Saturday, October 30, 2010

On the American Dream

   One of the most inspirational aspects of American culture is the belief in the American Dream, the idea that every individual, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or creed, has the opportunity to live freely, to have peace and stability, and to have financial security.  This dream has been the motivation for countless numbers who have flocked to this country for centuries.  Some observers today begun a death watch for the Dream, arguing that it is slowly dying due to today's economy and the rapid technological changes that are changing the face of our society. This discussion of its death evokes the question of its birth; when was it born and what does its passing say about American society?  Truly, the American Dream was born at the same time that the Declaration of Independence was written, so the idea of natural rights goes hand in hand with the Dream.   All men are created equal, so all men have a right to dream the Dream.  Thus, if the Dream is dying, what does that say about the once very uniquely American belief in equality?  Is it dying as well?  Economists argue today that the gap between the rich and the poor is at its widest point it has ever been.  It does seem that greed has become acceptable today, and the idea of noblesse oblige is absolutely nonexistent.   We are moving toward a two class society, which does not bode well for the idea of equality.  May the Dream live on!

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.