[4 Nov 1999] When the Killing Stopped|
[5 Nov 1999] Worst Crimes of the Millennium
[8 Nov 1999] Four Gates to the City
[9 Nov 1999] Conviction of E. German Chief Upheld
[10 Nov 1999] Prisoner's Dilemma
[11 Nov 1999] The Mechanical Demon
[12 Nov 1999] Psalm 23
[19 Nov 1999] Translator's Note
[22 Nov 1999] Future Shocks
[24 Nov 1999] Worlds Enough, and Time
[26 Nov 1999] Everybody Knows
[29 Nov 1999] The German Atomic Bomb
[30 Nov 1999] The Endless Frontier
[1 Dec 1999] The Scarlet Pimpernel
[2 Dec 1999] Was the Great War Necessary?
[3 Dec 1999] Bullet Proof Soul
[6 Dec 1999] Rocannon's World I
[7 Dec 1999] Rocannon's World II
[8 Dec 1999] Rocannon's World III
[9 Dec 1999] The Intelligence Gap
[15 Dec 1999] A Deepness in the Sky
[16 Dec 1999] Evil Isn't Banal
The Scarlet Letter
By NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
A lane was forthwith opened through the crowd of spectators. Preceded by the beadle, and attended by an irregular procession of stern-browed men and unkindly-visaged women, Hester Prynne set forth towards the place appointed for her punishment. A crowd of eager and curious schoolboys, understanding little of the matter in hand, except that it gave them a half-holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare into her face, and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast. It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner's experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of some length; for, haughty as her demeanor was, she perchance underwent an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon. In our nature, however, there is a provision, alike marvellous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it. With almost a serene deportment, therefore, Hester Prynne passed through this portion of her ordeal, and came to a sort of scaffold, at the western extremity of the market-place. It stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture there.
In fact, this scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine, which now, for two or three generations past, has been merely historical and traditionary among us, but was held, in the old time, to be as effectual an agent in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was the guillotine among the terrorists of France. It was, in short, the platform of the pillory; and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron. There can be no outrage, methinks, against our common nature,-- whatever be the delinqencies of the individual,--no outrage more flagrant than to forbid the culprit to hide his face for shame; as it was the essence of this punishment to do. In Hester Prynne's instance, however, as not unfrequently in other cases, her sentence bore, that she should stand a certain time upon the platform, but without undergoing that gripe about the neck and confinement of the head, the proneness to which was the most devilish characteristic of this ugly engine. Knowing well her part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the height of a man's shoulders above the street.
By STEPHEN A. BLACK
Students are customarily introduced to The Scarlet Letter as if to an exercise in symbol-reading. They may be encouraged, for example, to discover that Hester's "badge of shame" stands not only for "adultress" but also for "able" and even "angel." Such an approach, however, may simply suggest to the student the perversity of the literary mind: "Why doesn't Hawthorne say what he means instead of playing games with symbols?"