My youngest brother, Alex was always in and out of the hospital. By the time he was four, he had visited the ER at least six times and I can’t even count the times he had to see his doctor. It wasn’t like he had a serious illness, he was just a danger to himself. He was the black sheep in my family and we used to say he was a “freak of nature”.
It wasn’t like we didn’t keep a close eye on him— he would just unintentionally get hurt. One day, with THREE ADULTS watching him, he managed to get loose and run outside my house. We grew up watching “Daddy Daycare” and he lived the role of the Flash—believing he possessed super speed and agility.
Frantically, everyone ran after him to find that he had accidentally rammed himself into the brick street lamp. His failed attempt to run away caused him to get several bruises and cuts on his face, his two front teeth not growing back until he was seven and a teddy bear that he has kept until this day. Let’s keep in mind that that was ONE of his many freak accidents.
Having Alex as a sibling has definitely played a huge role in shaping my family. Before him, we didn’t have to learn about asthma or hospital rooms or uncontrollable tantrums. Alex is an individual. And I respect that. Just like how I respect Hester Prynne. She’s also an individual.
Like how Alex has shaped my family, Hester has shaped her Puritan community. Hester is the black sheep of her own story—which really isn’t a bad thing. After reading The Scarlet Letter, I want to explore the question:
How does an individual shape a community?
First off, I’ll tackle background. Hester Prynne is a young married woman who commits adultery in a Puritan community. Because of her sin, she is condemned to a life wearing a red letter “A” on her clothes. In short, I took this away from the book:
Let’s now state the obvious. Hester committed adultery in a strict religious town— and everyone knows. At the beginning of the novel, she is the talk of the town.
“A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment.”
The Scarlet Letter, Ch.II
Her one act was able to turn her community against her. Oddly enough, this reminded me of the Twilight Zone episode: “Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”, where one mishap causes the town to turn against each other.
The “aliens” in the episode, are the individuals wrecking havoc on the town, much like how Hester is the individual tearing apart her town. In chapter two of The Scarlet Letter, when we read the conversations the gossiping women have, we feel even the different viewpoints of this smaller community of people. Hawthorne’s idea of groups within groups opposing each others’ views and isolating an individual, makes me think of the essay Home at Last, by Dina Mengestu. In this essay Mengestu talks about not belonging in the group of men who were Ethiopian, even though he himself was Ethiopian. His problem, unlike Hester’s, did not come from something he had done, rather his struggle came from something he never had. In his case, I think he would better be compared to Hester’s child, Pearl. Mengestu and Pearl are both outcasts— not necessarily by choice. Both want inclusiveness; yet were preconditioned to be different.
“I’ve never lost touch with anyone, it seems. What I’ve lost is the right to lose touch.”
Scott Brown, Facebook Friendonomics
This quote from the essay Facebook Friendonomics, by Scott Brown, dives into this hole that Hester would know all too well. Once she has become the talk of her town, it seems impossible to get rid of her status. From being simply a married woman to being the center of town gossip, Hester has lost the idea of being able to fade and be forgotten. Even years later, when Pearl is already a young girl, Hester’s sin is not forgotten. This one individual has impacted her community so much so, that it almost seems like a binding curse. I like to think that Hester is a rose— thorns and all. She is very beautiful, but roses do not grow in clusters. Hester, like roses, are individuals, but they impact others with their beauty and thorns. Meaning, there is good and bad that the community can pull from Hester.
The Scarlet Letter has the reoccurring idea of an individual impacting her community. Whether good or bad, this person is able to shape the way others think, act and feel.
“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.”
– Vince Lombardi