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.


In my estimation M was an overall better student than U.  So this time I have the stronger student serving to the weaker.  M was "solid" -- I'd place him in, say, the second quadrant of students.  He was always there, always had completed the reading, always had something reasonable to say, always showed awareness of and implemented posting guidelines and suggestions.  M's work was "workman-like"; he was part of the respectable and responsible backbone of the course.  U was in, say, the third quadrant.  He was one of those people easily overlooked.  His ideas were not especially visible as contributions to the mainstream of the class.  He didn't put himself forward, and his work didn't put itself forward.  He just didn't seem to do much that was "remarkable" (worthy of being talked about), and my sense is that I haven't even used his posts very much in comparison to others in this report.

Serve: Student M -- "welcome to reality"

This book offers up two extremes, both of which are a direct result of sinning.  Either come forward and be shunned by the general public, or keep everything bottled up inside and suffer.  Man, what's a person to do?  I suppose refraining from sinning is the most logical, but isn't that a bit unrealistic.  People mess up, people make mistakes, people sin.  As much as people hate to admit it, sin is just as much a part of life as breathing.  I doubt that this is Hawthorne's overall message, but whether or not he's singled out hester's sin in this "perfect" society as a means to let others know that there are consequences to thier actions is something to discuss.  Aslo, ________ mentions Hawthorne's use of passion in the novel.  On page 174 is the line "but this had been a sin of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose."  This makes me wonder whether Hawthorne actually sees adultery as bad as everyone else sees it.  It's obvious the only reason she was caught is because she had a child.  Then we have all this talk of Hester seeing sin in others, and wondering why she suffers.  Hawthorne is after something here.  Why is it that a "sin of passion" be looked down on so terribly, when there is so much worse that could be done?

Return: Student U

 "Why is it that a "sin of passion" be looked down on so terribly, when there is so much worse that could be done?"

You ended your post with this thought-provoking statement.  Here are my coaxed thoughts: The Puritan society strove to be perfect, and yet its only mode of pursuit was to remove any impure bodies from the community.  To the Puritans, there were no levels or degrees of indecorous activities.  If you did a wrong, you were going to be punished in a way it would be sure that you would never commit that wrong again. Public damnation or execution were the main tools bestowed by Puritan authority because they worked very efficently and were respected.  They were respected by society because something like execution is irreversible.  You are going to die for what you have done, and your death will benefit society for two reasons: 1.) you've sinned once, its likely you will sin again,so the chances of you sinning again are going to be eliminated with your elimination and 2.) your punishment will be an example to the rest of society of what happens when you do what your not supposed to do.  The Puritan ideaology is very structured, but in the midst of that intimidating framework something is awry.  For if it was a legit lifestyle, wouldn't Puritan society flourish?  Instead, something makes the Puritan society flounder.  It seems as though a society so devoted to perfection would ultimately reach its goal someday, and learn how to perpetuate it.  I'm not sure what that something is, _______.  Maybe you have an idea of what the bug is that makes the Puritan society disfunctional at times.

Fielding the Return: Student M

I don't know about the fall of Puritan society.  If I had to guess, I would think that it failed simply because it was so illogical to begin with.  Human beings are too complex to practice perfection, if you can uderstand that.  Take, for example, Pavlov's "conditioning" theory.  Organisms can adjust to certain stimuli in their environment that are rooted in the most basic of needs(food, temperature, etc).  If you look at this in terms of people conforming to a single society, which is what the Puritans were trying to do, it doesn't work because this goes beyond the basics.  Conforming in this manner requires a person to actually think, and draw conclusions as to what is going on around him; and since no two people are the same in this respect, they form entirely different outlooks on thier society.  So I guess this "bug" as you call it was somthing that certain memebers couldn't come to terms with.  Their society lacked the flexibility needed for everyone participating to be comfortable.  Now what do you suppose that constraining element was?  Religion perhaps?  Their whole society was built around one religion, so everything was set and all participants were part of the same adgenda.  So where does that leave those who weren't willing to conform?  The only thing they can do is dissasemble the Puritan way of life to gain the flexibilty they require.  Now then, I take it that Hawthorne was one of these deviant thinkers.  So what is it about this novel that illustrates this yearning for change?  Obviously you could look at the minister's penance and death as clear exapmles, but what about the other characters?

