The Scarlet Letter and Persepolis

Nathaniel Hawthorne's Friends
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Trust Thy Self," Emerson wrote in his essay Self Reliance."Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

"Yet then and only then, will mankind be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for woman as much for man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession."
"...let them be sea captains..."
—Margaret Fuller, 1845

Central Conflict


24 people were hung as a result of the Salem Witch Trials. Nathaniel Hawthorne's great-great grandfather was a judge in the trial—a fact that is referenced in The Custom House.

19th Century Painting Depicting Salem Witch Trial
The early American Puritans were essentially Calvinists and believed in pre-determination, which means that God determined whether or not you were 'good' or 'evil' and there was nothing you could do to change that—your fate is sealed at birth. God was also removed from human kind, in other words, you could not, through prayer, etc., send or receive messages from God. There was no hope of salvation if you were damned and there was no hope of forgiveness for your sins. If you were evil, you would burn in hell for all eternity.

Since politics and religion were essentially one in the same during this time,  the Puritan belief system instilled a sense of fear in the inhabitants of Salem. Citizens were well aware of the risk of losing land rights and/or trading rights, if they were accused of wrong doing. Judges adhered to Puritan religious beliefs in their decisions as the law and religion were unified in this society. Evidence could include work of the devil including curses and specters (visions) and many other intangibles. 

Your future was best served if you convinced everyone around you that you were one of God's chosen few. Dissension against the status quo, could be interpreted as a sign of the devil, especially for women. Salem citizens could either conform, or risk being cast out of society, or worse. 

This belief that the devil resided every where and was potential of clever disguises and trickery (such as what we observe in Young Goodman Brown) cultivated a society ripe for the hysteria that led up to the Salem Witch trials. If there was suspicion cast upon you, then the safest method of refuting these accusations was to point the finger at someone else. 

Puritans were also a patriarchal society. They did not subscribe to the biblical interpretation that the wife was a "helpmate," but rather that the wife was owned or "possessed" by her husband. Women had no rights to property and were given no say in the political decisions of the day. In fact, many women who had become widowed and therefore became land owners were the subject of not only public scrutiny, but also scorn. Since women were not supposed to own land, the unfortunate death of their husband could put them at great risk. Some were even accused of being witches, others were executed. We will discuss the story of Mistress Hibbons in class.

The philosophy that each one of us holds an inner-light and/or that "God lives inside all of us" did not agree with the Puritan religion, so the Quakers were considered their enemy.  Antinomian, which means "against moral law," was a term used to describe anyone who spoke out or acted against the Puritan belief system.  Understanding the term Antimomian, the history of Anne Hutchinson and the symbolism used throughout the novel to explore this concept will be crucial for your analysis of the themes in The Scarlet Letter. We will discuss religious intolerance, Anne Hutchinson, and Hawthorne's symbolism for Antinomianism during our class discussions.  


Your Norton Critical Edition is an excellent source for your Research Project. Here is another source that I think is a great reference for the background information on the Pilgrims and the differences between Pilgrims and Puritans.  

I realize this is the 21 Century and many of you prefer online sources to those that you have already purchased as the required text for this class, however, I encourage you to limit your time looking for quick "answers" on the internet. As college students we are counting on you not to recycle and distribute inaccurate information. I encourage you instead to work through the primary source using a dictionary and by applying the college skills of annotation and close reading of The Scarlet Letter. Your assignments require you to write about specific difficulties you encounter with this reading on your blog posts. By incorporating passages from the text and trying to make meaning of these passages, you will better synthesize the information and build a solid foundation from which to build your Formal Essay. After completing The Scarlet Letter, use the Norton Critical Edition source material to deepen your understanding of the many complexities in this novel. Your Annotated Bibliography posts will help you sort and process the information that you find most compelling. In completing these steps you will be in a good position to begin writing. 

Despite all of these assignments, our discussions and source material that you already have in your possession, I expect many of you to fall back on the habits cultivated by our society that practically demands instant gratification—namely the online version of Cliff Notes, Spark Notes, or eNotes websites. And for those of you readers who have not been, for whatever reason, flexing the 'reading' muscles on a regular basis, these aids, may indeed be very helpful to you. Like everything else in life, the more you 'practice' reading, the more proficient you become and if you are out of practice, this text will be even more challenging to you. That said, using these tools as a secondary or reference source to your reading is acceptable, but simply reading the summaries instead of reading the novels is not. One of my concerns with this method of 'figuring' out a text is that you are simply a consumer of someone else's ideas. College is one of the few non-consumer based bastions in our American life. Do not simply consume the ideas presented on these sites, rather, consider them for what they are: someone else's ideas. Think about them critically and then go back to the text and make your own meaning. I am interested in reading the meaning that YOU make from this text, not reading the meaning that eNotes makes of the text.

