by Mrs. Sabraw
If you have been reading my writing since 2009, then you will remember this entry.
If not, I repost it, not only because I find it entertaining to recall the world in which I operated, as deftly as a sushi chef, but also because it is still relevant.
This time of year invariably takes me back to all Septembers since 1984, when I agreed to teach honors American literature at Mission San Jose High School. The first novel in the queue was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850.
Most of us educated in the United States read this novel, a perfect pairing with American Colonial history.
I taught capable and gifted students, a daily challenge which necessitated a particular psychology that I call upon now to cope with all of the blather and self-consumption that blooms in Silicon Valley from say, the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn groups.
Those of us in our 60’s and 70’s may recognize this student:
Good Afternoon, Jonathan. I understand that you missed my lecture about the Puritans and their relationship to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Is that right?
Yes, that is why I am here Mrs. Sabraw.
Great. Do you have your notebook and materials to take notes?
Yes, I do.
OK. To begin, the Puritans were a religious group whose beliefs originated from the teachings of a Swiss minister, John Calvin.
In England, members of the Church of England who believed that the Puritan viewpoint was too extreme abused them.
Yeah, I know.
Wow. You know quite a bit for someone in the 11th grade whose main focus is girls. Well, in 1642 a group of Puritans left England after its friends were tortured for their religious zeal. They had been branded with B’s for Blasphemy, had their noses slit and parts of their ears cut off. The Puritans, such as John Winthrop, were willing to risk scurvy and beriberi in the long and arduous trip to avoid such torture.
We are going to be reading Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter which tells the story of a puritan community in which the minister has an affair with a married woman and they produce Pearl, their impish odd daughter who dresses in scarlet clothing and asks pertinent questions and thinks critically.
Yeah, I know this.
Hmmm..I imagine that if Pearl were going to school here in California, she would be GATE identified; that is, she would be a mentally gifted minor, an avid reader, and terrific critical thinker who would perform at the top of her class.
But Alas, Pearl will be insecure and worried about her place in the world, not just because she is the product of her parents’ sin, but because she is so smart. Often times really smart people live with a profound sense of insecurity because (Now, Jonathan, I want you to listen really hard here) they know what they don’t know, as Socrates expressed, and that fact creates an awe about the entire life experience, a respect for all who have been and all who will come after us.
Yeah, I knew that too.
The children who teased Pearl were average human beings who felt A-OK about life because they thought they knew it all.
So, to wind up my lecture, Jonathan, the point of it all is that sometimes torture over beliefs causes people to leave their comfort zone and venture into new territory. Often, great authors decide to personalize those harrowing journeys in fiction. One such author was Hawthorne who wrote The Scarlet Letter in 1850 and created one of the strongest female characters in American literature. I just wanted you to know that I know that you know all of this material before you start the book.