STUDENT WORK (3): "TWO GREAT WRITERS"
Q was an inconsistent student, not so much in quantity as in quality. He was not a perfectly punctual poster, but he posted most of the time -- he was, I would say, pretty dependable in that regard. However, Q would sometimes deliver a delightfully fresh, untutored, commonsensical post that would really wake you up -- only to dilute that with a few matter-of-fact ones. He saw himself a bit of a comic and, in fact, was popular as a wiseacre with others in the class. P was also inconsistent, a senior English major who when he was "on," was head and shoulders above everybody. But his engagement fluctuated noticeably, once again, not so much in terms of physical presence or attendance but in terms of energy and excitement. I wasn't sure how tolerant P would be of run-of-the-mill ideas, so like with N serving to B, this pairing was a bit of a risk.
Serve: Student Q -- "Two Great Writers"
You know, I was holding off posting because I wanted to think of a good serve that would carry on for quite some time. Last night right before I went to sleep I thoght of something great to say, and now I can't remmeber! Well Hawthorne is in my opinion the best author we have read along with Melville. I think that both of these guys are a caliber above the rest. The mood they create Makes you feel like you are there with the characters. You can feel the frustration and emotions. Right in the first chapter the mood is created. The ugly jail, the big timber door, the dull clothing of the puritans. When Professor G was reading the text while we watched the movie on screen, the whole book came to life again. There was so much detail. This scene made me think about another work, that being Moby Dick. That one scene at the Inn, the whole mood of the book is created. Hawthorne does seem to have a different point to his writing than Mellvile, and that comes out. The frustration you feel for Hester. We come from a scoiety that is so much different! I can name so many people that cheat, most of them feel no remorse. You want to tell the puritans to get a life. They are commiting more sins by scorning this girl than they are purging by having her up on the scaffld. Such Irony such frustration, and only in the first few chapters!
Return: Student P
whoa... sorry about my posting negligence... my last lehigh/lafayette week is now officially over (it's monday morning) and unfortunately that means i have to do a week's worth of work in 2 days... anyway, enough of that. i agree with you that melville and hawthorne are on a level by themselves (from what we have read so far... i would include twain in their company without a doubt). i think i made my affinity for moby dick known in class discussion (or through professor g's meta-modeling in front of the class). for whatever reason that novel got me thinking about a lot of interesting, yet unanswerable questions about myself. i think the scarlet letter raises many of its own interesting questions, however love, temptation, scorn, jealousy and remorse are all feelings that we can relate to (whereas an obsession with a monstrous white whale is entertained by only a select few people i'm sure). i'm not saying that i like hawthorne's work better than melville's (nor do i think that would be an interesting topic to discuss), i'm just saying that i think hawthorne's work can be related to on a more primative level and melville's require's the reader to go deeper. hawthorne has constructed a beautiful situation where one act has such reverberating consequences throughout the lives of so many people. we know that hester is openly tormented, dimsdale bears his own private cross, chillingworth (great name by the way) seeks insidious and relentless revenge, and that the town is obsessed by the whole affair (no pun intended)... but isn't this whole thing the town's fault in the first place? would there be a reason to write this novel if the townspeople didn't care? could this novel be hawthorne's indictment of puritanical society for being overly controlling? surely if everyone in the story were left to their own business to handle as they deemed fit everyone would be infinitely better off. i rented that movie that professor g. has been showing in class (the one with demi moore). there is a scene in it (which i don't remember in the book)... hester is talking to other women about how she talks directly to god. the rest of the women see this as blasphemous, that no one can speak directly to god. i think that goes back to what we were talking about in class the other day, about how public everything was made. it reminds me of our society still to this day. we have an inquenchable thirst for the private affairs of other people. (ex)president clinton, kobe bryant, "bennifer", ashton and demi, the list is endless. did hawthorne see the perverted problem with this more than a century and a half ago? and what, if anything can be done to fix this? do you even see it as a problem? can it be fixed?
