditions and makes him stronger. By repeating “nigger” to himself, he is reclaiming the word and its meaning.
Similarly, 50 Cent’s album entitled The Massacre was one of the top albums of last year. Out of about 12,000 lyrics on the album, he says “nigger” 174 times. (Compare that to the apparently shocking statistic of 215 times in the entirety of Huck Finn.) Rap is the one place in our culture where not only is “nigger” acceptable, it’s commonplace.
If words change through use, it is conceivable to think that they can lose meaning by over-use. In her book on the depreciation of manners in contemporary Britain, Lynne Truss discusses the use of the infamous “Eff word.”

“Even though there were hundreds of complaints from BBC viewers about the swearing at the Live8 concert, the word Eff every day loses some of its shock power. I would still be horrified to hear my mum say it, and I always apologize to her if I let it slip out when I’m talking to her, but it’s clearly the case that through sheer constant over-use, “Effing” is becoming a meaningless intensifier and will soon hardly be worth saying.” (Truss, 140-141)

This is a hyperbolic example of the case of one particular word, but it is certainly comparable to this discussion of the “n-word.” The same effect is already visible to some degree. It is interesting to note that at any bi-co party, you might find a roomful of drunk students, of all races, singing right along with 50 Cent, that “All a nigga really need is a lil’ bit,” whereas the same students hesitate to say the word in class the next day. The powers of exposure and repetition are remarkable.
Though I am not advocating that everyone go around calling each other “nigger” until the word becomes meaningless, this is a case where silence is harmful. It does “cover folly, keep secrets, avoid disputes, and prevent sin,” but this is a sin that needs to be committed. If children are old enough to comprehend the life-lessons in Huckleberry Finn, then they should be old enough to understand the power of the words within the book and learn to speak them without fear in the proper context. Nigger is an offensive term and it does symbolize the days of a harmful hierarchy of racial supremacy, and this is not a legacy informed intellectuals should uphold. This is a legacy the Civil Rights movement struggled to end, but one which we unconsciously maintain in an attempt to be politically correct. The literal choice to be silent by not saying “nigger” is a choice to suppress issues that must be uncovered in order for our society to have a chance to address and adjust them. The choice to remain silent is the choice to perpetuate a society of repression. We are responsible for the words we speak because we are responsible for their meanings.


Bamboozled. Prod. Kisha Imani Cameron. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, and Jada Pinkett Smith. DVD. New Line Productions. 2000.

Dalke. Anne French. Teaching to Learn Learning to Teach: Meditations on the Classroom. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc. 2002.

Massacre, The. Prod. Prod. Dr. Dre and Eminem. Perf. 50 Cent. CD. Aftermath. 2005.

Truss, Lynne. Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. New York: Miraculous Panda Ltd. 2005.


An Impression of Families in "The Adventures of Hu
Name: Marina Gal
Date: 2006-05-04 01:23:34
Link to this Comment: 19216


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In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", there were multiple and varied examples of family structures. There were a few implications for the different models of family structures and one was that perhaps family can be found anywhere. Secondly with diverse models we know that there can be an individual mentality or a mob mentality toward family just as we talked about in class, but in this book I believe there is more of a mob mentality, especially with Huck Finn.

To say that family can be found anywhere is obvious to most anyone. Even the famous song, "We Are Family", prompts people to feel like kin. When making the statement that familial structures are everywhere in the novel, I am not exaggerating. It would almost be impossible to name them all, but some of the more important and distinct cliques are, Huck and his aunts, Huck and Tom, Huck and Jim, and the Duke and the Dauphin. The list I just made is clearly of people who are close with each other, but not related (as in parent to child). In the book we read, we saw how these people interacted daily an even though they may not have been related, they were as loving to one another as any family unit would be and that is why I consider them family. They obviously chose to be together. The other family units such as the Grangerfords, the Wilks, and the Phelps have different familial structures and models because they have traditional familial models. These people (or at least some of them) chose to be together at one time) and now the rest of them must deal with the consequences be them good or bad. It reminds me of a parents saying to a child, "She is your sister, you have to love her!" There may be love or hate in the family, but they are more or less stuck with what they have.
When David Ross came and visited the class he talked about economics and how an economist views things. Obviously, as we learned in class and as it says on Serendip, "Economics operates on the group level". Therefore, I took these thoughts from class and applied them to my thoughts about Huck Finn and individual versus group/mob mentality in the book.

