Title Page | Overview | Documents | Surveys | Exercises
Clips | Profiles | Results | Reflections | References
@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
Copyright, Terms of Use and Privacy Policy applicable to this site.

VOLLEYING 2:
STUDENT WORK (2): "PRIMAL FEAR"

In this pairing I had N, one of the bottom 1-3 students in the class (he got the lowest grade) serve to B, one of the top 1-3 students.  N was never a factor in class, as far as I could see.  He cut a decent amount (just short of being dropped for poor attendance), never quite seemed to have read the material, never volunteered in class and was evasive when called on, didn't finish all the surveys, and always seemed "out in left field."  On the other hand, he was gregarious, a clown, a bit of a creative writer, and was extremely popular.  B was a force in the class from the get-go.  Forward, brash, opinionated, aggressive -- he was always "on" and sometimes a bit intimidating, though I have noted over the course of this report that he modified his tone and behavior quite a bit, and was definitely writing socially before long.

Serve: Student N -- "Primal Fear"

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another for the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true."

-The Scarlet Letter, pg. 188

If you've seen the powerful film, "Primal Fear", starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton, then this passage might be familiar to you as being one of the key pieces of evidence for the prosecution in the trial for the murder of a sexual abusing Archbishop of Chicago.  I remembered hearing it in the film and couldn't stop thinking about its relevance once we began studying The Scarlet Letter.  It seems to me a quite profound piece of wisdom -- not just for Norton's naive-looking murderer character in "Primal Fear" or obviously Dimmesdale's character in the classic novel -- but just as a simple fact of life.  So many times on the news and in the headlines we were read of people (some famous, some not) as culprits of leading double lives or appearing to be one type of person when in reality they were just sporting a brilliant disguise.  Kobe Bryant?  Maybe for one, we're not sure exactly what will come of the convictions, and whether he's an abusive rapist or just a targeted superstar athlete...but if one thing's for certain we know that he isn't the squeaky clean family man that he was once made out to be.  No one's perfect of course, but it's that image that was planted into our heads -- and for the most part -- he was deemed "good" and "decent" in our society because of these traits he feigned for some time.  Another athlete stands as a fine example.  Kirby Puckett, once the darling of Minnesota and the entire sport of Major League Baseball with his pudgy, compact stature making him appear more like a cartoon character than a Hall of Fame baseball player, fell from grace when it was learned he was in reality a dirtbag father and violent personality.  When reports came out that he onced tried to choke out his ex-wife, hog-tie her with an extension chord, and then throw her in the closet the sportin world was nothing short of flabbergasted. Another example...dare I say: Michael Jackson??  The question that I now pose is this: Do we live in a modern Puritan society with religious morals replaced by long-understood, national ethics??  When we nearly impeach the leader of our country because he got some in the Oval Office, is that really saying we expect everyone to live up to a code?  And if they don't do we stamp them, figuratively, with a scarlet letter?  Why must a man have a "face for the multitude"?  Why can't he flaunt the face he keeps to himself?
How many modern day Dimmesdales are out there??  Hmmmmmmmmmm.............

The Return: Student B

I'm not totally sure I understand your question...i dont really think we live in a puritan society, I think we live in a confused society.  There is an implicit code, albeit not a religious one; you know what society looks down upon and what it considers you a hero for.  and while on the outside we flaunt our outrage for a great number of things that occur, i think inside a lot of us are struggling to find a code of conduct that we individually believe in.  thats one the best and worst things about a democracy...no one can really tell you what's right or wrong (which isnt necessarily the same as saying legal or illegal), but you have to come up with that moral code yourself and then stick to it.  I think we all have a multitude of faces, like you said, because we have an idea of what we believe (one face), but we don't want to offend someone who believes something different(another face).  If we showed our true selves the rest of the world, we might get embarrassed because what we think or feel is going against that implicit societal code, and many of us dont want to risk that.  did i answer your question???  i'm sorry, and if i didnt and you rephrase i can give you a better answer.