Remember, one of the themes in this text is the individual's ability to choose between right and wrong and the freedom to make this choice despite the constraints and influences of society.

What about our contemporary culture? How does our society respond to adultery? Would we ever consider brandishing someone with a badge of dishonor? 

Well, what about impeaching a president over a sexual act? Does the name  Monica Lewinksy ring any bells? What about Bill Clinton?

How about Tiger Woods? Rather than gaining a badge of dishonor, Woods—the first golfer ever to hold all four professional major championships at the same time—lost his badges of honor when the majority of his sponsors dropped him and he was forced to step away from golf in December of 2009. 

The fact that he has enjoyed more victories (and made more money) than any other U.S. golfer, could not save him when his adultery was made public.

Although, these examples make clear that adultery continues to be a heated issue in the U.S. there is no denying that the public scorn for both Clinton and Woods was short lived and, although humiliating, had no real lasting effects on either man. It is interesting that, outside the tabloids, we have no female equivalent to compare public reactions to on this topic. I wonder if society would be so forgiving toward a woman? 

From our humble roots in the Massachusett's Bay Colonies we have progressed as a nation and no longer do our laws tolerate persecution based on religious beliefs. Still, we should never forget the Antinomian rebels in our history whose actions went against the moral law of the land and opened up the possibility for a different interpretation of good and evil.  

Sadly, the world has not changed for everyone...

The U.S. response to adultery is mild-mannered compared to the brutal realities that continue to exist in other countries. Today a 43-year-old mother of two children, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, is facing execution for committing adultery in Iran.  She was scheduled for death by stoning last summer, but her attorney fled the country and leaked her story to the BBC. He is now seeking asylum in Norway and, due to the International outcry that resulted, the execution continues to be delayed.

Afghanistan Women, New York Times

Women in Africa New York Times

                                                 Research Paper Guidelines

Write a 5-7 page literary analysis of The Scarlet Letter, incorporating research from a minimum of three sources to enhance your ideas (the book itself can be one of your sources). The research done for your annotated bibliography will provide a good foundation for writing this essay, giving you a strong background on the author and/or the text. Your research might focus on what literary critics have said about this author’s work, biographical or autobiographical material that might help readers better understand the text, or you may chose to write from the perspective of one of the critical theories we have discussed. The focus of your essay must be an interpretation of the literature itself, using the research as enhancement but not as the main emphasis of your essay. For example, if your research focuses on biographical information, use it to help interpret a theme, character, or other aspect of the text.
A strong essay will have a clear controlling idea and well-developed TEA paragraphs that support your claim.  You should incorporate (either through paraphrase or quotations) examples from The Scarlet Letter as well as refer specifically to your research sources. Use MLA format for parenthetical citations and your works cited page.
  1. Participation in Rough Draft Peer Review is Mandatory. You will receive 15 points for peer-review and 15 points for bringing your rough draft to PEER REVIEW DAY. No late papers will be reviewed. Come to class and bring a hard copy or your Research Paper grade will be affected.
  2. All drafts will be workshopped during class and collected by the instructor for feedback. See schedule for important dates.
  3.  Each of you should have a copy of the grading rubric. By now you know that sentence-level errors need to be kept to a minimum on the final draft. See me and/or a writing assistant at the Gavilan Writing Center for help with this paper if you need it.

Class Discussions will produce many paper ideas. Please come to class, take notes and be thinking about what interests you about this text. You should write your Research Paper on the aspect of the text that you find most interesting.  I will meet with students for an individual conference to discuss your drafts.

Paper Topics (These are suggestions only):

What would a feminist have to say about the characters in the Scarlet Letter? Is Hester a feminist? How does Pearl fit into the story? What is Hester’s response to the Patriarchy around her? Is Hester in love? Is Chillingsworth a feminist? How does the ending impact our understanding of Hester’s character and Hawthorne’s views about women? Why does Hawthorne connect Hester with Mistress Hibbons and Anne Hutchinson?

How would a New Historicist analyze The Scarlet Letter? What do the three contexts (or historical periods) in the novel tell us about the meaning of this text? How does our contemporary view skew the reading? How did Hawthorne’s 19th century values contribute to the characterizations in the novel? What would a reader in the 1600s have to say about Hawthorne’s depiction of Puritanism? How was the novel received (by the public) in the 19th century? What were the reviewers’ reactions? What does this say about the audience at the time of publication?

