The Scarlet Letter Close Reading

“Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that is sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!–these were her realities,–all else had vanished.” (483)

In this section, Hester Prynne is affronted with the sharp reality of her situation and the significance of her betrayal and defiance of Puritan values. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s text is most enhanced by his choice of words and the way he portrays reality. His choice of words enhances his text through the contradiction of Prynne’s fierceness versus the gentleness of her newborn child. His choice to use “fierceness” is also an interesting choice of words because her fierceness is not a representation of anger, but a representation of her struggle to grasp reality. Hawthorne continues the theme of contradiction in his description of Prynne’s dueling realities: the joy of motherhood versus the public humiliation of wearing a scarlet letter. Later in the book, Hawthorne describes Prynne as being emotionally absent and confused but this passage provides insight as to why she seems that way. Prynne is overwhelmed by the attention and shame that she is suddenly faced with, further clouding her perception of reality that becomes a continuous theme throughout the text.

Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe

My Supreme Court Project regarding the constitutionality of school sponsored prayer in relation to First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

My partners were Annabel Forward, Jack Kevile, and Andy Wood.

Artifact Project


On June 30th, 1961 my paternal Grandmother was officially notified, via letter, that she had earned her Master’s Degree in Religious Education from the Princeton Theological Seminary. To put this all in perspective, she was a busy mother of two adolescent children (14 and 16), a caring North Carolinian housewife, and a fairly simple woman with generally traditional, Southern values. With my Grandfather’s support of her pursuit for further education, she began to attend classes at the Princeton Theological Seminary and was one of the first women to earn her earn a Master’s degree after a post-college teaching career.

Revisiting the context of time is essential to completely understanding this artifact. My Grandmother’s dissertation is 156 pages in length (typed by my father and uncle since my Grandmother didn’t know how to type), full of evidence from numerous studies and her analyses of them, finalizing her degree requirements. She completed her degree over an extended period of time beyond normal parameters as approved by Princeton due to her busy life as a wife and mother. While pursuing her degree, she cared for her two adolescent children, upheld her motherly roles, and ran the home. While content in her position as a wife and mother, “Someone outside myself has taken over, and step by step is teaching me into His will for my life.” she was compelled to continue her education. Not only had she felt a call from God to spread the gospel (through family religious education), but the call of society to pursue higher education, effectively relating to our prolegomenon Turner’s Frontier.

In our class discussion, we have talked about the “final frontier” being the United States’ Westward expansion but later concluded that there were many unforeseen frontiers after that. In my opinion, the rise of women in the workforce and the steady increase of highly educated women is a more abstract frontier and a continuation of the former frontier of women’s suffrage. In this sense we can compare these two phases to the multiple phases on Westward expansion over time in the United States.

Continuing on the theme of frontiers, I researched the “We Can Do It” poster campaign in relation to when my Grandmother earned her degree. The campaign, calling women to the workforce, began 18 years prior to her earning her degree. Although she was a part of the forging of a new path for independent and educated women, although she worked exhuastively through her course work, she chose to publish her dissertation under the name “Mrs. Archie B. Freeman”. It shocked me that she chose to remain so traditional rather than embracing her identity as Dorothy S. Freeman (her legal name). Thus, a competing narrative between traditional and modern: a woman who joined the workforce nontraditionally but didn’t completely embrace modernity for the sake of tradition.

The idea of the competing narrative was certainly a continuous theme through the analysis of the artifact. For instance, the dissertation is focussed on the way in which Christian families should be educated. Her thesis describes that families should be religiously educated together in church to spread the gospel effectively and to create further dialogue between adults and children on religious matters. Again, I noticed the competing narrative of traditional Christianity and the modernity of women’s education. Furthermore, I discovered through my father that her degree was a Master’s in Religious Education rather than its new title of Master’s in Divinity. This was because women were not permitted to earn Master’s in Divinity at the time, cycling back to the issue of competing tradition vs modernity. Although my Grandmother may not have been an exemplary model of the ultimately modern woman of the 60s, I remain thoroughly grateful for her resilience, paving the way for my generation to attain school unlike many women of her time.


Interview Project

I interviewed my father, John, about his personal experience in America during the mid to late 60’s. At the time, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, we were involved in the Vietnam War and my father was 21. Our involvement in the war resulted in much dissatisfaction among young people at the time through protests and draft evasion which my father took part in. He took part in a protest in 1967 in New York City, lead by Martin Luther King Jr, Floyd McKissick, Stokely Carmichael and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Eventually, wartime brought about the need for the draft, “I ended up actually experiencing going through the draft after college, my number came up, it was a lottery…”, which required him to go in for a physical before being officially drafted. Like many other men, he reluctantly attended. He, however, was excused from the draft due to a high school basketball knee injury. “…and [I] felt actually quite relieved that I wasn’t then eligible to go off to war but also felt the inequity of it–that some people had to go [and] others had to go or chose not to.” Those who did not have the same luck were so enraged that they burned their draft cards (a criminal offense).

