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@2006 Ed Gallagher, Professor of English, Lehigh Lab Fellow. Lehigh University.
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S was one of the most serious, dedicated students in the class.  She always had several questions or comments in class.  She was perhaps the most participative student in class.  She almost always volunteered to answer my questions in class.  I would place her in the top 1/3 of students in the class.  A few others, recognizing her good work, chose her in their top five group members.  V was in the top 5-6 students in the class, a person who picked her words carefully in class, but who wrote full and sharp posts.  She was picked by many in their top five group.  V seemed to have a naturally quick wit and a generally smooth writing style, whereas S impressed me as one of those students who achieves by working very hard.

Serve: Student S --  "Public Sin"

The Puritians felt that sin should be made public and public condemed.  They sought this utopian society free of sin.  This being said, it's impossible.  There is no way to create a utopian society.  My feeling is that when people are forced to be perfect human fault become more prevelant.  Hester was so sexually repressed.  She was married to a man she did not love and he did not love her.  He leaves her and the returns out of the blue.  What kind of a marriage is this.  No contact and then poof he's back.  My question is do you think that the Puritian society contributed to Hester's sin.  Because she was forced to be so perfect.

Return: Student V

i think you're right about the puritan culture almost pushing Hester to sin.  It's almost like rules in general. When they get out of control, they are portrayed as rules made to be broken-- like a forbidden fruit.  But I also have to give credit to my romantic side as well.  Did you ever meet someone where five minutes after you left them you couldn;t wait to see them again?  Infatuations, even intense findings of true love, will make you do things that you wouln't normally do, even make you break the rules.  It makes me think of the talk radio post on cheating.  Don;t get me wrong, I don;t condone it.  But I'm sure that there are poeple out there that commit adultery, whether on the married side or the single side, where the feeling of it all clouds your brain from the basic morals of society and christianity.  Hester is a perfect example here, like you said.  You mentioned how she didn't love him and he really didn;t have much compassion for her.  Then he leaves, and hester beleives he's at the bottom of the ocean, as the novel eludes in a chapter I can't recall right now (sorry :)) But anyway, what was she supposed to do?  She meets Dimmsdale, possibly her ultimate soul mate.  And although she can;t confirm that her husband is dead, and that in the puritan society women were expected to wait at leasy 7 years before courting again after the death of a husband, what would you do if you met the man that lights your fire?  I know this might be a modern view, but we as 2003 readers can't repress that impression.  With regard to the reality of true love, fate, and the inhibitly stern puritan society, I certainly don;t beleive that the principles of this culture helped matters, but the power of romanticism and impulse based on that must also be looked at as an obvious culprit.

Fielding the Return: Student S

I understand what your saying, Hester meets her soul mate in Dimesdale.  That just gets me thinking about where the Puritians are emotionally.  Do they recognize love and passion as emotions.   I feel that the magistrates punish Hester for following her passion and doing what is right in her heart.  I also find it interesting that the Bible and Chirstianity portray God as being forgiving and loving.  The God the Puritians see is vengeful and will strike down.  I do not understand why a society would seek such punishments to root out sin.  Espeicially when religion is to be based upon love and forgiveness.  I was wondering what you thought about religion in this context and if Hester really did sin against God by going with her soul mate.

Volley1: Student V

I don't see Hester as committing a godly sin becasue she truly believed her husband was gone.  It would be different if she cheated on him like he was still around or something like that.  It's interesting you bring forgiveness and the bible into it.  Why can she and for that matter Hester not be forgiven if this society is based so much on the bible?  I mean, Hello?  What did Jesus die for then?  I don't think we should do whatever we want because he died for our sins, but if we are not forgiven, as what Jesus intended to be the case with his crucifiction, what does his death mean, then?  Especially in Hester's case.  It's not like she killed anyone or had an affair with intent to hurt anyone.  I think if she believed her husband was coming back, she would not have submitted to her infatuations, her love, with dimmsdale.  But she really had no reason to execute control over her love in this case.  We forgive every day for so many different things.  And there are things we all wish we could take back.  Of course that's impossible, but that is exactly why we forgive.  If a society wishes to exist symbiotically with all its people forever, and bring up good people with good values, there needs to be the consideration that perfectionism is unrealistic, and that a level closest to that condition is governed by forgiveness and acceptance.  Hester didn't sin against God.  If she didn't follow her heart, she would have sinned against herself.

