Here the relevant ideas are Smith's notions about the relationship between morality and .. He cannot protect himself because he cannot trust his own thoughts. In the second scene on the scaffold, Dimmesdale takes Pearl's hand and. Dimmesdale is perceived as a good person in the community and viewed by everyone until the end of course. Also, what are some quotes about Dimmesdale's. Hester Prynne and her daughter Pearl are the archetypal unwed mother and illegitimate child in Puritan minister--Arthur Dimmesdale, had fallen in love and had relations. . Dimmesdale worries that Pearl won't warm up to him or trust him .
Why does simply being looked at by the crowd constitute a punishment? Hawthorne's description of the incident suggests a profound explanation. As Hester stands on the scaffold "under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes, all fastened on her, and concentered at her bosom," she realizes that the "solemn mood" she sees in those eyes is "much more terrible" than mocking ridicule would be p. Those eyes are all fastened on a baby Hester holds before her and an A she is compelled to wear.
What does the initial, so important that the book itself is named after it, stand for? Hawthorne is somewhat mysterious on this point. Later in the story, he tells us that people interpret it as meaning Able and even Angel, but he does not say what its "original signification," as he calls it, is. Nor, for that matter, does the Salem adultery statute ofwhich seems to have inspired Hawthorne's device.
Scholars sometimes take it as obvious that the original meaning of the letter is adultery. In an earlier and much briefer tale of Puritan New England, "Endicott and the Red Cross," he describes another woman who is forced to wear a scarlet A, one which, like Hester's, is embroidered "with the nicest art of needlework. Saying this may sound like insisting on a very fine distinction, but it does have a clear implication about the function of the letter itself.
If what I have just said is true, it means that the letter does not stand for an abstract quality or idea: It declares to the world what she is. Her punishment on the scaffold is a ritual in which this label is, as it were, magically affixed to her.
Hawthorne describes, with a vividness that makes the reader squirm, the power this ceremony has. Standing before those eyes, fearing that she might "go mad at once," she finds that her surroundings "seem to vanish," and in their place images from her past come "swarming back upon her," important memories and utterly trivial ones alike "intermingle She remembers games and quarrels from her childhood, scenes from her native village, and "her own face, glowing with girlish beauty, and illuminating the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.
Finally, is compelled to return with a shock to "the townspeople assembled and levelling their stern regards at Hester Prynne - yes, at herself. Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter It is very tempting to explain this sense by using the long-familiar Sartrean notion that "the look" of others has the power to compel individuals to see themselves as mere things.
It would be more accurate, though, to say that the weight of these eyes has pressed Hester into a moral category, compelling her to see herself as an adulteress and nothing more, robbing her of the indefinitely many other aspects of her self. The inmate of a moral category, a mere adulteress for instance, is not a thing at all, but an entirely different sort of being.
Hester then sees he husband, Roger Chillingworth, in the crowd. He seems to have the same effect on her that the crowd initially had, beginning with the same involuntary spasm: She the stands staring at him with "so fixed a gaze, that There is, in fact, a deep similarity between what the crowd has done to Hester and what Chillingworth does to Hester's lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, through the years that follow.
In her first exposure on the scaffold, the Puritans punish Hester simply by looking at her. When Chillingworth says of Dimmesdale "Let him hide himself in outward honor, if he may! Not the less he shall be mine!
And knowing Dimmesdale - that is, making him an object of consciousness, just as the crowd does to Hester - is virtually the only thing he ever actually does to him. As Chillingworth stands, incognito, in the crowd before the scaffold, he has a talks to an apparently typical Puritan townsman about the fact that the identity of Hester's lover is as yet unknown pp.
The two of them agree entirely on the necessity that "iniquity" be "searched out" and subjected to public view. The townsman even agree that Hester's husband ought to come and take up the search for the missing sinner.Should I Trust My Partner? Relationship Pearls
The only difference between them lies in the intensely personal nature of the concern Chillingworth presumably feels in the matter. He is concerned because someone has harmed him.
The townsman, on the other hand, is not moved by that sort of consideration. While Chillingworth is moved by revenge, the townsman is moved by disinterested Puritan moralism. One might think that this simple fact shows that the similarity I have exposed between Puritan punishment and Chillingworth's diabolical plan is superficial and coincidental, that it indicates no deep similarity between them.
That, I think, would be an error.
Sex, Lies, and The Scarlet Letter
When Chillingworth first explains his plan, he lays down, as the source of all that follows, the fact that someone has wronged him, not merely that someone has harmed him p. Wrong is, of course, a moral category. It is on this that his revenge is founded. This is true of revenge in general.
Revenge is an application - even if a deranged and diabolical one - of the sense of justice. If it were possible for me to lash out at someone simply because he has caused be pain, and not at all because he was wrong in doing so, that would not be what we call revenge. The conduct of Chillingworth and the conduct of the Puritans of Boston are connected by an important fact about how morality works. Considered as a system of rules shared by members of a community, morality serves to regulate behavior, just as the law does.