A sociologist and/or Marxist theorist would have much to say about the Puritan society depicted in this novel. How did the Puritan belief system enforce patriarchy? How did patriarchy and Puritanism support the economic system? What was the role of the townspeople in Salem and how did they contribute to this system? How did Chillingsworth and Hester stand apart from the rest of the society? How does Hawthorne’s story give us insight into the hysteria that led to the Salem Witch Trials?

A formalist would be very interested in the word “possessed” in this novel. How many times is the word used? Why is it used? What is the effect on the reader? How does the structure of the novel contribute to the novel’s tension and ambiguity? What symbols are used in this novel and how do they affect the meaning? What does the A stand for? How does the meaning change of this symbol change throughout the novel?

A reader response critic would be very interested in how the themes in the novel impact his/her own ideas about culture, social values as well as the concept of good and evil. What is good and what is evil in your mind and how does the novel help you to define this distinction? What character do you admire most and why? Which character (s) do you dislike and why? Can you relate to the traits or experiences of these characters?

A biographical critic would be very interested in how Hawthorne’s life shaped this novel. What characteristics of Hawthorne’s family informed the characters and events in the novel? What aspects of Hawthorne’s personality are revealed and how does the 19th Century (the 1800s) influence how he portrays the characters and events in this novel? What other books did Hawthorne read and how did this influence his work?

Process suggestions:
1.     Review your lectures notes and information posted on Instructor Knapp’s blog. In particular, review the Key Terms post, Critical Theories Overview, Combining Sentences, Constructing an Argument, Popular Student Errors, Using Quotations, and The Scarlet Letter.
2.     Look back at your own blog posts to get ideas about a possible theme to explore or an approach to this essay. You should also read some of your peers blogs to expand your ideas on the text.
3.     Brainstorm ideas for research and writing by doing a cluster, list, or freewrite.
4.     Begin your research process by formulating questions about your chosen text. Your research may be more fertile if you direct the search somewhat. Locate Critical Essays in our Norton Critical Edition that connect to your questions.
5.     Skim several of the essays included in our anthology, additional writings by the author, or biographical information to help you develop your interpretation.
6.     Discuss your questions, ideas, and responses with a classmate, instructor or another person.
7.     In your first draft, draw plenty of examples from the text. Include references to your research. Don’t be afraid to argue with the literary critics you’ve read. Let this draft be your chance to enter the literary conversation and don’t “censor” your ideas—it’s better to overwrite on your draft to allow for insights that you gain during the process of writing to emerge. Later you can edit, select, or throw out what doesn’t fit.
8.     When revising, return to your introduction to ensure that you have a clear, strong (narrow) thesis. Remember to name the author and text in your introduction. The title of your essay should reflect the theme of the essay (do not use the title of the book as the title of your essay). The body of your essay should include plenty of support for your ideas, including examples and quotes from the book. Use specific references to your research to enhance your interpretation of the text. Generally, the most effective way to use quotes is to use them to support a point you’re making; then follow up the quote with interpretation (Remember the TEA paragraph and the Quote Sandwich). Review MLA format for citations if you need to.
9.     Share your rough draft with your peer response group. Ask for specific feedback on the parts of the essay you’re unsure about. You may also contact me for help or submit your rough drafts to the campus Writing Center for help. 


Guiding Question for Research Paper number one:
Should the U.S. take military action over Iran's Nuclear Program?

Diplomacy? Iranian Supreme Leader says, No Thanks.

Economic Sanctions

UCLA Middle Eastern Studies "Arab Spring"

Current Op-Eds on Iran

Blog Review of Persepolis

Zahra's Paradise

Young and Defiant in Iran

Making the Film

Interview with Marjane Satrapi

Escape from Iran, Wired Magazine

Female Voting Rights Granted in Saudi Arabia
Map of Iran

Iran History

Ban on Fun with  Squirt Guns in Iran

Google Warns Iranian Users

Iran Overview NYT

Reading Lolita in Tehran


NYT Search 1

NYT Search 2

The Veil

Maysan Haydar "Veiled Intentions"

Are veiled women feminists? If they choose to veil for reasons of reverence, then who is the most liberated?

"At the heart of my veiling is a personal freedom…I dress this way because it made it easier to get through adolescent phases and New York City streets with no self-loathing, body hang-ups, or sexual harassment. I wish more women emerged unscathed; no one should suffer for what they look like or what they wear." —Maysan Haydar

 "America is an image-obsessed society," Maysan Haydar writes,"Ironically, the population that spends millions on beauty products, plastic surgery, and self-help guides is the same one that takes pity on me for being so "helpless" and "oppressed."

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