Friday, October 22, 2010

Pushing Hawthorne

 Students and reading; reading and students!  As always, the year begins with summer reading and quickly  comes Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter. So rich, so dark, so melancholy, so rewarding...and so increasingly difficult for today's students, both in style and message.  Oh, the message! Why is taking personal responsibility so alien to these kids?  Did Hawthorne and other Romantic period writers work so hard to distance themselves from the rigidity of Puritanism that the primary message of his Anti-Romanticism was lost?  Yes, everyone makes mistakes and certainly no one should be written off just because of one, albeit very large mistake, but today we go far beyond common sense in embracing everyone's right to err.  Americans believe in equal rights and in second chances, and somehow this has been altered to include the ideas that no one is ever culpable and every person, no matter how ignorant, is equal to the next.  Students rarely discern one of the most important messages that underscores this text: you will make mistakes-that's a given,but the true measure of an individual is what he or she does after a mistake has been made.  Compare Hester with Dimmesdale; she wears her sin openly and atones for it in every action while Dimmesdale hides the truth as long as he can.  As Hawthorne says, "Be true!"  And clearly, through Hester's example, he advocates hard work and personal  responsibility, a message increasingly landing on deaf ears. 

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