Monday, June 2, 2008

The Scarlet Letter

Even though 'The Scarlet Letter' was on the recommended reading list - or maybe it was required - as far back as in high school, I had never actually read it. I've had a copy in my library for years and years and years. Enough years, in fact, that the pages are yellowed and brittle. I had started it enough times, or so I thought, but in getting only a few pages into "The Custom House," I couldn't stand the book and would quit. But this time was different. And why? I took the time to read the forward and found out that "The Custom House" was not really a prologue to the story but an additional story that Nathaniel Hawthorne threw in when he realized that his novel was not long enough to stand up for publication on it's own. It was perfectly acceptable to skip it, and so, knowing that I didn't have to really pay that much attention, I forced my way through it and on to the real story.

I can undersand why this book is a classic. Even though the writing style is a little stilted for today's day and age (and I'm not talking about the Puritan way of speech but actually Hawthorne's method of writing), it still flows beautifully. And even though out-of-wedlock children really is a non-issue in my society and today's day and age, it was still a story that I could relate to on an intimate level.

You see, I believe that we do not have to have an embroidered "A" on our chest to be wearing a scarlet letter of our own. So many of us - especially me - have quirks or issues or garb of clothing that society considers out of synch with the standard. And we have been ostracized for it.

Have we never looked at a person from a different culture or religion who's skin color or way of dress might be different than ours and not react on some level at least with some faint suspicion or curiosity? Personally, I love mingling with different peoples and learning about their practices, but even after the initial gulf between us is bridged as they understand that my intentions are not hostile, they still must feel a little awkward to be the focus of that kind of intrusion.

I often feel the same way. My weight loss has branded me as different. My illnesses have branded me as different and socially unacceptable. My living circumstances certainly have done the same. I have been the object of curiosity and scorn or been put on a pedastal more times than I can count. There have been some occasions that I might as well have been wearing a scarlet letter and indeed, to wear one would have been preferable to the reason that attention was being paid to me.

The point of the story and the lesson that I am taking away from it is that I need to try and be ever sensitive to how others are feeling. That when in doubt, I need to keep my peace and silence, and try to react to other's differences with as much kindness as I can muster.

It will not always be easy to live by this creed and, indeed, I think that we are programmed on a biological level to be suspicious of anything that is different than the norm that we are used to. But it is an ideal to which I would like to ascribe to.

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