Wartime had a significant impact on my father as he became increasingly dissatisfied with the government’s role in Vietnam. “There were a lot of photographs and news stories of some of the damage being done by the war effort–memorable photographs of villagers fleeing Napalm Bombs. He was deeply upset by the American Government’s “misguided effort”. His parents, although they disagreed with him, accepted his decision to protest and were respectful of his opinion on war.

At age 21, my father was trying to decide on a career after majoring in Political Science at the University of New Hampshire. His original interests were to pursue a governmental position or a social work career. In disgust of the American government in wartime, he decided he never wanted to pursue a governmental position. While he was still deciding what he really wanted to pursue career-wise, he began a carpentry career which he held for 10 years until he attended Virginia Commonwealth University to pursue a social work career which ironically lead him to a local government position as a social work administrator.






The Frontier

The concept of the frontier, according to Frederick Jackson Turner, is the era of American exploration and expansion of the West with the idea that expansion results in distinct American, rather than European, territory. Although Turner’s article takes an authentic perspective and is well-argued, Turner fails to address women as important factors of Westward expansion; a topic similarly passed over in Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams. While Grainier is portrayed as a hard-working, strong, self-made man, his wife is rarely mentioned and rarely significant. Gladys, Grainier’s wife, is not considered an important figure of frontier life as she is mostly described as doing mundane chores such as washing clothes and cooking (Johnson, 7). In reality, women were essential to the success of the frontier through hard-work, physical labor, and household concerns and were just as important as men.

Get Culture: Staples

Both Staples’ current tagline “Make More Happen,” and its former tagline “That Was Easy,” perfectly encompass the accessibility that is quintessentially American. Anything from pencils, printer cartridges, backpacks, and journals line the aisles, with the fresh-from-the-factory smell.

Two years ago, my parents and I went back to my hometown where I was adopted from to visit local towns and the orphanage I stayed in. The amount of poverty and struggle to live shocked me because of the drastic difference between Beihai, Guangxi and Charlottesville, Virginia. I come from a fairly simple area that’s mainly an agricultural and fishing area. They don’t have large department stores or grocery stores that are so easily accessible! The province is growing into a more urban area but there are still far reaching villages that are poor, with families who only have dreamt or heard about new pens, pencils, journals, and books every year.

What makes a mundane Staples so American is the accessibility of everything in it, whether it be school supplies, books, or something as simple as food. America is where you can walk into most any store, locate what you want, buy it, and be using it in less than 10 minutes because accessibility for the consumer is an essential part of the American lifestyle.


(Julia’s photo)

American Parables (River of Shadows and Train Dreams)

River of Shadows

Robert Reich’s parable of Mob at the Gates shows us that power can get to our heads and since we are all trying to achieve the idealized success story of the American Dream, we “isolate ourselves from the rest of the globe” (Reich, 3) in order to protect our jobs, opportunities, and success. Rebecca Solnit’s River of Shadows exemplifies this same idea as Solnit describes the Golden Age of San Francisco. “The city was growing, but it was growing apart…many had woken from that [American] dream to the bitterness of institutionalized inequality, declining wages and opportunities, rising land prices and working hours.” (Solnit, 165) Solnit observes the Chinese immigrant laborers who were viewed by Americans (who were ironically immigrants or children of immigrants too) “thieves of jobs that rightly belonged to white men” (Solnit, 166). We can observe from both these examples that when we’re working toward success or are successful, we don’t want to lose our foothold and create the isolation between us and “them out there” (Reich, 3) rather than trying to disassemble the hierarchy between the successful and those still working towards it.

Train Dreams

Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is a great example of Robert Reich’s parable of the Benevolent Community. The concept of the Benevolent Community is that neighbors and friends help those in need through “American’s essential generosity and compassion toward those in need”. (Reich, 3) The protagonist of Train Dreams, Robert Grainier, sits alone in his cabin only accompanied by the loud howls of wolves and coyotes that draw closely to him until he sees the wolf-girl (who we assume to be his long-lost daughter who was presumably raised by wolves after she was “orphaned”). “She lay there on her side panting, a clearly human creature with the delicate structure of a little girl, but she was bent at the arms and the legs…with the action of her lungs there came a whistling, a squeak, like a frightened pup’s.” (Johnson, 100) He fashions a splint for the wolf-girl and cares for her as best he can despite his fear and disbelief of the wolf-girl and the confusing possibility that she could be his daughter, Kate. Thus his care for her is and example of the Benevolent Community.