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Blog Post #6: A Piece Of The Whole

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As our journey of The Scarlet Letter is coming to a close, it’s time for a reflection of sorts: a time to answer a few questions in the area of “community vs. individual”.

We also read a few other essays to get a multiple-perspective view for our questions, so I’m also going to be talking about “Home At Last” by Dinaw Mengestu and “The Family That Stretches (Together)” by Ellen Goodman.

I guess I’ll give you a little background on each piece of literature so the quotes that I use make more sense even if you haven’t read them.

So The Scarlet Letter is basically about this young woman, Hester, who is being punished for having sex with a guy who she isn’t married to. How do they know this? Because she got pregnant and her husband hasn’t been in town for a while. Basically, it turns out that the “mystery guy” was Dimmesdale, the minister, and while Hester’s being ousted by the Puritan people, Dimmesdale beating himself in the privacy of his home. The whole thing’s rather morbid, and then Hester’s husband, Chillingworth comes back as a physician, which he is, and tries to exact revenge on Dimmesdale. Eventually, everything comes out in the open, and Dimmesdale forgives himself, Chillingworth doesn’t get his villainous desires, and Hester’s at peace.

In “Home At Last”, Dinaw Mengestu talks about his family having to leave Ethiopia when he was very young, and in his new home in America, he feels out of place because he isn’t from there, but he isn’t really from Ethiopia either because he has no sentimental connection or memories from it.

Lastly, in “The Family That Stretches (Together)”, Ellen Goodman basically talks about the versatility of families nowadays, especially with the shocking frequency of divorces. She essentially asks the question: Does “once a relative” mean “always a relative”? And I think that’s pretty interesting, so we’re going to talk about that.

My first “essential question” is: Is it fair for individuals to put themselves first? First meaning before the good of the community.

For many political philosophers, the general will of the people comes before individuals. Even if it’s 49% of the people that don’t agree with something, 51% do, and that’s the majority. In my personal opinion, I think it’s a great virtue if people can always think of others before themselves, but this can also be hamartia. Considering others doesn’t mean neglecting yourself, and The Scarlet Letter, I believe, can attest to this. Hester has lived for almost a decade, keeping a cloak over Dimmesdale and Chillingworth’s identities. She finally realizes what she wants, and what would truly make her happy – being with Dimmesdale. And to do this, she needs to break free of Chillingworth’s hold, and tell Dimmesdale who he really is. In the final chapter, Dimmesdale, too, breaks free of the Puritan demands and clears his conscience. And as soon as he does, it feels as if all the weight has been lifted off of him. Almost in a literal sense as well, since his soul is able to rid of the air pressure, and go off into Heaven. In terms of this, I think it’s definitely fair for individuals to put themselves in front of a community. If the community’s mob mentality is unhealthy and morally incorrect, then, by all means, find yourself something better. And I don’t mean this to be some sort of “Agony Aunt” column thing, but I think it’s really important for everyone to know that you matter, too. It’s not just the you as a whole; it’s every little part of you. And this goes for every type of community there is – your family, your friends, your classes – if something feels wrong to you, you shouldn’t have to bear that for the sake of someone else. That isn’t fair and it’s certainly not just. Dimmesdale shows us the way to true contentment, and that is by being true to yourself and not worrying about the opinions of people whose opinions don’t matter anyway.

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“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” – Bernard Baruch

 

 

credits to @tarahunt on Flickr

Now, onto the second question: Does every individual belong to a community?

In Mengestu’s “Home At Last”, he writes, “I’ve only known a few people, however, that have grown up with the oddly permanent feeling of having lost and abandoned a home that you never, in fact, rally knew, a feeling that has nothing to do with apartments, houses, or miles, but rather the sense that no matter how far you travel, or how you long you stay still, there is not place that you can always return to, no place where you fully belong.” I know that the community he is talking about is a home, a place where you always feel welcome and can think of when things aren’t going the way you want. But you always belong right where you are, and everything happens for a reason. If for any reason, you feel like you don’t belong, it’s because you haven’t found the right people to surround yourself with. And Mengestu quickly realizes this as well, once he starts to familiarize himself with his landlord’s Chinese immigrant father, and the Bangladeshi restaurant owners, and Pakistani chai-walas. He finds that communities aren’t built in homes or neighborhoods, but in people who constantly find themselves together in spirit. “What I had wanted and found in them, what I admired and adored about Kensington, was the assertion that we can rebuild and remake ourselves and our communities over and over again, in no small part because there have always been corners in Brooklyn to do so on.” Mengestu doesn’t even speak the same language as any of these people, but they persist and make him feel welcome, and that he “too was attached to something”.

