Family Life in "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Adventures of

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Family Life in "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Adventures of

Marina Gallo

Family life is complicated. Throughout the course we have read many books that have included families with complex problems. Some families relied on one another while they solved their problems, whereas others used Emerson's approach and were more independent or self-dependent when it came to resolving their difficulties. In the book, "The Scarlet Letter", the characters were self-reliant when it came to conflict resolution. In contrast, when reading "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", the characters were rather dependent on family when problems arose.

Let us start with "The Scarlet Letter". Maybe, just like Emerson, characters in the book thought it was, "simpler to be self-dependent", rather than cling onto anyone else for help, even if it was a family member. There are many characters in "The Scarlet Letter", yet most of the people in the book are strong types who could easily go off alone, such as Hester.

Hester was just one of the many characters in the novel who was exceedingly independent. Even before Hester was condemned for her crime, she displayed an air of autonomy by coming over to America by herself. During Hester's incarceration, years of punishment, and solitude, she did not seek out help from Pearl's father, Dimmesdale. So, going back to what Emerson thought about being self-reliant, Hester was a perfect example of an independent character. She was not looking for help even if it meant struggling on her own. Emerson also said, "Mind is the only reality", which reminds me of the saying, "mind over matter". It makes me feel like he would have believed Hester could have been fine as long as she had a strong mind. If she did not have enough faith in herself, then she probably would have failed at living alone in her little house, distant from the town. Fortunately, Hester had a strong enough mind to overcome being scorned by the townspeople who had a mob mentality and being shamed by the wearing of the scarlet letter. She did not seem to need the traditional family structure of the time to keep her going because she had an individual mentality and she was not a dependent person.

Although Dimmesdale was a morally weak person, he was able to stay strong and resolute when it came to abandoning Hester and Pearl in their times of need. The act of denying Hester and Pearl as family tortured Dimmesdale, but he remained steadfast in his mindset and therefore represented, just as Hester did, a self-reliant personality and an individual mentality. He could have taken some of the blame for their shared sin, and subsequently relied on his family to help ease his guilty conscience and his suffering, but he did not. Dimmesdale, instead, decided to allow Hester to take all the blame and let himself live a life of mental and physical torment. Dimmesdale tried to be a strong person by intentionally telling the truth through his sermons, but none of the congregation believed him, which only served to further aggravate Dimmesdale. When Emerson said, "It is simpler to be self-dependent", maybe that observation was not meant to apply to every situation in life. Yes, Dimmesdale was an independent man, but perhaps being independent to the point of causing physical and mental pain was not what Emerson was suggesting. Only when Dimmesdale was dying could he acknowledge that he was a sinner and he, like Hester, was marked on the chest. Whether or not his confession was the result of a guilty conscience and concern for meeting his maker with a serious sin on his soul, or if Dimmesdale exhibited courage bolstered by the knowledge that he would not have to deal with the repercussions of his actions is debatable. It does seem doubtful, though, that he would have confessed, had he been in better health. Neither he, nor Hester were people who depended on others even if it would have benefited them and that is essentially what made them such self dependent characters.

Roger Chillingworth was also not reliant on family, but in his case
it was unintentional as opposed to the choices made by Hester and Dimmesdale. Chillingworth was actually a very complicated character. He depended on other character's vitality as a way to strengthen his own plans, but he did not rely on family members. Chillingworth deliberately remained in Boston after he found out about Hester's illegitimate child, in order to seek revenge. Once the means of getting his revenge was gone, Chillingworth passed away. Basically, Chillingworth was alone in the world; he had no one who cared about him, and he was not a mentally strong person like Hester, so he could not go on by himself without leeching off someone else. Had he originally gone with Hester, he might have had one person with whom to rely upon, if he chose, but he did not, thus he was alone in the end, even if he had wanted to be with others. He brought this aloneness, this independence on himself, and it ended up destroying him. Chillingworth had an individual mentality, rather than a mob mentality, because there was no one else like him; he became an evil man and he had lost his family by letting Hester go ahead of him to Boston.

Mistress Hibbins is also a character who is independent in a certain way. Though she lives with her brother, Governor Bellingham, she is an outcast from society and he in no way stops the general public from thinking badly of his sister. She is known to the town as a witch and frequently goes into the forest where she is thought to visit "the black man" or the devil. The only way her family helps her is by providing shelter for her, which is basically not helping her at all, because she has such a powerful brother and he could stop all of the nonsense going around about her, but he doesn't, therefore she must be alone her daily life. The reader ends up finding out from the narrator that Mistress Hibbins will be executed as a witch, which makes one think even more so that she was alone in the world and independent, but not by choice. I don't think anyone would choose to be shunned by their town or condemned as a witch, so the fact that Mistress Hibbins was made it clear that her independence was not by choice, but rather by force.

In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", in contrast to "The Scarlet Letter", there were multiple and varied examples of family structures that had examples of dependent family relationships in them. Also, in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", there was more mob or group mentality, which went along with dependent thinking. In "The Scarlet Letter" there was both group and individual mentality, but more so individual mentality when it came to family life.