Unlike the law, however, it does not control what we do by imposing penalties like fines or prison sentences. Nonetheless, it does influence what we do. It does so, in part, because we know that others will notice what we do, and that they will perceive what we do in light of the rules. If we break the rules, they are apt to know what we have done so and in that case they will perceive us as rule-breakers.
All by themselves, these facts seem to constitute a penalty grave enough to influence what our conduct. The nature of Hester's punishment indicates the thoroughgoing moralism of the Puritan utopia: The same is true of the penalty that Chillingworth inflicts on Dimmesdale: Whatever we might think of the ways in which such methods are used by Hawthorne's characters, they do work, and we have reason to be glad that they work.
They indicate that society can regulate our conduct by means that are at any rate less brutal than mere physical force.
To one extent or another, they rupture relations of sympathy. For Hawthorne, however, sympathy is the only basis for genuinely human relations. This, in fact, would seem to be an implication of the second thesis that I attributed to Smith, at least if we suppose that such relations involve caring about the other person.
Sex, Lies, and The Scarlet Letter
This would mean that the moral form of social control tends to destroy human relations as such. The immediate effect the scarlet letter has on Hester is that of taking her "out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself" p.
The way the Puritan community treats her in later years merely reinforces her status as an outsider: Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came into contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhibited another sphere She does not live in this community at all, she merely, as Hawthorne tells us, haunts it like a ghost p.
Part of the cause of this devastating effect lies in the fact that, as we see both in the case of the crowd and of Chillingworth, moral disapproval is an unfavorable attitude and, as such, is experienced as a form of hostility. It is perfectly natural that Hester would remove herself from such a community as this, in one way or another. Another part of the cause lies in the fact that it is not merely a matter of Hester removing herself: This interesting phenomenon is explained in a memorable passage from the scene in which Hester has come to the Governor's house to defend herself against powerful people who wished to take Pearl, then three years old, away from her.
In the front hallway of the house, a suit of armor, which the governor had worn while leading a regiment in battle, stood on display. At Pearl's insistence, Hester looked into the polished surface of the breastplate, and there she "saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance.
In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it" p. This is precisely the effect that the letter has on her relations to the community. In standing for Hester to the world, it comes between her and the world.
This is the result of years in which, "giving up her individuality," she became "the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point Of course, there is something profoundly Puritan about this way of seeing Hester. However, the scene in which she first encounters with the crowd makes it clear that the psychological phenomenon of which it is an instance is not by any means unique to Puritans. This phenomenon is what we might call the "radical constriction of personal identity," the reduction of the identity of the individual to an extremely narrow collection of traits.
In the first scene we see precisely this sort constriction, and it is a consequence of moral disapproval as such. There, the constriction occurs in the consciousness of the person who is the object of the disapproval of others. The subsequent course of events points out that the very same constriction occurs in the minds of those who do the disapproving. What is unique about Hawthorne's Puritans is not that they rely on moral blame, but that it so completely dominates the way of seeing people, to the virtual exclusion of all else.
What is most important here is the fact that this psychological phenomenon explains a fact that I pointed out some pages back: The reason for their inability, as I have suggested, lies in their moral disapproval of her. It is not that such disapproval involves seeing someone as a thing, or inducing them to see themselves that way. Morally blameworthy people have clearly un-thing-like traits, such as desires and the power to make choices.
However, so far as they are blameworthy, the desires and choices involved are bad ones. There are many aspects of Hester's identity with which the Puritan crowd would sympathize if they could be vividly aware of them but, to the extent that their attitude is one of moral disapproval, they lack the necessary awareness. Their attitude transforms her into something with which sympathy is not possible. Now, by bringing together various things I have said in this section, I can attempt a formulation Hawthorne's alternative to Smith's fourth thesis.
Moral disapproval prevents human contact with the person of whom one disapproves. It does so in two ways: First, such disapproval is essentially hostile in nature and, consequently, tends to prompt the person disapproved of to withdraw from the one who does the disapproving.
Second, it constricts the apparent identity of the object of the disapproval to features with which it is impossible to sympathize. This principle calls into question the efficacy of the moral method of regulating conduct. The reason it does so is represented by Hester's eventual fate.
The presumed function of her punishment, as of moral penalties in general, is to bring a wayward soul back into the fold, to teach her to follow the rules that bind these people into a community. And yet the immediate effect of this punishment - and this, once again, is a characteristic it shares with moral penalties as such - is to exclude her from the society in which these very rules have life and power.
In that case, what are the prospects that this method will work? As often happens, that depends on what one's purpose is. Hawthorne tells us bluntly that, seven years after the first scene on the scaffold, "the scarlet letter had not done its office" pmeaning that it had not accomplished the purposes of its Puritan perpetrators.
Because of her separation from society, there is little in her life that provides occasion for passion and feeling, and so her life turns, "in a great measure, from passion and feeling, to thought" p. Consequently, she becomes "little accustomed, in her long seclusion from society, to measure her ideas of right and wrong by any standard external to herself" p.
