L was among the top 1-3 students in the class, H was a notch below, say, in the top 4-6. This, then, is an interchange between two upper-level students in the class. L, who would decide to be an English minor, wrote carefully crafted, thoughtful posts, especially notable for her textual citations and general mastery of text detail. She was relatively quiet in class, but her classy periodic contributions plus her consistently high quality posts quickly gained her recognition as an intellectual leader. My sense is that she was thought of as a deep thinker by her peers. H was a business major, perhaps a bit too lacking in confidence for much in-class participation but who wrote consistently sane, straightforward, and sensible posts. She always seemed to have a command of text detail but lacked the knack that the very best students have of going beyond plot to meaning. Once cued into a train of thought, she could run with it, but she rarely was the one to make the imaginative leap that started high level threads or stimulated deep insights.
STUDENT WORK (5): "PASSION = DEATH?"
Serve: Student L -- "Passion = Death?"
So I think an interesting topic to delve into with this novel is Hawthorne’s conception of passion. I was absolutely struck by one of the narrator’s closing observations at the novel’s conclusion and found it quite central to the novel’s interpretation. Following the heartrending death scene the narrator states:
It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual life upon another; each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his object. Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky and lurid glow (225). I like this analogy. It seems to work, considering the context of the novel. Is Hester not entirely dependent upon Dimmesdale for “spiritual life”? Is Chillingworth not “dependent for the food of his life” upon Dimmesdale? I think it works. However, it causes me to question what Hawthorne’s ultimate attitude towards passion is. Is it not always a corrupting force? Look at the eventual fates of both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Look at the life of shame and torment that Hester is doomed to life. Note that only after Dimmesdale dies, does Pearl become “human” again and the “spell [is] broken” (222). Is it passion that Hawthorne disparages? Emotion? Does he uphold the values of the Puritanical society which he presents us with in the novel? What’s your take on it?
Return: Student H
I think that Hawthorne has a problem with love and hate disapproves of anyone who has a passion for either, basically saying that both are sinful. I find myself feeling sorry for everyone in the book because anyone with any concrete feelings are living out a terrible life. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingsworth all hold passions for eachother that lead to their demises. Pearl becomes a stable person only after the death of Dimmesdale. At that time, all of the passion between the 3 main characters dissipates because he is taken out of the equation. Hawthorne is making a statement about his view of life- basically, don't have one that makes you feel for anything... ie: one devoid of passion. He apparantly believes in the puritan ideal of living an unselfish life, but brings it to a new level. He considers loving and hating selfish acts that a person should live without in order to get to heaven. Does any of this make sense? I've been thinking about this all day and am still kind of confused myself. My question is where does Pearl fit into all of this? Was seeing the shame in her family making her a better person? She had a strange kind of passion for herself- why wasn't she punished for it also?
Fielding the Return: Student L
I have to admit that I'm confused myself. I feel as though I just scratched the surface in my last post and you've definitely given me some new things to think about as well. But I have to question your statement that Hawthorne "considers loving and hating selfish acts that a person should live without in order to get to heaven". I agree with you that Hester and Dimmesdale feel themselves condemned. However, I'm not sure that Hawthorne believes that loving is a selfish act. I may be going out on a limb here but I see a Moby Dick-type theme here. Maybe Hawthorne doesn't himself believe that Hester and Dimmesdale's actions warrant eternal condemnation. Perhaps he is lamenting the harsh reality that oftentimes such passion, such true depth of feeling can never be realized here on earth. Much like Ahab was frustrated by the reality that life is oftentimes very unfair. As for Pearl, she's an entirely different matter. I feel as though she is vibrant and full of life, unlike the other characters depicted in Hawthorne's Puritanical society. I think that a major factor here is her isolation from the rest of society. She does not live among them, so why should she conform to their social norms and standards? She rebels. Quite honestly, I enjoyed her character. I loved the way she mocks EVERYTHING. She is entirely uninhibited. Perhaps this is the result of the fact that "Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers" (174), as Dimmesdale says in reference to Hester. Surely this could apply to Pearl as well. So those are my puzzlings on the matter. I hope I've made some sort of jumbled sense...Maybe you can help me work through it! :)
Volley1: Student H
I really like your comparison to Moby Dick and it makes sense but I'm still not sure if that's Hawthorne's objective. After talking in class about Dimmesdale's somewhat pathetic character, I wonder what it is that makes his and Hester's relationship so special. Maybe I feel this way because of how Dimmesdale handled the situation and how they never really did anything to get away until it was too late, but it doesn't seem like there is some incredible ammount of passion that can't be recognized in that time. It appears to me as, look, these two people screwed up big time...and now they have to live, miserably, with what they did- a don't let this happen to you, type situation. I know Pearl doesn't quite fit into this mindset very well, so maybe you can help me there- I guess I'm too blinded by the bad taste this book left in my mouth sophomore year of high school to see a beauty to Hester and Dimmesdale's relationship!
