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Monday, July 30, 2012

Life Imitates Art - Not

Everybody knows of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter. Thinking her husband lost at sea, Hester Prynne has a liaison that produces a child. Since Boston didn't have a Planned Parenthood branch in those days, she was unable to hide the evidence of her liaison. Unwilling to name her accomplice, the authorities stipulate an unusual condition to her probation: she must always wear a scarlet "A" on her gown to signify her adultery.
Most modern Americans haven't read the book, so they don't know much about the plot. One critical theme escapes even Wikipedia's summary of the novel : the thaw in Hester's relations with the community.

Read to Sparknotes' summaries of Chapters Five...

Although she is an outcast, Hester remains able to support herself due to her uncommon talent in needlework. Her taste for the beautiful infuses her embroidery, rendering her work fit to be worn by the governor despite its shameful source. Although the ornate detail of her artistry defies Puritan codes of fashion, it is in demand for burial shrouds, christening gowns, and officials’ robes. In fact, through her work, Hester touches all the major events of life except for marriage-it is deemed inappropriate for chaste brides to wear the product of Hester Prynne’s hands.
...and Thirteen:

Hester has become more active in society. She brings food to the doors of the poor, she nurses the sick, and she is a source of aid in times of trouble. She is still frequently made an object of scorn, but more people are beginning to interpret the “A” on her chest as meaning “Able” rather than “Adulterer.”Hawthorne's fictional Puritans are more tolerant than his non-readers realize. As in real life throughout history, friendly (or at least less hostile) relations often begin with commerce. Hester's needlework is rejected for the one institution that her crime blasphemed: marriage. But the community eagerly purchases her handiwork to honor their dead, their infants at christening, and their magistrates - people they regard highly, and people to whom Hester's crime was irrelevant.

In time the people accept Hester's various acts of charity. The one that really stands out is nursing the sick. Think about what is involved here: people allow Hester in their homes to spend a great deal of time with loved ones. This more than any of her other activities, philanthropic or commercial, fosters the development of personal relationships - and requires the greatest level of trust.

To the community, one serious sin doesn't make Hester completely irredeemable. (Perhaps they recall the transgressions of the Church's own Apostles. How can they totally reject an adulteress when Jesus didn't ditch Peter after the latter's denials?) Hester's scarlet letter is "A" for Adulteress, not "U" for Unmutual.

When modern Leftists claim that they are not Puritanical, in the Hawthornian sense they are often telling the truth. many Leftists will reject a person or institution totally on the basis of a single (real or perceived) transgression. The most recent example is the hand-wringing over Chik-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's remark:

We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives."
If the people screaming rabid vengeance over these remarks were like Hawthorne's Puritans, they wouldn't boycott Cathy entirely - just on occasions that have something to do with SSM and promiscuity. (Any pro-historical-marriage stance is inherently an anti-promiscuity stance.) SSM ceremony? Playboy Magazine Collector's Club meeting? Anywhere but Chik-fil-A. Simple lunch break, or any other occasion that has absolutely nothing to do with sex? Chik-fil-A is fine.

But no. The screaming leftists are not that tolerant. Chik-fil-A is heretic.Unmutual. It must be run out of society.

Unless he's cured, of course.

Update: Some might find contradiction between my statement "Any pro-historical-marriage stance is inherently an anti-promiscuity stance" and the long tenure of polygamy. Not quite so - rational persons have always understood polygamy to be a farce. Marriage was invented to protect women and children from male promiscuity. Polygamy is a legal fiction that not only gives promiscuity the veneer of marriage, but also artificially boosts elites' "market share" of available women.

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