Volley2: Student S

Let's think about Dimesdale in this context.  He's a man of the cloth, suposidly higher than the rest of the men, more moral or whatever.  He sins with Hester.  I have two questions here, he sins with Hester is he just as guilty or more guilty.  Here's my rational Dimesdale is higher than the other men, above them he'd have to step down from a high place to stand beside her.  Therefore shouldn't he be above sin or at least in this society's view.  He's charged with her soul how many times is that asserted in the work.  Now if Dimesdale is this high and mighty guy, why doesn't he confess himself outright and end it all.  I guess I can answer my own question, he'd be killed.  But he could have come clean.  If he's so high up why doesn't he. Could it be that he doesn't belive in this form of repentance and he is against it.  Or does he not belive that Hester has sinned.

Volley3: Student V

I think Dimmsdale defintely beleives that they sinned, but considering Hawthorne paints his character as such a weak one, it wouldn't make sense to have him confess if we are to rather concentrate our attentions on Hester's stength, and on her approach to dealing with this society.  Arthur had always been apart of the puritan society, where hester is very new to it, and does not necessarily agree with their beliefs.  We should almost expect Arthur to remain in secrecy as a function of his background.  His secrecy also allows the reader to further understand the characteristics of this society.  Hester stands out against it and walks high through town, exposed, for seven years.  If arthur was brought into this sphere, I think it would weaken her character, and the attack against puritanism by the author might be lost.  Just a thought.

Volley4: Student S

I agree that Dimesdale is just blending in with his background.  I wonder about Chillingsworth and his role in this picture.  He is so one dimensional yet her serves the vital function of tourturing Dimesdale and causing the pain to continue.  I was wondering if you thought Chillingsworth could be Dimesdale's scarlet letter and albatross.  He leeches off Dimesdale and privately tortures him.  Does this give support to the idea of sin being punished one way or another.  I was wondering if you thought Dimesdale penence was more effective than Hester's.  He cannot accept his fault openly yet privately he tortures himself.  And is forced to be shadowed by the cuckholded husband.  How creepy and mentally torturous that must be for him?  Does he deserve it?

My reflection:

Hmmm, an interesting pattern in this interchange.  I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like it in the other pairs.  It's as if S sees her predominant role as interviewing V.  I'm somehow reminded of those edited interviews I see in magazines.  Interviews that have the intervening small talk and chit-chat edited out, so that what you get is a block-like series of set pieces that feel fake.  S seems to have minimized her role.  Oh, I guess I can see her positions in some of her posts, but basically she seems to see her raison d'etre here as triggering a response from V.  She but minimally acknowledges V's responses to her questions before launching into another one.  And I suppose there is a coherence, a flow in the series of questions, but somehow the feeling I get is one discrete question after another.  Question/answer.  Question/answer. Now the questions are good, I think, and reveal sensitivity to the novel -- I don't mean to derogate her or them.  It just seems a bit odd of a strategy to sacrifice her equality in the interchanges to serve primarily as interviewer, as questioner, as interlocutor -- as "wonderer" (I was wondering what you thought . . .).  It's no wonder the process has gone on two extra steps, for S seems to have an endless supply of questions, and -- ha! -- perhaps no wonder that V passed up a volley5 stage.  For the only end in this sequence seems the exhaustion of one or both of the participants.  But the conversation does go on meaningfully here, and S makes me wonder about the many strategies out there to achieve that goal.