For the past couple of weeks, our class has been discussing the “essential question”: how can an individual affect a community? Reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and other essays in our class/spare time was supposed to help us come up with diferent, in-depth answers to this “essential question”. I love this question because it is extremely broad, therefore there are multiple different answers that will satisfy this question.
“A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steepler-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice,” (Hawthorne 1.1).
When Mr. Ziebarth assigned us the task of reading and annotating the page that had an excerpt from The Scarlet Letter, it was clear that this would relate to our discussions regarding the individual versus community topic. From the little excerpt that we read and annotated, it was obvious that the prisoner was causing a group of people [a community] to come together. Because Hawthorne used words that created a sorrow yet anticipating emotion, you can infer that the event being taken place evoked a gloomy and dismal response from the people.
“It was a circumstance to be noted, on the summer morning when our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be excpected to ensue” (Hawthorne 2.2).
When I read this sentence in Chapter 2, I believed that Hawthorne was trying to display the judgemental and ridiculing behavior from the community towards Hester. As you read on, you will start to realize that the community is gathering together with the solid foundation of hatred and scorn for Hester Prynne. Their common disgust towards Hester is what essentially unites them together and this is a prime example of how Hester, the individual, is affecting the overall community. By the townspeople’s sickened reactions towards seeing Hester, it is obvious that she was no respected in the community due to her adultery. The sin that she had committed immediately defined her as a person.
Innocence, Russell James, russelljames.com, CC-BY-2.0
When Hester is released from prison, the community surrounds her only to immediately judge her. Her soul is bare for the community to see, and while her innocence and purity is now considered “broken”, the townspeople decide to isolate her from the community; however, this poses an interesting question for me. Why would a community of people willingly shun a member of their society? The women in Boston were eager to see Hester killed for the sinful act that she had committed, but why should a group of people unite with common hatred instead of common love or compassion towards a human being? Yes, the townspeople were Puritans which could be viewed as an exception for their brutal and relentless behavior— but is this type of cruel attitude being practiced today in our current society? Do we, as civilians in the 21st century, unite together when we have a common animosity towards a certain person or a sensitive subject? If so, how can we change this in order to unite the people together when there is a common deep appreciation and compassion for humanity?
Inhibition Portrait, New York 2000, Russell James, russelljames.com, CC-BY-2.0
In my opinion, I feel like the answer is clear and simple—fiery passion, complete selflessness, and persistent determination; however, the literal practice may seem difficult. We can easily relate this back to our history because there are several individuals that have affected and essentially changed an entire community. Some influential leaders are Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, etc.; the list can go on. Respectively, these people have affected their communities for different reasons and in different ways. However, they all have something in common—they all had a vision, unselfishly worked to watch that vision become a reality, and fully accepted the probability that their life would be at risk for their cause. Each and every one of these individuals impacted their community, and eventually, this impact affected the world on a global scale.
“After many days, when time sufficed for the people to arrange their thoughts in reference to the foregoing scene, there was more than one account of what had been witnessed on the scaffold” (24.1).
I have always believed that when a person dies, it is usual for grieving to take place for a day, a week, a month, or so on. After the grieving process gets a little easier, people would usually remininsce on good memories— they woud like to remember the good things about a person; to let their dignity or character rest in peace. When Mr. Dimmesdale passed away after giving his speech to the people, finally admitting to his sin and revealing the “A”, many people were still awfully confused. He was a reverend and in his society, he was set to fit a certain role; however, his lies could no longer be covered up, for his self-concience was starting to eat away at him— mentally, emotionally, and physically. He affected the community because Dimmesdale was the man that took part in the famous Hester Prynne’s sin. As a reverend, he was most likely the last person the townspeople would suspect to commit such a sin. It is unfortunate that he had to die as soon as he spoke his last word in his speech but the murmurs and debate on whether the reverend had the “A” on his bossom was still talked about in Boston. This just proves that his speech and his sin still had an affect on the community. Although he was already deceased and the questions could not be asnwered, the community still took it upon themselves to discuss the question of whether or not the scarlet letter was existent on his breast.
On pages two hundred and eighty to two hundred and eighty-one in our Language of Composition Textbook, it provides a letter that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote while he was in his cell. In the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, Martin Luther King Jr. firmly believed that, “when rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.” Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to come to a compromise without the use or act of violence. In other words, he felt that fighting in the streets or killing others would essentially not resolve any issues for the long-term, for this would cause a deeper division between races. I believe that this is one of the several reasons why he was, and still is, heavily admired. He was committed to not using any form of violence in order to achieve his dream [goal], and although he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, he is still honored and remembered for his notable achievements. He stood up for his beliefs and despite the difficult obstacles that stood in his way, he was able to leave his legacy behind and further spread the equality that he has always dreamt of since he was a little boy.
On page two hundred and ninety-six in our Language of Composition Textbook, I read the essay Where I Lived, and What I Lived For. I loved this essay because it gave me a real glimpse inside an individual’s mind. Henry David Thoreau believed that, “when we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any shadow of the reality. This is always exhilarating and sublime.” I admired his perspective on the reality of the world and I appreciate his strong voice of opposition towards the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required the return of escaped slaves to their owners or masters; the citizens in free states had to abide by this passed law. Despite the consequences of going against the United States Congress, Thoreu wanted to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was no life, to cut a broad swatch and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms”. He was not simply a follower but a leader—seeking justice for human rights, particularly over the issue of slavery. This individual willingy chose to defy the odds and fight tirelessly for what he firmly bellieved was true and righteous. Because of his determination and commitment towards the abolition of the Fugitive Slave Act, he affected his entire community in a remarkable way.
How can an individual affect a community? It’s quite simple actually. Just start. Do not hesitate, do not stutter, and most importantly, do not stop when you feel hopelessness weighing down on your shoulders and heart. You are your thoughts—whether negative or positive. Find a cause that you are crazily passionate about and find ways to gather your community. Social media? Funny trends? Your words? Your creative talents? Showcase your gifts and talents to your community and let it spread like wildfire.
Unite. Love. Spread.
Until next time,