Illustration from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ (James R. Osgood and Company, 1878), courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Have you ever met someone who seemed to accept everyone just as they are? Have you ever felt that way yourself?  When I read the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, I found this acceptance in the main character, Hester Prynne. The Scarlet Letter is about a Puritan woman named Hester Prynne who commits adultery and is scorned and ousted by her society. The book follows Hester’s life and the community around her, which includes her “illegitimate” daughter Pearl; her legal husband, Roger Chillingworth; the father of Pearl, who happens to be the local Puritan minister, Arthur Dimmesdale; and the local Puritan community.

Hawthorne paints the Puritan community to highlight how extremely judgmental it was. When the community finds out about Hester’s “crime”, they kick her out and scorn her and her daughter’s existence. However, Hester accepts her fate and continues to treat her community with respect. She accepts the scarlet “A”  that her community required her to wear to signify her adultery, and turns it into something beautiful, both literally through her embroidery and figuratively through her acceptance of her past behavior.

Hester exudes acceptance, both in her fate and the way that she treats the people around her–presenting a model that is especially relevant today when many tend toward othering–the separation of yourself from a certain group of people and calling them different. Acceptance is particularly significant in my life as a middle schooler because in middle school children tend to stop accepting people as much and start judging who they are and what they want to be.

I realize that I become judgmental when I see people on their phones constantly. Because my family values being present in the moment and trying not to focus on phones and computers, when I see someone on their phone my instinct causes me to judge them. I have to resist this reaction because it creates distance between myself and other people and focuses on the negative. When I look past this difference, I can focus on getting to know them as an individual.

Everyone knows that you should accept people who are different and just accept people in general. Hester’s acceptance goes beyond that.  She puts aside her community’s judgement and approaches them with open arms and forgiveness.  August Pullman in Wonder by R. J. Palacio, also expresses this bottomless kindness. Mr. Tushman, August’s principal,  sums up this world view: “Always be a little kinder than necessary.”  In middle school, perhaps we need to not only focus on accepting others who are different from us but also forgiving those who judge us.

Are there ways that you are judged by your peers? Are there ways you convince yourself to accept others in the face of feeling judgmental? Are there times you have reached across perceived  differences and have connected with someone you didn’t expect to? I’d love to hear from you–please leave a comment below.

Sarah Cymrot
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One Comment
 
  1. William Rubel March 30, 2018 at 7:15 pm Reply

    This is a very good question. Have I connected with someone who I didn’t expect to? I suppose the times when I have had to connect with people, whether I really want to or not is when I am on committees. I have served on serve all board for nonprofits and I have also served on committees for the cityI live in that manage different aspects of the cithy’s life — like parking. To be effective on a committee you have to get along with everyone. You have to listen to everyone very carefully and learn to speak in ways that people can hear you, even if they also may not like you very much. I’d also say that there are times in relationships with ones girlfriend or boyfriend that you will find you run into ideas or ways of behaving that you actually dont’t like. But, then, in order to continue the relationship you have to reach beyond this difficulty. Maybe, this is the opposite of what you are asking — this is out finding differences that you hadn’t expected and then having to work out what to do about it.

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