While reading the Scarlet letter, and thinking abou the main character, Hester, and how she is viewed by society, I asked myself, “ What steps does one take to influence an entire community?” So, I started searching through the Scarlet Letter for any examples or events that would help me answer my question.
What I learned was very perplexing to me; the Puritan society that Hester lived in had very strict rules, and when one of the rules are broken by an individual, the individual is either severely punished or killed. Even though adultery was a major sin and punishable by death, Hester was spared her life. Instead of getting killed, she was exiled and shunned from the whole community.
What baffled me more about this character is that she was still able be kind and generous. If I were her, I would probably be bitter, and leave the community to a land where no one knows me and of my actions. What she does instead is awe-inspiring; she would always think about and help others more unfortunate than herself.
Her kindness and compassion also made the public start to like her more. She would always give the little that she had to charity, even when the poor struggled and insulted her. She would also give the dying men and women comfort while they die peacefully. Slowly, her acts of kindness changed the public’s perception of her completely; she was “self-ordained a Sister of Mercy” (p113).
So my answer to my question started out simple; first, it starts out small. One person does or believes in something out of place in the community’s views, and is recognized for it. They start to become well known, and depending on their behavior towards others, they would either be more liked or disliked by the public. Then, after a while, the individual would start to gain some followers, and the followers would start to grow more and more. Once there is a large amount of followers, then there can be revolts, and acts of change will be done.
Then, I found another event in the book that makes me look at my question differently. When Mr. Dimmesdale finally told the public about his infidelity with Hester, the people refused to believe it. Many people had different stories on the account of the scarlet letter being on his chest. Some say it appeared there because of Dimmesdale’s guilt and remorse, and others refuse to even have seen it. Some of the highly respectable witnesses denied the whole scene altogether: they said that, “After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind’s spiritual good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson that, in the view of Purity, we are all sinners alike” (p214). This begs me to ask the question, how ignorant can one be? If there is an important revelation right in front of their eyes in the broad daylight, how can one ignore it altogether? So, I added a question to my earlier one saying, “How does an individual also open the people’s eyes to a problem?”
I then searched for examples, and relative stories in my Second Edition Language of Composition AP English textbook that would help answer my newfound question. After searching through a couple of stories in the book, I found a perfect source that would help me further answer my new question. The story “Small Change” by Malcolm Gladwell gives real life stories of how small individuals made huge differences. One of the events written by Gladwell that really interested me was about four college students causing an outbreak of rebellions.
In Greensboro, North Carolina 1960, four black college freshmen went to a restaurant called Woolworth. One of the men, Ezell Blair, kindly asked for a cup of coffee, but the waitress refused to serve them. At that time, blacks would only be served if they were at the standup snackbar, while the whites would be served in seats. The men never left their seats even when the store locked the front door and they were never served. After a month, this little incident caused an outbreak of rebellions and protesting that it “…became a civil-rights war that engulfed the South for the rest of the decade” (p345). These college students knew that they were being treated unfairly, and decided to do something about it. The people around them saw this act of courage and the problem at hand, and gathered around and fought for what was right.
I started to get a clearer understanding of my answer to my awesome question until I read about another event written by Gladwell. This story was about how social media can affect a community. He describes it as, “a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that help us preserve in the face of danger” (p352). I did not think to write about how social media can connect many people together, and make them aware faster. More people can be brought together and fight against antagonist of the problem.
Just to add more flare into this research, I started looking for outside sources that could either help me answer or change my question for the better. What I came across was the intriguing story of Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela was the first black president of South Africa in 1994. He was involved in an anti-apartheid movement in his twenties, and rebelled against South Africa’s government and its racist policies by having nonviolent protests. He was imprisoned for 27 years for co-founding ANC, a group that used guerilla tactics and sabotage to end apartheid. Although he was imprisoned, he still fought for black people’s rights and to end the racist policies of South Africa’s government. After South Africa was being pressured from many countries to let Mandela go, they tried to compromise with Mandela about the changes of apartheid, but he would refuse each one. He wanted apartheid to be gone; not changed into something else that would still be oppressive to others.
Finally he was let out of the prison, and instead of seeking revenge, he forgave them and wanted nothing more than to change the future and end apartheid. People all over the world saw his spirit and forgiveness, and he later became the first president of South Africa, and was “awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward dismantling apartheid” (biography.com). He had a worldwide support for his cause, and was unafraid of the government or its punishments. This one man was able to stir so much passion from the world, and was able to get rid of a policy that has been there for decades.
The story of Nelson Mandela made me wonder if there is a limit to one’s protests. If a person who was protesting about a problem knew that their future consisted of being imprisoned most of his or her life, would the still speak up and fight? Would they spend most of their lives in bars, unable to do tasks that were once simple and taken for granted – like taking a walk in the park? If they knew that they were giving a huge sacrifice in the name of fixing the problem, how can they live knowing? Knowing that they could have had a simpler life. What is one’s limits? It depends on how bad you want it, and how hard you will fight for it. But at the end, everyone has their limits. I would add another question to my earlier one and say, “Can there be a limit to one’s capabilities of trying to influence an entire community?”
Altogether, my final questions became: How can one’s decisions or actions influence an entire community? How does an individual also open the people’s eyes to a problem? Can there be a limit to one’s capabilities of trying to influence an entire community?
After looking at all these stories, and making changes to my questions, I finally had an answer. It would be the same as my previous answer made in the beginning of this research, but I would add on a couple of more ideas. I would explain that there are different ways of causing awareness, and one of them can be social media. Social media is a way for people to connect quicker more efficiently. This connection can make more people aware faster; which means more people be aware of the problem, and rebel or protest. More people can also be brought together to pressure the government or public workers (like police officers) to solve the problem.
There can also be a limit to one’s actions. It just depends on how bad someone wants it, and how hard they will fight for it. If a courageous man saw a problem and fought for it, because he believed it was the right thing to do, and was given the option of brutal beatings (and maybe death) or submission, he would most likely choose to submit.
However, if a man was enduring the pain of the problem at hand, and had the courage and strength to fight for the long-haul, and was given the same choice, he would have picked the beatings. He would have wanted to free other people from the same repression he was in, and would have done anything necessary to show the world of the injustice and fight for what is right.
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Language of Composition Second Edition English Textbook by Renee H. Shea, Lawrence Scanlon, and Robin Dissin Aufses