A Project for Better Journalism chapter

Students should not judge “Scarlet Letter” while they label others

The experience of reading the dated, yet famous, book by Nathaniel Hawthorne about a 1600s adulteress has been a less than exciting experience. What has been an interesting spectacle to observe in my eighth hour AP Literature class has been my classmates responses to the book.

In short: Hester Prynne is subject to public humiliation because she has a child with a man who is not her husband (even though her husband has not been seen in a number of years). Many students in my class expressed that this public humiliation was misplaced and undeserved, that the Puritan community was harsh and cold for placing such a grim sentence on someone. However, with reflection, I have found that today’s society, especially in our high school, is not so different.

Do we not all wear letters on our chests? We, as high schoolers, are incredibly talented at sticking labels on everyone around us. Cheat, liar, jerk, gossip, nerd, suck up . . . the list goes on. We place these “letters” on our fellow student’s chests, without pausing to think of them as more than just a label.

In the book, the reader is able to see the good inside of Hester, right alongside the bad. The narrator rarely has any bias. In essence, we see the whole Hester’s character, not just her sin, not just that scarlet letter.

If Nathaniel Hawthorne could narrate the lives of the people around you, highlighting both good and bad as only he can, labeling others would not be a problem. However, he cannot, due to his death a whole century or so ago. This leaves it up to you and your imagination to see the humanity in others. There are no “good” or “bad” people, just people. People who both screw up and restore our faith in humanity.