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Strathmann 1

Riley Strathmann
AP Language Pd. 4

The Scarlet Letter Dialectical Journal Entry #1

The three formed an electric chain...there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and
Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a
symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in the noon of that strange and
solemn splendor, as if it were the light that is to reveal all the secrets, and the daybreak that
shall unite all who belong to one another, looking upward to the zenith [the clouds in the sky],-
the letter A,- marked out in lines of dull red light burning duskily through a veil of clouds, but
with no such shape as his guilty imagination gave it, or at least, with so little definiteness, that
anothers guilt might have seen another symbol in it. Ch. 13, p. 102-104 Signet ed. (Hawthorne,

How does the isolationism of individuals affect the community?

The isolation of individuals in a society will obviously affect the community because the
definition of a community is a bond between all individuals. In the passage the minister, Hester,
and her daughter Pearl, who are all earlier depicted as sinners, happen to meet at the platform
(a place where sinners in society go to be publicly judged). The author describes them holding
hands and staring at oddly shaped clouds. This conveys two contrasting ideas on the issue of
isolationism and its affect on the community. The first idea is that the isolation of individuals is a
way for the community to essentially point fingers at the ones who have wronged in order to
gain a sense of moral superiority. This idea is expressed by the authors depiction of the three
sinners as forming an electric chain, because they appear to be the only sinners in that
society, and his vague description of how each individual has sinned; the minister, who has
committed a sin that nobody knows about, Hester, who has committed adultery and must wear a
scarlet letter A to show it, and Pearl, who will always be a living symbol of Hesters sin
(Hawthorne, Nathaniel). By doing so, each character has been singled out from the rest of the
community as inferior sinners thus allowing the rest of the community to feel morally superior.
The second side to the issue however, describes the opposite idea; that every member of the
community is a sinner. This view is represented in the quotes, They stood in the noon of that
strange and solemn splendor, as if it were the light that is to reveal all the secrets, and the
daybreak that shall unite all and looking upward to the zenith [the clouds in the sky] saw -the
letter A,- marked out in lines of dull red light burning duskily through a veil of clouds
(Hawthorne, Nathaniel).The red A hiding behind of veil of clouds represents the sinful secrets
that people hide. However, the light of daybreak reveals the fact that everyone in the community
has secrets, not just the three sinners mentioned earlier.
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The most important part of the passage however, is that while there are two very
different sides to the issue, both involve the presence of sinners. In other words, no matter how
one looks at the situation there will always be sinners, therefore a community shouldnt create
such drama over one sinner because there will always be sinners. In the passage, the fact that
in one night three sinners can coincidently meet at the same spot (a spot where sinners are
publicly humiliated), while only one has been singled out as sinful is extremely important to
recognize. This means that there are obviously many sinners in this society, however only one,
Hester, has been isolated by the public as a sinner and punished. While communities aspire to
have few sinners in order to have a more purified society, no one in the community is without
fault and sin. This is a basic assumption of Christian and especially Puritan religion, that we are
all sinners. Therefore, society cannot isolate sinners, while also maintaining a community
because everyone would be isolated which is, by definition, not a community.

Scarlet Letter Dialectical Journal Entry #2

What she compelled herself to believe [Hester], -what, finally, she reasoned upon as her motive
for continuing a resident of New England, -was half a truth, and a self-delusion. Here, she said
to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and there should be the scene of her earthly
punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul,
and work out another purity than which she had lost: more saint-like, because the result of
martyrdom. Hester Prynne, therefore, did not flee. On the outskirts of the town, within the verge
of the peninsula, but not in close vicinity to any other habitation, there was a small thatched
cottage. She possessed an art that sufficed, even in a land that afforded comparatively little
scope for its exercise it was the art-then, as now...of needle work...Her handiwork became
what would now be termed the fashion...Hester sought not to acquire anything beyond a
subsistence, of the plainest and most ascetic description, for herself, and a simple abundance
for her child. Ch. 5, p. 53-55 Signet ed.(Hawthorne, Nathaniel)

How does an individual overcome hardships and burdens?