When it comes to individual mentality there is not much room for it in familial relations because when one thinks on an individual level they are thinking for themselves and doing what they alone what to do. When a person belongs to a group they essentially give up they immediate right for individual thinking and work more toward group thoughts and what would be best for the group. An example of this is when Huck is on the raft with Jim and Huck is struggling with himself about the idea of turning Jim in. The reason this idea is so hard for Huck to make is because he is moving from and individual mindset to a group mindset as he forms a family unit with Jim. Once the family unit is complete I find it hard to believe that Huck would ever turn Jim in. Even when Huck has the chance to turn Jim in he passes it up by lying and saying there is sickness on their raft so that they are left alone and Jim is safe.

On the other hand, there is the group or mob mentality in correlation to family structures. The idea was clearly summarized on Serendip when it says that mob mentality is the, "concern with systematic harm, collective responsibility". In essence one would worry more about the group they are in as a whole and blame for something would be shared rather than any individual being singled out for any wrong-doing. This idea reminds me of economics in the sense that in the book families work as groups as do family units. Even though families work as units or with mob mentalities, they cannot change big concepts such as slavery, because each family is still an individual unit. In a way families are both groups and individuals in the way they work. They work like groups amongst themselves, but they cannot affect greater society much because that would require the binding together of many families to create a larger unit. I could not help but notice that people in class felt the book lacked in observing individuals, but that made sense to me because the book took on the role of showing how mod mentality plays out in families and in society.

In the book the mob mentality was more subtle, but also more broad. Clearly families were still involved because many people had to feel these feelings to cause things to happen, but mob mentality of a society is dissimilar from mob mentality of a single family. The society's feelings seemed to revolve mainly around slavery, education, and oddly enough society itself. The part family plays in this is such; families come together as a group with a collective thought on an issue and then decide where then stand when the issue comes into play. For example, with society, Huck's aunts felt being civilized was important and therefore tried to pass that feeling on to Huck. Many other people obviously thought being civilized was important as well; otherwise the society they were living in would be non-existent. That group of other people who also believed in being civilized was part of the cluster that held their mob mentality belief about society. Even though Mark Twain wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, he set it decades earlier when society's mob feelings at the time were clearly toward slavery and yet a few people were beginning to become open to the idea of freeing slaves, but no where near enough. In the book society also felt a certain way about education and that was a combination of both good morals and intellectual education. There are very clear divisions between society and outcasts in the sense that the outcast, an example being Huck, talks of going to Hell when he disagrees with or questions society's teachings. Huck doesn't trust society at large because he feels it failed to protect him from abuse. Now he is uneducated and lacks society's morals, yet Huck is finding his own way based on his own experiences. He is moving away from society and carving out a new path. A group of people with society's idea of education would most likely be the Phelps', who ironically is the only intact family in the book. Both of the Phelps generally have good morals and are educated people for their time. They fit the mold for being educated for their time.

Undoubtedly mob mentality took precedence over individual mentality in the book not only with the way that it works inside of families, but also in entire societies. Individual mentality was only seen a small bit in the notion of a single person and their own thoughts. To take this idea of different mentalities and family structures and apply it to the world I have found that families can be found anywhere and in any form while at the same time they can have numerous different types of mentalities involved amongst them. I feel that individual mentality will most likely mirror the book in the sense that it is seen much less than obviously than mob/group mentality is, but it is still present; it just does not have as much of an impact on the group as it does on our own being. In Psychology class I learned that cultures differ in what they place as important whether it be the group or the self. In America the self is much more important than the group, but in Asia the group is more important. Twain wrote the book in America and the book still was pervaded with a group mentality, does that mean even though we are a self-centered culture, we still are very much group thinkers? What would have happened if Twain had written the book in Asia? Would he have changed the story completely because the people have a different mindset? It is too bad Twain did not write one of those books we used to have in elementary school where you could see multiple endings, expect for this I would be able to see how he would have written the book differently in a dissimilar culture.

Works Cited

The Old Man River that Keeps on Rollin'
Name: Jackie O'M
Date: 2006-05-06 01:17:00
Link to this Comment: 19262


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It is the second largest river in the country, touching ten states, and it has the third largest river basin in the world after the Congo and the Amazon draining America's land from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians (Wikipedia). The Mississippi River is a distinct part of America, and life on the Mississippi, and all that that encompasses, is a distinct part of American culture. A notable feature about the winding Mississippi is just that the way in which it meanders its way through the country. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, captures the wandering quality of The Great River in the journey of Huck Finn and Jim. The use of nature, centered on the river, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn parallels the happenings of the characters as they float along.

