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Individual or Social Standards in The Scarlet Letter

To make a decision, one weighs the benefits and the downfalls, and concludes by judging the factors of each alternative. One’s choice of whether to conform to society’s demands or submit to personal impulses is difficult, especially under strenuous circumstances. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a profound romance in which the characters must make such a decision. A reconciliation of the two forces is not seemingly feasible. Reliance of self consumes Hester Prynne, while denial of self engrosses her partner in the crime of adultery, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. The roles of Hester’s daughter, Pearl, and her estranged husband, Roger Chillingworth, as individual beings are less evident than that of their impact on Hester and Dimmesdale’s views toward society. Every character in the story must decide the importance of their personal feelings against that of maintaining the standards of the Puritan society.

Hester Prynne exists in an idealistic Puritan town with “a people amongst whom religion and law [are] almost identical” (ch 2). It is evident, however, that Hester is an individual – not a product of the town. Even when condemned to wear an A on her bosom for her crime, Hester creates a lavishly bold scarlet letter, serving as physical evidence of the predominance her inner will has over conforming to the Puritanical ideals. Though her punishment causes her shame and suffering it does not appear to bring her to any clear state of repentance, as she continues to live boldly in her sin and not surrender to pressures. It is only in the presence of the Puritan society that the weight of sin pulls her down. Its making her an outcast separates her obligation to it; she is a free-…

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… false and unnatural relation” (ch 4). He is aware of his selfishness and impure affiliation, yet he wreaks vengeance upon Dimmesdale, who really does love Hester.

Existing with one extreme or another, the characters in The Scarlet Letter must weigh the importance of maintaining the standards of society against satisfying their own impulses. The pressures to conform to ideals are great; only Hester Prynne withstands them fully and stands boldly in the light of her sin. Her cowardly lover Arthur Dimmesdale is not so strong, and it takes the intervention of Pearl and Roger Chillingworth – granted they impact Dimmesdale oppositely – before he is finally able to uphold his sin publicly. The choices made in The Scarlet Letter overflows with passion, shame and redemption – a combination only achieved in a romance.

Life Goes On in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart and Life Goes On

Achebe often centers on the conflicts of man within himself and with his culture. Things Fall Apart is no exception. Achebe’s story is about a strong man, Okonkwo, whose life is dominated by fear and anger.

The fear of the main character, Okonkwo, is generated first by fear of failure and then by a fear of the unknown. The unknown in this story is the oncoming of the English into Africa. A religion is brought to the villages, and new ways of thinking arise. Overall, the African village Okonkwo knew and grew up in slowly begins to disappear. Okonkwo is not only afraid for himself but for his entire village. He is afraid that his culture will vanish and be forgotten by the younger generations.

Achebe is able to show the reader his intentions at the very beginning of the book by including a quote from W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

Achebe lets the reader know from the beginning that Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage is falling apart and that there will be no happy ending. The life of Okonkwo symbolizes the life and richness of the tribe and village. As the story progresses Okonkwo’s life begins to go downhill and so does that of the village. The story ends with the death of Okonkwo and the death of an entire civilization. The colonials have taken over the village; the children no longer believe in the old ways. Things fall apart and no one wants to put them back together. Life goes on with the invasion of the English, but never will it be the same.

Achebe was born and raised in a large village in Nigeria. He was also educated in Nigeria. After a short career in radio, Achebe began to lecture abroad and settled for a while as an English professor at the University of Massachusetts.

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