Fielding the Return: Student N

Ahh, yes, you're absolutely right, Clinton was in fact impeached because the meaning of impeachment=the act of being put on trial in front of almighty Congress for removal from office. I definitely slipped on that one. But, yes ________, you did answer my question -- and what's more, you (dare I use a patented Gallagher phrase) "built" upon much more than what I started out with.  I loved what you did with the Hawthorne line having to do with "having a face for the multitude, and a face for one's self" -- you tweaked it nicely to "a multitude of faces" -- and in doing so really struck a chord in my thinking.  The more I thought about it the more I believe, truly, that living in modern society we have a whole toolbox of faces; an entire repertoire, if you will.  Each designed for its own usage, and each strikingly different from the face for one's self.  And to be honest, _______, I don't know if you're like me but the simple fact that so many of us carry around those faces irks me to high heaven. It just could turn out to be one of my biggest pet peeves.  Because take being "politically correct", for example, is one of the easiest models of having an array of faces, you'll be hard-pressed to find a politician nowadays that gets elected without pulling out all of his personalities -- albeit fake or contorted.  He goes to a wealthy affluent part of the neighborhood...Like Norm the master carpenter from This Old House he's pulling out a face like another tool.  He goes to a poverty-stricken inner city public housing building and what do you know?  he's unveiling yet another face.  The senior citizens' home, whoah...here comes that brilliant disguise anew.  And politics is the easiest field to pick, it's not just there, it's everywhere you turn.  Business?  Yes.  Church? Yes.  Schools? Yes.  Everyone's trying to abide by those societal standards.  Everyone's afraid what might happen with a confrontation.  Everyone's worried about how they look. Everyone's worried about what everybody else thinks.  Nobody shows their real face enough.

Volley1: Student B

 Exactly and (now that we're on the same page here) that's a really good point.  My senior year of high school I actually got really, really pissed off because I was sick of everything ... i had to pretend to be someone I wasnt in high school in front one group of friends, and used a differentface in front of another. There were so many cliques and groups and I was apart of back then and each of them invited me "in" under the condition I acted the way they wanted me to act all the time.  I can't believe I ever had to deal with that, and there's definitely something about "real-ness" and sincerity I very much value in people at this point in my life.  If a person is confident in who he is, then he can be himself no matter what, given any circumstances.  I pity Dimmesdale, but, with your serve, I'm actually saddened by a lot of what I see going on in America.  You're right, church, school, business, and politicians especially.  I agree, I wish we could get rid of this Politically Correct crap because the vast majority of people who use DONT believe it, and they always end up slipping up and we find out what they really feel one way or another.  we have a chronic fear of acceptance, and because of it we're falsifying our society.  Take sex for instance...we see Girls Gone Wild and this ridiculous overabundance of sex everywhere to make it seem that, Heyyyyy we're fine with sex!  But we're not.  It's actually so tabboo in this country, and we flaunt it around because I think a lot of us appear to respond to sex one way but inside, we feel totally differently about it.  sigh.  so whatddya think?  the multitude of faces...part of human nature or just an aspect of a very self-conscious American society which refuses to acknowledge that which is tabboo.  There will always be those Hester Prynne's who are comfortable enough having only one face to show the world...but can we ever excpect that to be the norm?  thanks for givin me something to chew on

Volley2: Student N

_______, I very much agree with your portrayal of a typical American high school in this present day.  So many faces, so few people so goes the way it turns out, I believe, with those cliques and groups and superficial labeling of people.  Sex...oh -- well sex sells, now doesn't it?  But yes, that's a prime example -- a perfect comparison could be drawn between how we here in the U.S. feel about sex and how in Europe and abroad feels about it.  In foreign countries -- and most predominantly in Europe and Asia -- television shows are aired with nude hosts and contestants and women are found topless and bottomless in countless commercials.  It seems starkly obvious that in those foreign lands, people simply don't place the extremely high value on staying clothed as we do here in the States.  It's almost like we're those third grade boys who find their father's Playboys and giggle and cackle at the site of "boobies" and a bare woman's ass.  Is this what we truly hold deep in our psyche?  Or are we just held down by social ethics that we're unable to break through -- or incapable of facing up to.  I know I've strayed a little off the topic of the Scarlet Letter, but I don't really think it's that far off the beaten path of our discussion.  Truly think about it, ______, look at how pornography thrives in our society -- behind closed doors and as an extreme guilty pleasure, if you will.  Men flock to strip clubs and gentleman's clubs while their wives wait at home, and they do so in the greatest secrecy and conscience-pummeling way.  "Shhhhhhhhhhh.......don't tell, but I love sex": Is this what we've come to in our society?  Here's the 100,000 dollar question, ______...  If sex wasn't so taboo in our society, would pornography, sexual abuse, pedophilia decrease in an exponential way?  I'm leaning toward the answer "yes".   People want what they can't have -- and sex is, at large, such a huge part of human activity that if you keep it under wraps for too long problems will arise.  Just look at Dimmesdale. No sex?  It's unnatural, so he went out and did something about it.  Hit me back.