When David Ross came and visited the class he talked about economics and how an economist views things. Observably, as we learned in class, and as it says on Serendip, "Economics operates on the group level". For that reason, I took these thoughts from class and applied them to my thoughts about Huck Finn and the individual/independent versus group/dependent 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 want to do. When a person belongs to a group they essentially give up their immediate right for individual thinking and work more toward group thoughts and what would be the 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 an 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. Unlike any of the characters in "The Scarlet Letter", Huck and Jim depend upon one another for safety.

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 well as family units. Even though families work as units or with group mentalities, they cannot change big concepts such as slavery, because each family is still and 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 group. Basically, families can be either dependent or independent just like the families in "The Scarlet Letter" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". It depends on the type of family that is being portrayed and in "The Scarlet Letter", there were many more people who would not be dependent on their families and instead took on more of an individual mentality. In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" most of the characters in the book formed families of had families and took on a group mentality, thus they were dependent people in their life activities. I could not help but notice that people in class felt the book lacked character development, but that made sense to me, because the book took on the role of showing how mob/group mentality plays out in families and in society. Families are still just little groups working amongst themselves.

"Huckleberry Finn" seemed to focus on the group dynamics or interaction, with a subtle undertone of mob mentality. Clearly, families were still involved because many people had to have these feelings to cause things to happen, but the mob mentality of society is dissimilar from mob mentality of a single family. Society's feelings seemed to revolve mainly around the large social issues of slavery, education, and oddly enough, society itself. The role the family plays in this is that families come together as a group with a collective thought on an issue, and then decide where they stand when the issue comes into play.

Within the family unit there can be disagreement, but pressure on the family members to conform is strong. Withholding approval, attention or even affection can be powerful motivating tools used in some situations to obtain desirable behavior. The recognition of the dependence of family members on each other is deliberately reinforced in order to keep family bonds strong, and behavior within approved parameters.

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. People in society obviously had to rely on one another to pressure others to conform to their own beliefs or else no one would end up in that similar group those people formed.
Even though Mark Twain wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, the setting of the book was decades earlier when society's feelings at the time were clearly pro slavery, and even though a few people were beginning to become open to the idea of freeing the slaves, that was not an all pervasive thought. Twain's book also demonstrated that society 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, himself, who 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 for himself. He has found Jim to join him as a family unit in the way that they can both escape society together and they can both run away from their troubles collectively even though they are escaping dissimilar troubles.

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 fit the mold, have good morals, and are educated people. They are dependent in the sense that they are an actual family unit and they display good qualities for the world to see, while at the same time they are educated people and their education is visible as well, so they stay together and they display their good qualities for the rest of the world, which sets a good example for anyone who may be looking for one or needing a one.

Undoubtedly, mob mentality took precedence over individual mentality in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" not only with the way that it works inside of families, but also in entire societies. Individual mentality was seen more in "The Scarlet Letter" in the notion of a single person and his or her 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 books in the sense that it is seen much less obviously than mob/group 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 well being. In Psychology class I learned that cultures differ in what they place as important and 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 his book in America and the book still was pervaded with a group mentality, does that mean that even though we are a self-centered culture, we still are very good group thinkers. What would have happened if Mark Twain had written the book in Asia? Would he have had a completely different story, because the people have such 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, and then we could have seen how much the ending might have varied depending on the culture in which the book was written. On the other hand, Hawthorne wrote "The Scarlet Letter" in America as well and there is not the overarching theme of group mentality in the book. Maybe the authors wrote the books and were influenced by how they themselves thought. Perhaps Hawthorne was more of an independent individual, while Twain was a group thinker and more into the mob mentality of his time. Though these themes reflect our society, this could be something that all authors do because it reflects how they themselves feel about certain issues and gives them and outlet to voice opinions.

In addition to there being different mentalities, independence and dependence also played a large part in the books. The families and individual characters displayed either one of those qualities depending on who they were and what situation they were in, in their life. This is what happens in everyday life as well as in books. People can be just as independent as Hester or dependent as Jim was on Huck. Because this reflects everyday life so much, people can identify with the books much more readily than they would a book that was unrealistic and did not have human-like qualities in it. I was taught that classic books have to last through the ages and these two books do just that. One of the reasons they do is because people can identify with the characters through their actions and thoughts that are similar to real life. For example, everyday there are people living their lives depending on others for help and when they read classics like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" they feel reassured that they are doing the right thing and they are not alone in their actions in life. In contrast, people also live very independent lives and want to read books that put their minds that ease that they are normal in being so free and self-sufficient so they, in tern, may read books like "The Scarlet Letter" because the characters were much more independent people. Everyone likes to be told they are doing the correct thing in life and if a book can send out that message to the readers through the way the characters live their lives in the text, then the manuscript will most likely be relatively successful for a time.

Works Cited

Dalke, Anne, and Ralph W. Emerson. ""Nothing's Sacred"." Serendip. 18 Apr. 2006. 8
May 2006 .

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