A central descriptive quality of the Mississippi River is its sheer size. With its length of 2320 miles, the nickname of "The Great River" is not unfounded (Wikipedia). The Mississippi can also reach widths of at least four miles (Wikipedia). Huck Finn is around fourteen years old and has already had a long life; losing his mother and being kidnapped and beaten by his father are just some of the events he has dealt with. Once Huck gets on the river, he allows himself to be taken along the river's path:
Sometimes we'd have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark which was a candle in a cabin window; and sometimes on the water you could see a spark or two on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from on of them crafts. It's lovely to live on a raft. (Twain, 152-153)
If the river curves, Huck will curve with it. The river "seems to not know where to go", but it goes there anyway and on "a course that offers little / hope of telling why it went that way" (Stewart). This floating, aimless quality of the river and Huck's journey is one of the defining characteristics of the novel.

The river's history is a point of interest to Mr. Twain in Life on the Mississippi:
[V]arious clusters of whites must have heard of the great river of the far west; and indeed, they did hear of it vaguely . . . The mere mysteriousness of the matter ought to have fired curiosity and compelled exploration; but this did not occur. Apparently nobody happened to want such a river, nobody needed it, nobody was curious about it; so, for a century and a half the Mississippi remained out of the market and undisturbed. (Twain, Chapter 1)
The Mississippi was abandoned until it could be of use to people. Huck's parents have abandoned him. A child without parents to love him and guild him through life is tragic. When Huck escapes to the Mississippi, the river that was abandoned and the child that was abandoned can move along with one another, giving and taking and changing. Huck becomes an asset to the Duke and the King later on in his history, when they can use his raft to get them to various towns on the river. Once this quality was discovered about the Mississippi River itself more people took advantage of it, and in a sense, it became America's first highway.

The life of Huck on the river could be compared to the life of the river itself. As in Life on the Mississippi, Twain outlines the course he will take in his writing:
We can glance briefly at its slumbrous first epoch in a couple of short chapters; at its second and wider-awake epoch in a couple more; at its flushest and widest-awake epoch in a good many succeeding chapters; and then talk about its comparatively tranquil present epoch in what shall be left of the book. (Twain, Chapter 1)
Huck begins his journey playing games with Tom Sawyer and going to school, fishing and moseying around with Pap. He then proceeds to fake his own death and go with Jim down the Mississippi on a raft where they have several adventures, but always get a way out and end up back on the raft eventually. These parts of his story might equate to the "slumbrous first epoch" of the river's life. Huck then begins to have a few more serious adventures on his journey: dealing with death at the Grangerfords and fraud with the King and the Duke. He is slightly "wider awake" at this point in his journey, becoming aware of human cruelty in a very adult-like way: "It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race" (Twain, 208). The third "epoch" in Huck Finn's trip down the Mississippi is when he finds himself on land and in the company of Tom Sawyer's Aunt Sally. Huck is "widest-awake" here as he deals with the childish plans of Tom to free Jim from captivity. Everything on earth changes. Riverbanks erode, and people grow up. Huck Finn cycles through the events in his life in an increasingly grownup way much like the river itself has moved through the country. He is still Huck Finn, at the end of the day, and the Mississippi River is still just that, but as time passes, the flow of life keeps change inevitable.

The Mississippi River is a life force for many species of plants and animals along its path most rivers are. This vegetation and wildlife plays into Huck and Jim's adventures in an important way:
Some young birds come along, flying a yard or two at a time and lighting. Jim said it was a sign it was going to rain . . . Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and lightning; so the birds was right about it. (Twain, 59, 63)
Whether it hides them from the rest of civilization in the daylight, as the reeds and shoreline vegetation do, or warns them of impending rain, nature in and around the Great River moves and shapes the story of its characters. Riparian zones, which are transitional environments between land and a moving body of water, are very important in ecology as they play a role in the maintenance of the water/land interaction and are havens for biodiversity (Wikipedia). These are the very environments where Huck and Jim tie up and keep hidden during the daytime. Riparian environments protect the aquatic environments from "polluted surface runoff and erosion" (Wikipedia). It could be said, therefore, that the banks of the Mississippi, while always moving and changing with the river, also act to keep the river and its wildlife inhabitants protected. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the river also keeps Huck and Jim protected, for the most part. There is a give and take between the water and the land, and Huck and Jim move in a similar rhythm down the Mississippi and along its various shores.

The Mississippi River is an ever-present character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as the river and the novel are in American culture. The Great River is massive, always changing, yet always there. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn truly is a big book of American literature in its story, its history, and its principle character who also changes as he travels down this infamous river. Although Huck, like the Mississippi, "seems to not know where to go" (Stewart) that does not mean that he is not going somewhere. He may just be floating along, but Huck is a part of nature just like the river, and he cannot escape the passage of time.

Date: 2007-09-28 22:49:54
Link to this Comment: 21961

Very interesting. Thanks for the incite.

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