Volley3: Student B

It's weird, ______, i really used to read books about Victorian england and all the sexual repression that went on there (which of course ended in sexual aberrations like rape taking place behind closed doors), and I was so happy that America was past all of that. maybe not though.  Yes, like Dimmesdale, we have our own proper faces to put on in front of the members of our "national community" but then we show our true colors when we do the things you mentioned: pedophilia, sexual abuse, pornography. and you're COMPLETELY right, in other countries people are so much more free with the idea of sex and nudity...if sex wasn't so taboo in our society, would these instances of sexual misconduct decrease?  I definitely think so.  something about human nature and doing what we know subconsciously (because it's been drummed into our heads) that we're not supposed to do.  good question, but the answer is clear here. America is advanced in so many ways....but in other regards, like this one, we have a lot of catching up to do.


My reflection:

I must admit that N's serve here made me re-think my previous attitude toward him, which, frankly, was not very good.  It occurs to me that what specifically put me off about him was that he never seemed to be "in" the text.  He always seemed to start outside the text and have but a tenuous link to it.  It occurs to me that it is definitely my "prejudice," if you will, that, of course, where one starts is with the text.  But then "internalizing" is one of my serving "eyes" -- I have been grousing a bit about internalizing at certain times during this report, but, c'mon, why do I have it if I don't recognize it as legitimate???  So, here is N pretty far out on the life-line with a tenuous link to the Mother Ship, but, b'damn, he serves up a pretty interesting series of internalizing questions: " Do we live in a modern Puritan society with religious morals replaced by long-understood, national ethics??  When we nearly impeach the leader of our country because he got some in the Oval Office, is that really saying we expect everyone to live up to a code?  And if they don't do we stamp them, figuratively, with a scarlet letter?  Why must a man have a "face for the multitude"?  Why can't he flaunt the face he keeps to himself?  How many modern day Dimmesdales are out there??"  This is the kind of thing that makes me worry that I might "pre-judge" students with different approaches than mine without recognizing it, the kind of thing that makes me worry that I need to learn my own lesson about community.

However, the introduction and conclusion to B's return show that N's approach threw him a bit as it did me, but he of the sharp mind makes a couple of very nice moves by discriminating between society puritan and confused and democracy best and worst.  Good stuff!  And it advances the conversation -- at least, so says N in his fielding -- but B's return has made no reference to the text, and that, as I have said, makes me nervous.  I guess I need the connections to the text to combat the feeling that the conversation is worthwhile, and that's something I've got to re-think.  But has B really advanced the conversation or is N just in his own solar system, for his fielding heads ever outward -- though engagingly -- through phrases like a "toolbox of faces" and references to Norm the carpenter?  (N can write!)  Amazingly (to me), however, B in volley1 seems in step, internalizing the thread to his high school days and externalizing it to America, and, thankfully, throwing a hook back to both Dimmesdale and Prynne in what I can see as meaningful ways: "There will always be those Hester Prynne's who are comfortable enough having only one face to show the world...but can we ever excpect that to be the norm?"

In his volley2 N reaches back to B's reference to sex and runs full speed with it; it is just the kind of subject he likes!  But, damn, there's the nod to Dimmesdale to show that the task at hand is still at hand (though, I have to say the idea that Dimmesdale's motivation is some heroic, rebellious snatching of sexual freedom is pretty bizarre).  And B is totally on board in his volley3, bringing in his own reading in and thoughts about sexual repression, and finally moving from that small foundation in Dimmesdale again to a pretty sweeping indictment of modern America!

Now somehow this is not my cup-of-tea discussion, but can I complain?  It starts in legitimate internalizing, both the weak student and the strong student write in long and lively fashion, there is interaction and building from post to post, the interchange, in fact, goes seven steps instead of the required five, and the feeling you get is that both are engaged and getting something out of the process.  I'm reluctant to say it -- ha! -- but this is probably a worthwhile interchange.  I guess I would feel better if N had showed himself more versatile and had skillfully done other type posts across the course.  I think that the fact that this kind of post was all he did is the big problem for me.  And that would be what I would need to point out to him in order to promote improvement.  He was pretty much allergic to close reading of the text, and that ain't good.