Volley2: Student L
Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic. I too read the novel in high school and I saw it then, as I see it now: a tragic love story...Although your response definitely made me think. The more I think about it, the more I see Hester as the more loving and devoted of the two. I see the love in the way she passionately pleads with Chillingworth to leave Dimmesdale alone and to punish her for her sin. She thinks of him and references the forest as the "dell of solitude and love" (208). She refuses to give up his identity, even as she is harassed by the townspeople. But one could make the argument that Dimmesdale loves her as well. He is simply a weak man. If there were no love on his part, why not completely just put the entire incident out of mind? Hester clearly isn't going to divulge his identity anytime soon...And how does one explain the mysterious "A" on his chest? He is deeply affected by the situation. I think a lack of love on his part would be denoted by an apathetic demeanor and I just don't see that here. He's a weak and pathetic man, but I do think he cares for Hester deeply. As I said, I may just be a hopeless romantic but that's how I read it. I would like to pose the question of how Dimmesdale feels about Pearl . I found that relationship to be quite confusing as well. Pearl seems to be the sticking point for me in the novel...Any ideas?
Volley3: Student H
I agree that Dimmesdale was a weak man and that attribute is what leads me to believe that his love for Hester wasn't as genuine as it appears. Perhaps, it's because I want a strong man to be there for me and care for me and he wasn't that to Hester...Anyway, in terms of Dimmesdale and Pearl- I think I feel similarly about their relationship. Although it would have been dangerous to reveal his identity to her, he never showed me that he had extraordinary feelings for her. His concern for his own well-being completely overpowered his love for them and that was disappointing to me. I feel bad for Pearl because she never got to have that father figure and her mother was scorned by everyone in their society. As for Dimmesdale's chest, I'm still not sure whether it was self-inflicted or not. If it wasn't, it served as a pretty clear sign to own up to what he did. I want to like Dimmesdale's character and feel bad for him but it's hard because he neglected his own life- but more importantly, the lives of his family for so long.
L's serve is a model of a way to set up and start a discussion. She grounds her post in a key text that she gives in full, then contextualizes it to flesh out its meaning and truth, and then uses it as the basis for a question that she addresses to H. It seems to me that L over and over again serves in a way efficiently designed to "coax" (to use U's great verb) a good return. Now I'm negatively surprised at the nature of H's return, though in the long run it turns out ok. In a way, I thought L was lobbing a "fat" serve at H, one easy to respond to. Is Hawthorne upholding Puritan values? Naaa, can't be, H -- why did you get so confused? So in her return H says that "loving and hating [are] selfish acts that a person should live without in order to get to heaven." Naaa, disappointing response, especially since she's read the novel before, especially since she's thought long and hard, she says, over L's serve -- who would advocate living without loving? Or how can you say someone does without recognizing that you have to elaborate?
Now, no damage is done because L immediately beats up on that point in fielding H's return before moving to the question of Pearl, which H also brought up in her return (a sign that H is nicely conscious of doing her part to keep the conversation going). Like she did with her own question in her serve, L crisply and concisely gives her view before turning it into a matter for debate by H. Parenthetically, it occurs to me to wonder outloud if L's protestations of uncertainty and so forth are a bit too artificial. L, after all, has a very confident tone and mounts a good case, so I think it wouldn't hurt to caution her that if she's "playing" dumb when she says things like "I have to admit that I'm confused myself" and maybe you can "help me work through" things, that that strategy can backfire (I guess the reason I bring this up is that I must be registering subconsciously that I've seen her do this kind of thing before).
H's volley1 is not so good. She again asks for help regarding Pearl, as if L hadn't devoted much of her fielding to Pearl. And, though she acknowledges L's objection on the passion matter, she withholds assent by devaluing the Hester/Dimmesdale relationship itself. The trouble is that she doesn't do much to elaborate her negative feeling, a fact highlighted by the way L responds in volley2. Something is bothering H, but she doesn't articulate it, but, rather, sort of shunts the question back to L. In volley2, L does what I think H should do -- go to the text for the evidence that sways one way or the other. That's what I've seen L good at several times over the course. And, in regard to Pearl, L nicely keeps that wedge of the conversation alive by asking where Dimmesdale fits in.
It's that question, I think, that elicits H's best post in volley 3 (note that H takes the conversation an extra step). Here H is clearer than heretofore about exactly what's bothering her. I dunno, but it seems to me that where L has been working from the text, H has been working from the gut, and that my advice to her would be to draw more on plot details as a basis for getting her feelings "out there" where they can be more a positive force than here. For, frankly, H seemed a bit outclassed by L here. L was active, dominant, H reactive and passive.
Now, still, though, I guess I would have to call this a decent interchange. L kept the conversation moving with good ideas, and H eventually "came clean," perhaps articulating her feelings for herself for the first time. As I look back over my comments here and in the other student work documents, in fact, I wonder if I'm falling into the trap of seeing the interchanges as competition. I gotta watch that. I do want to see everybody post as best they can, but I gotta recognize that an interchange in which one leads and the other follows can still be very valuable.