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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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VOLLEYING 2:
STUDENT WORK (11): "GOD'S WORD?"

R was a solid, serious, responsible second quadrant kind of student.  The kind of student who you could look into his eyes in class and literally see the wheels turning as he processed tough issues or thought about what he wanted to say.  J was one of the top 1-3 students in the class -- very active in class, every class, so much so that when he was absent the in-class discussion faltered severely.  His combination of excellent interpretive skills with a sensitive and humane way of looking at the world made him clearly a leader, perhaps "the" leader, in forming class opinion.  But he was a good listener, a good community person too.  J was liked and respected by all.  I decided to make R the leader in this conversation to see how he would respond to an unaccustomed role.

Serve: Student R --  "God's word? or what you WANT to hear"

There is definitely something that REALLY bothers me about "The Scarlet Letter."  I feel the novel portrays how hipocritical our society is and can be.  The townspeople, in the process of playing God's judge and jury, have sinned just as great or more than Hester.  The very act of belleiving you are better than someone else is in itself a sin.  The townspeople gossip and spread rumors.  They continually put her down, and push her away.  For a colony so devoted to the word of the bible, they sure did miss a few spots.  Apparently they missed the parts that tell how each sin, no matter how great or small, is looked on with the same value by God.  They also forget the part that says to forgive those around them, and to always love someone despite the mistakes they have made.  Seems like these are key points they are missing!  These puritans do not do these things.  They use something like Hester's punishment to make them feel better about themselves and their own shortcomings.  How could a society that claims to be so pure screw up this badly?  Did the puritans see the hipocrisy in their ways?  or do you think Hester really is as guilty as they make her out to be?

Return: Student J

I definitely saw this hypocrisy as well.  We talked about this in class yesterday about how Hester gains a new view of her society after she puts on the scarlet A.  She sees that the Puritans are full of sin that goes unpunished, kind of like Dimmesdale.  The townspeople still revear Dimmesdale because they do not realize that he bears the same guilt as Hester.  And you're right, it is just as wrong to vilify someone for committing a sin as it is to commit that sin.  I think the Puritan society is good in planning but poor in practice.  I mean, it is honorable to want a society free from sin.  However, the Puritans got so wrapped up in trying to drive sin out of its people, they were blind to their own sins in doing so.  So no, I don't think the Puritans could see their hypocritical ways.  The question of whether or not Hester is as guilty as they make her out to be is a little more tricky.  I think Hester is guilty of committing her crime but should not have been villified so intensely.  How do you feel the Puritans should have approached the punishment for the crime?  Would they have been better off just allowing Hester to go unpunished?  Are they too deep in their desire to rid their society of sin to return to the Bible's teachings of forgiveness?

Fielding the Return: Student R

Yeah, its really just insane how Hester has to go through this terrible punishment when someone like Dimmesdale is loved by everyone, but i guess we have to remmember that he goes through his own private hell so i guess we have to decide which is worse, the public humiliation or the private torture.  I feel it IS honerable for the Puritans to want a perfect sin-free society, but i also feel they should know this is NOT realistically possible!  I mean, it says in the bible that we are born unclean and there is nothing we can do about it.  This is the reason for things like grace and forgiveness.  If God can forgive those who sin against him, then why are they above forgiveness?  Hester IS guilty for what she has done, but we as mere humans have no right to pass judgement.  IF the puritans followed the bible closely they would have answered the sin with forgiveness and love, not social banishment.  What do you think of something like this: Say the Puritans decide to punish everyone in the town for letting "one of their own" go astray?  That way they all share equal blame, no one is above anyone else.  Another idea could be that they immediately forgive Hester and try to support her in every way possible from a spiritual standpoint.  I feel they had many more options, and thats only if they still HAVE to have some sort of punishment.  I still feel that the Puritans were so outrageous and radical that they took maybe a small section of the bible very literally and totally threw out the rest.

Volley1: Student J

I like your idea about having the entire town punished for the sins of one of its members.  The cool thing about this is that even today we see it in practice in small societies such as sports teams.  I remember in high school wrestling preseason we did these distance runs that were timed.  We had a target time and if even one person missed the time we had to do the whole run over again.  The first couple times we did this it was almost gauraunteed that someone would miss the time.  Once we realized that we would be punish for the actions of another we pushed each other harder and motivated each other to achieve the goal.  The result of these tortures was a more cohesive unit, striving towards one common goal together. So how would this work on a larger scale?  I think the results would be similar, with a lagging in the early years and a cohesion thereafter.  The problem lies in how to go about punishing an entire town.  For instance, how do you punish a town for the adulterous crimes of two people?  You can't make the entire town run, can you?  I think the punishment, in order to accomodate such a large scale, would be too mild to prevent anyone from commiting crimes.  What method would you use to punish an entire town?  Could we make this work?  Give it a shot.