Volley1: Student U

Characters other than Dimmesdale yearning for change... hmmm.  I'd have to go with the main character and the main event spurring Hawthornes novel on.  That would be Hester, choosing personal freedom over being controlled by a society and its religion, Puritanism, and therefore, choosing to make love with Dimmesdale in the woods.  I feel this is the best example possible to illustrate a member of society trying to provoke change.  Unfortunately, she doomed herself with only personal negative change, and not a positive change in her society.  This negative change shows the steadfastness of the Puritan society. There is no room in Puritan society for change.  Look at the root of the word Puritan, for example.  A religion devoted to purity.  There was nothing pure about what Hester was up to in the woods.  Thats for sure.  So, with that said, I think it would be interesting to compare and contrast any other societies "purely" devoted to perfection.  I don't know if i can make any connections as of right now, but I'm gonna give it some more thought.  maybe you can come up with something good.

Volley2: Student M

Wow!  that last part of your post got me thinking.  All the societies which strove for perfection fell at one point or another.  Look at any of the wars where one side was trying to conquer the other and force them to adopt foreign policies (WWI and II, the crisis in the ME, all those against communism, etc).  Nothing was ever accomplished; opposition prevailed for the most part.  I can kinda connect what you said about Hester taking the weak, or "negative" side with this.  It was clear that she wasn't ready to take the full blown abolitionist side, and I actually think that Hawthorne had a reason for creating her in this manner.  The best method to introduce change is by starting small, and building off of it.  One reason why wars fail is due to disrespect for this concept.  You take things one step at a time.  So, I suppose Hester was designed to get things started buy doing something that was totally looked down upon in her society, and not showing any shame so that she might attract the attention of future followers.  Sure, she wasn't being very loud about it, but she couldn't be; It would have been too much.  She'd be jumping the gun and be back to the whole conquering idea, which would fail.  I just take Hester's sin as Hawthorne's indication of how to get things started.  Hope that makes sense!

My reflection:

Hmmm, look at the "textbook" interaction here!  M ends his serve with a pregnant question: "Why is it that a 'sin of passion' be looked down on so terribly, when there is so much worse that could be done?"  U isolates that question, puts it at the top of his return and takes a whack right at it, exploring his "coaxed thoughts" (isn't that a great phrase for our purposes?).  His answer evolves into a return question for M: "what [is] the bug . . . that makes the Puritan society disfunctional at times?"  M, in turn, fields U's question and evolves yet another in return: "So what is it about this novel that illustrates this yearning for change?  Obviously you could look at the minister's penance and death as clear exapmles, but what about the other characters?"  The pattern continues as U volley1's an answer then admits to reaching an impasse and wonders whether M "can come up with something good."  M's volley2 has a jump-for-joy transition ("Wow! that last part of your post got me thinking"), the signifying mark of the climactic post of my dreams, and his argument there ends with a polite communitarian gesture.  Each student clearly gives each other student something to do in a return post each time.  Great discussion board strategy.  What more could you ask?

And yet.  And yet.  What I started to think about here is the rather common situation with the essay that is grammatically perfect but lean or predictable in content.  You know, the kind that students proclaim should get a top grade because it is mechanically clean.  Yep, the kind that often gets us into those gnarled conversations about the relative weight between form and content in our grading principles.  Here are two students who know and practice the mechanics in a model way.  But this is not especially or totally a model interchange.  Take U's return, for instance.  He takes the easy way out.  Sure, execution will assure that you sin no more, but what about the efficacy of public exposure -- aye, there's the rub, as the novel itself shows.  U comes off as a bit shallow here, well, a lot shallow, I think.  Take M's volley2, for another instance.  It's not that his point about the way war fails is shallow, but -- what? -- that it's naive? simplistic?  Maybe that's the same as shallow.  But what I mean to imply is that at least it is more provocative than U's comment -- it started me thinking.  But it seems such an over-simplification that it is somehow off-putting.  I can admire the workman-like attention to the mechanics of posting here, but in the end I have to say that such things are a duty not a virtue -- and that because of the content, this is not a high-level interchange.  Solid, yes,  Workman-like, yes.  Competent, most definitely.  And worthy of praise for those traits, to be sure.