An individual can overcome hardships and burdens either by removing oneself from the
situation entirely, or by facing the troubles head-on. In the passage, after being released from
prison, Hester decides to face her hardships by remaining in town, rather than fleeing the city to
escape her history of sin. She justifies this decision in the text using logos when she said to been the scene of her guilt, and there should be the scene of
her...punishment; and so...the torture of her daily shame would...purge her soul(Hawthorne,
Nathaniel). The significance of this quote is that Hester is explaining to herself that if she stays
she will be torturing herself with enough shame to cleanse her soul, which represents logos
because she is rationalizing her decision with an if then statement. Hester also says that in
addition to remaining in town and living with her shame, she would only allow herself to still live
a life of subsistence, which suggests she will intentionally deprive herself of the better things in
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life. This represents a second way she intends to overcome her burden of shame with self
punishment. On the other hand, the passage also describes the idea that fleeing the situation
entirely would be another way for an individual to successfully overcome hardships and burdens
when the author says, What she compelled herself to believe [Hester], ...was half a truth, and a
self-delusion. While not very explicit, the author suggests in this quote that her rationale is
somehow incomplete. Perhaps the author is suggesting that fleeing the town may have been a
better way to handle Hesters hardships. By using the authors equivocate diction such as
calling her decision to stay half a truth or a self delusion, the author implies that Hesters
reasoning and decision is flawed, or not completely true.
While Hesters decision to stay is described as imperfect, she shows that she has hope
of redemption. By saying she will continue to self torture herself and continue a life of
subsistence, she implies that she eventually expects to cleanse her soul and return to her
original life. I however disagree, in that the Puritan views of sinning are extremely strict and
therefore there is virtually no chance that Hester could redeem herself in the eyes of the public.
While she may herself feel cleansed, she will always be a sinner, especially given how few there
are in her society.
The Scarlet Letter Dialectical Journal Entry #3

Pearl, said he [Wilson], with great solemnity, thou must take heed to instruction, that so, in
due season, thou mayest wear in thy bosom the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my
child, who made thee? Now Pearl knew well enough who made her, Hester Prynne, the
daughter of a pious home, very soon after her talk with the child about her Heavenly Father, had
begun to inform her of those truths which the human spirit, at whatever stage of immaturity,
imbibes with such eager interest. Pearl, therefore, so large were the attainments of her three
years lifetime, could have born a fair examination in the New England Primer, or the first column
of the Westminster Catechism, although unacquainted with the outward form of either of those
celebrated works. But that perversity, which all children have more or less of, and of which little
Pearl had a tenfold portion, now, at the most inopportune moment, took thorough possession of
her, and closed her lips, or impelled her to speak words amiss. After putting her fingers in her
mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilsons question, the child finally
announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush
of wild roses that grew by the prison doorThis is awful! cried the GovernorHere is a child
of three years old, and she cannot tell who made her! Without a question, she is equally in the
dark as to her soul, its present depravity, and future destiny! Methinks, gentlemen, we need
inquire no further. Ch. 8, p. 74-75 Signet ed.

What are the challenges of moral relativism within a society?

One of the major challenge faced by society is moral relativism. Within a society moral
relativism is decided based on the common belief system in that community. In other words, a
society in which everyone unanimously affiliates themselves under one religion will have morals
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based on that religion. The passage shows the challenge of moral relativism by showing a
situation where what is morally better is unclear and thus questions what morality is based on,
religion or something else. The story begins with Hester going to the Governor in order to make
sure the rumors of her child being taken away from her are false. However, when meeting with
the Governor there are other men with him who try to prove that Hester is unfit by questioning
Pearl about her about where she came from. When Pearl responds incorrectly, by not saying
God created her, the Governor responds with Here is a child of three years old, and she cannot
tell who made her! Without a question, she is equally in the dark as to her soul, its present
depravity, and future destiny!(Hawthorne, Nathaniel).This quote shows that the minister and his
men are basing their moral judgement directly on their religious beliefs. A three year old who
isnt able to explain her origin is described as equally in the dark as to her soul. This metaphor
relates Pearl to the recurring idea that she is a devil child by depicting her soul as in the dark.
This description of a dark soul has an evil and wicked connotation, alluding to the devils soul.
Pearls description as a devil child expresses one side to the issue of moral relativism within her
society, because it shows that many of the government officials actually believe they should be
run by their religion. The author then implies that other people in the society may believe in
moral values other than religious teachings. For example, in the passage the author says, Now
Pearl knew well enough who made her, however she was impelled to speak words amiss.
This description of Pearls thought process is evidence that she knows where she came from,
yet she said something else simply because she is a whimsical child. The question is then
becomes, is it moral to judge a three year old on a religious interrogation? In showing this
contrast, the passage is illustrating the challenge of moral relativism. What is to considered right
and wrong, and based on what beliefs.
In todays society, the distinction between religious beliefs and morality is significantly
larger than at the time of this story where the two almost meant the same thing. Therefore,
today the fact that Pearl is seen as a devil child because she cant explain where she came from
seems unfair. Not to mention, the judging of Hester as unfit to be a parent because her daughter
isnt able to correctly state where she came from. Hesters role as a mother should be based on
her ability to love and care for her child rather than teaching proper christianity. This represents
the challenges of moral relativism in society because it changes over time and is based on an
individuals point of view. There are many different ways that society could function, however in
todays society, the assumption that religion is the one way to rule is no longer popular. While at
the time some believed it was okay to rule by religion and interrogate young children, it is
completely different now. In fact, interrogating children is illegal now. Or in the case of Hester
keeping her child, our sense of moral relativism would base a decision of allowing the mother to
keep her child on her ability to care for the child.

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Sources Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1850;,