Fielding the Return: Student Q
That was a gargantuan post, I thought I lost you for a while there haha. I love drawing paralells from books written over a hundred years ago to today. You are right when you say everything that the poor girl did was made public. You also say that the town would be better off if they minded their own business, "surely if everyone in the story were left to their own business to handle as they deemed fit everyone would be infinitely better off" but i do not think that this is so. As brought up in class, the Puritan society needed that intrusion to survive. Without them America might not be. Their community's tightness helped keep them alive. If they were not so strict the Indains and land around them would eat them alive. Also it is the 1600's, how =many people can there be here? The soap opera of the community kept it interesting, and besides where else were the town people suppose to get their etertainment from? With the whole Bill CLinton thing, I hate to get into this, but was that really necesary for that B@#$% to go national with that? What did she think was going to happen between them two? I'm sure every man with power gets some on the side, it comes with the job; if you can't get the ladies while president, then draw your own conclusions.
Volley1: Student P
it sounds like you're saying that the scarlet "A" might as well have stood for "America" because in order for this country to be the way it is today (falling apart in my opinion but that's a different topic) people's private affairs needed (and still need?) to be made public so that they can be shamed into walking the "righteous" path. it's funny, that notion makes sense. the puritanical aspect has not completely left our society. i'm thinking back to elementary school where is was the right thing to do when you "taddled" on a classmate who wasn't playing by the rules. the idea that someone is always watching is just part of who we are. it pervades every aspect of our lives. it's so natural you almost don't even think about it. but hawthorne did... i think that's what this book was about... he thought long and hard what it would be like if no one could see what you had done wrong (i'm talking about dimsdale's plight) and if you'd be able to live with yourself. unfortunately (and i think hawthorne got this right) dimsdale was a product of a guilty society and so he knew no other way to deal with his "sin" but penance... i don't think we'd be so different today... scary.
Volley2: Student Q
Q's serve is not great. It begins in praise-comparison of Hawthorne and Melville and then leans to Hawthorne, making a statement -- rather than asking a question -- about how much better our open society is than the Puritan intrusive one. Wouldn't that last sentence have been so much more effective as a serve if written as a question? "Isn't that society commiting more sins by scorning this girl than they are purging by having her up on the scaffold?" If Q had written a bit more sociably in his serve, P might not have launched into a streamy stream of consciousness in his return. Whoa! P, as if he is reading and responding to Q's post section by section, wanders through the same Hawthorne/Melville comparison, leaning to Melville as his personal preference, but ending by bringing focus to Q's climactic statement about Hawthorne: "could this novel be hawthorne's indictment of puritanical society for being overly controlling?" In this return P seems to supply the serving-type question that Q omitted.
But P then seems to take an opposite twist on our contemporary openness that Q praised without openly recognizing he's doing so when he sees our openness as a "problem" and asks Q to respond. Thus, I'm not sure there's real dialogue going on here yet. It feels to me a bit like both posters so far are kinda talking to themselves. Q does field P's return directly, however, quarreling with a specific statement, but the pro-Puritan position he takes is directly contrary to the anti-Puritan position he took in the serve! Does he not see what he is doing? And then he seems to turn again by proclaiming the "outing" of Clinton a good thing, which gives him the opportunity for some wry sexual cynicism characteristic of his wiseacre class persona. Then P in his volley1 reads Q as saying such outings are good (or, if not good, inevitable) -- how can he do that????? Where does that come from???? Where does Q lay the foundation for that???? But, by god, he takes that to the most interesting conclusion. P's idea of the result of Hawthorne's deep thinking about "Dimmesdale's plight" is downright provocative! His conclusion about the characteristic behavior of the American psyche IS downright scary. And then at this point, which seems to me the best of the interchange so far, Q goes silent -- no volley2. Damn!
So what to make of this exchange? What can we learn from it? That the possibility of valuable ideas is always there even if you can't follow the thought process? Or is what I'm trying to say is that the written words will not always do what I as a teacher want them to do -- serve as a record of the trail leading to insights? Or maybe what I'm trying to say is that discussion may not so much as cause ideas as be an occasion for them? Anyway, I'm surprised that something worthwhile came out of this gnarly interchange, but, then, Q may not have been there at the end to hear it. If a tree falls in the forest . . . . Grrrrr.