Volley2: Student R

Thats a pretty good analogy, but think of it like this.  What kind of expectatios did you coach have for you?  Did he make you guys hit a goal time of say a 4 minute mile?  Thats what im getting from these Puritans.  No offense, im sure some of you guys were pretty good runners, but i dont see any you becoming collegiate all-americans.  I just feel the idea of punishment is rediculous in the first place.  If you look at ______ original post, he makes the point "how does a Christian/Puritan society like this consider itself a religious society when it seems to only focus on exposing sin and making accusations..."  and i feel i thoroughly agree with his idea.  Just as an idea lets take a look at those whos sins go unpunished.  If you look at Chillingsworth, you see that he also commits a mortal sin, yet he is not punhished by the Puritans.  His punishment comes as a result of his sin, and is in the form of his own withering away into an old, decrepid, bitter man. The same thing with Dimmesdale, who's sin eventually leads him to death.  I feel that these men deteriorated, not for fear of public chastization, but because of the deep spiritual affects of their sin upon them!  They did not need "human" intervention to show them that they had sinned against God.  Do you think it was better for Hester to be punished as she was or to let her punishment come naturally?  It seems that none of the major players in this novel got away without some sort of punishment for their sin.  Any thoughts on sin, punishment, Chillingsworth, Dimmesdale?

Volley3: Student J

I see what you are saying here.  I think that Hester probably would have been punished enough without the humiliation of the A and the scaffold.  I mean, wouldnt the townspeople have known that she was an adulteress when she all of a sudden had a kid walking around?  I imagine that much of the embarrassment she suffered at the hands of the puritans would have happened with or without the intervention of the law.  Really, when we boil it down, Pearl was a scarlet letter within herself.  She stood out like a stain on a white dress as a constant reminder of the sin.  As far as Chillingworth and Dimmesdale...I don't think either of them were truly punished.  Although Chillingworth ends up old and decrepit by the time he dies, his only true punishment is that Dimmesdale does not die without divulging his secret.  I highly doubt that this is sufficient punishment for murder.  On the other hand, Dimmesdale does suffer throughout the novel because of his sins.  However, I hardly feel that he truly suffers as result of his selfish repentence at the end of the tale.  And what about everyone else?  The author mentions that unpunished and unchecked sin pervades the city of Boston.  Even under the roof of the law sins sneek out unseen.  Is this evidence that the system doesnt work?  Or does it simply show that sin is an unsolvable problem?  And, in your opinion, is all sin bad?


My reflection:

R and J work quite well together.   R serves the notion of a hypocritical society with engaging passion.  How nice to have a sense that what your partner is writing to you about really matters to him!  He feeds J several questions, the first two of which J handles with ease in his return, mostly agreeing with and perhaps slightly enhancing R's post.  J finds "the question of whether or not Hester is as guilty as they make her out to be is a little more tricky," however, and his question about that triggers an exciting move in R's fielding.  J asks, "How do you feel the Puritans should have approached the punishment for the crime?"  And R hatches a wild idea.  I have noted before a sense that the longer interactions tend to stutter at the end of the return or the beginning of the fielding and that often there needs to be some new invigoration at this point.  That happens here.  J's reasonable question yields R's idea of punishing the whole community if one member goes astray!  Surprisingly, J runs with that in his volley1, seeing the similarity to a coaching technique and wondering if it could apply on a larger scale.  R, too, runs with his analogy for a short bit in his volley2, but implicitly uses the absurdity and impracticality of the idea to frame his core belief that all (public) punishment is ridiculous.  Instead of public punishment there is private retribution for sin, and punishment can be left to that.  Turning that idea back to J, R asks him to consider Hester's case in that regard.  In volley3 J agrees that Hester's private retribution is sufficient, but he opens up Chillingworth and Dimmesdale to the same investigation, inviting R to keep the conversation going, and going, and going.  I'd say that this is a very good example of the way 5-step interaction can work, and I'm glad to see that R had the Wow moment!