In most cases, if unwed mothers spent as little time with their kids as unwed fathers do, we would call it abandonment. Why do we look for solutions by focusing on the character and behavior of the mothers, while ignoring the fathers? Lest anyone doubt how lax our norms for fatherhood are, let them look at child support awards among divorced couples. Fathers are generally ordered to pay only a small proportion of their income in child support, and the portion declines as the man's income rises.
Around half of fathers who are ordered to make child support payments do not make them after the first year or so, and courts do next to nothing about enforcing the awards. Since we don't hold middle class and affluent fathers to any standard of decent support for their children, how do we expect to convey norms of financial responsibility to the poor?
Apparently, through brute force. We have a much more aggressive child support enforcement system for poor men, and we exact a much higher portion of their incomes than we do for middle-and upper-income men in divorce cases. By the time she is seven, Pearl comes to know on some level that Dimmesdale is her father. Once, Hester and Pearl come upon Dimmesdale in the middle of the night.
He is standing on the scaffold where the three of them once stood together. He beckons them to join him, and they all hold hands in a moment of electric intensity. She begs for acknowledgment and commitment, for a promise that Dimmesdale will take her and her mother's hands in public. She tries to pin him down to a date.
Pushed into a corner, he names "the great judgment day. Near the end of the novel, Hester meets Dimmesdale in the woods and tries to persuade him that the three of them should return to Europe, where they could live out the love that "had a consecration of its own.
Dimmesdale worries that Pearl won't warm up to him or trust him. But Pearl, summoned now to join Hester and Dimmesdale, goes into a "fit of passion" and refuses to come until Hester dons the scarlet "A" again. Hester gives a classic speech, the one women always give their children when bringing a new man into the family or when trying to reintegrate a prodigal father: He loves thee, my little Pearl, and loves thy mother too.
Wilt thou not love him? He longs to greet thee! If he really loves her, she wants proof. She wants Dimmesdale to act like a father and husband. Schools would have to teach that unwed teenage parenthood is often bad for kids, that "not all families are equally capable of caring for children," and that love cannot make up for a lack of long-term commitment, responsibility, and sacrifice on the part of parents.
Whitehead glimpses the dilemma here: The dilemma is much more profound than Whitehead imagines, though, because the facts are far more cruel than she acknowledges--and crueler than children ought to bear. Are we really willing admit to ourselves, let alone teach our kids, that some parents are less fit than others? That poor and less-educated parents are not as capable of giving their kids a good life as those in a higher socioeconomic station?
That all children are not born equal? That some adults beat their kids and are terrible parents in this and other ways, but they're allowed to have kids anyway? We can't teach children these lessons, not so much because they would stigmatize some kids, as Whitehead says, but because they would challenge some fundamental liberal principles about equal opportunity and about the sacrosanct privacy of the family.
But we can, I think, try to teach adults a few things. Children are not pace Dimmesdale to be used, or worse, brought into existence, as punishment for their sinful parents and object lessons to other errant souls.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the premise behind state laws requiring pregnant minors to get parental permission for abortions. If we think minors are too immature to make a good decision about whether to have a child, they are surely too immature to be a good parent. So why make them have a child, if not to teach them a lesson? If we truly want parents to make commitments and take responsibility for their children, why do we place so many obstacles in the way of abortion for young girls and women who know they and their children's fathers can't be responsible parents?
Supporting and caring for children are two different things, and in many ways incompatible. One requires earning money to buy food, clothing, and shelter. The other requires cooking and feeding, doing the laundry, cleaning the floors, never letting an infant out of your sight, cooing and cuddling, and numerous other activities not calculated to get you in good with your employer. We have historically had a division of labor in two-parent households because it's pretty near impossible to be out earning money and in minding the kids at the same time.
Working moms make a go of it nowadays only by farming out much of the caring part of the job to someone else--their mothers and sisters, preschools, day care, and nannies. But we fault poor single mothers for not doing either thing well--supporting or caring--when doing both well is next to impossible and when middle-class and married mothers don't do it all themselves anyway. Work requirements are counterproductive to welfare reform's professed goal of improving parenting.
Moreover, giving poor mothers a little help with child care is not, as many Republicans would have us believe, going to undermine Western civilization, or even motherhood. DNA does not a father make. Current welfare reform proposals would beef up state bureaucracies for producing more DNA tests, more paper paternity acknowledgments, and more paper designations of fathers' wages as child support.
Dimmesdale, without the advice or help from anyone, tried to find a form of penance so he began to physically torture himself. Dimmesdale did these horrible acts because of a feeling of worthless. He felt that he deserved even more punishment because of the extra sin of concealing his original sin. Hester, at least, did feel needed or loved by Pearl, which kept her from many other terrible sins, and she did not have the extra tormenting sin to carry, which shows that she suffered less.
Dimmesdale possessed only one thing, which was his suffering. The crime was his life because it seemed everything revolved around it. This sin and his suffering had taken over his life; he had nothing else. Suffering can be the most terrible when in comes from your conscience.
Dimmesdale had a terrible, undying guilt, which followed him everywhere and never quieted. Dimmesdale said that once the extra sin of concealing the original sin is gone the load on the conscience lessens relieving the guilt and suffering. Hester did not have these additional burdens of guilt and suffering as Dimmesdale did.