I want to take this a different direction, as well. Communities aren’t just where you belong, but also where you are. Communities are about that inexplicable connection that you somehow make with anyone. You could just be silently reading in class, and then look up and make eye contact with some random person across the room.

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“Eye contact is way more intimate than words will ever be.”
― Faraaz Kazi

 

credits to @ashleyspirals on Flickr

You could not have anything to do with that person, but you’ve just made a connection and I feel like that is what a community is. I mean, for a lot of people, a community is just people who live in a certain area and have a common way of doing something, but I think it’s more about the connection that people have. And going with that, my family is a community, my friend group, my golf team, and Spanish class, which is all I can think about right now because I have to study for a Spanish test ASAP. But they’re all communities because they’re all places where I can connect with people and find something deeper than just we are nearby each other, for lack of better words. So I feel that everyone is part of a community, whether they know it or not. They always are part of something more.

And now time for the final question: When does an individual become a part of a community?

Alright, so Goodman basically talks about how weird familial relations have become with the high prevalence of divorce, especially the relationships with people who you’re only related to through marriage. Suddenly with divorce, you find yourself wondering whether these people are just cut out of your life because they didn’t work out with someone else. Well, I kind of answered this question in the previous question because I said that I thought communities are just based on connection, whether indefinite or momentary. photo 1

With something as huge as marriage, obviously, a community is being formed, but these relationships, and this community doesn’t end with divorce. There’re always memories and feelings and sentiments that bring you right back and make those ties stronger than ever. And as Goodman says, “Our reality is more flexible and our relationships more supportive than our language.”

So, in total, how do communities affect individuals?

Communities have positive and negative effects on individuals, and I kind of started with the negative aspects with how they can force you into a submissive position beneath the “general will”, but they also allow a feeling of greatness, of something more.

Blog Post #2: The Story So Far

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Alright, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, so please don’t hate me. We’ve been reading The Scarlet Letter in English, and even thought it’s a little confusing sometimes, I really, really like it. The whole theme of it is really interesting, especially the individual versus community aspect. It’s almost like a Supreme Court trial, like Hester v. Salem, or something. Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Post #47: The Only Thing That I Can Articulate

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As the school year is coming to end, my English class has been entrusted with the task to do a final blog post about either the best or worst thing.

Now this can be literally anything in the world, so I’ve chosen to do a fusion of the two on the topic of the future (DUN DUN DUN).

Just kidding; it’s not that bad.

For me, the future is a concept so bizarre and so intangible, that’s is hard to imagine why anyone could ever fear it. But they do, and I do, and that’s why it’s one of the worst things in the world.

The future is so awful for a lot of people, I think, because there is no assurance, no guarantee that everything’ll be okay.

If you’re like me, you need constant certainty about everything all of the time. I need to know that everything is going to work out the way that I want it to, and if I don’t have those answers, I freak out and I panic and I have a complete meltdown.

But the future is open to both pessimists and optimists, and I think it’s important to remember that there is no one way to look at the future. I mean, I am a little or a lot bitter about the future, but at the same, it’s so full of possibilities and opportunities that I couldn’t ever dread it.

I think all of my posts so far have been leading up to this one, and now I don’t even know what to say. I guess I better change the title of this post. But that’s the thing about the future: you can do anything. You don’t have title to define it or you and anything is possible.

It’s kind of like a New Year’s resolution; you don’t know whether you can achieve it or not, but for one moment, it’s possible and anything is possible.

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I wrote a little thing about the future a while ago, and it’s meant to be in a story or something, but I’m going to share it here now.

“It’s overwhelming, and incredible, and astounding, and mesmerizing, and I can see it unfolding in front of me like perfect untouched snow, uninfluenced, incorrupted by the harsh realities of human nature.”

The truth is, you or I don’t really know which way the future will unfold, but it will and yeah, it’s like this overpowering sense of urgency and unpredictability and a constant reminder of your own mortality, but it’s also this inconceivable idea of anticipation and freedom and the potential for anything and everything. But in this case, inconceivable doesn’t mean unattainable.

Maybe the best thing isn’t the future itself, but the hope invested in it.

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Or maybe the worst thing the fact that at any one point, any one of your actions or any one of your words could change your life forever. And maybe you’ll lose someone, but then again, there’s always the change that you’ll gain something even bigger with those actions and words.

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I think people always assume the worst-case scenario and maybe this is the ultimate human condition – we can’t dream bigger. We are realists and pessimists and we are too accustomed to disappointment and pain, but here is something that has no predecessor and no precedent and nothing to shatter our dreams and nothing to build our hopes. It is literally a clean slate, a blank page, the start of something new. 😉

I guess in writing this, for me, the future went from being the absolute worst thing in the world, to transforming into the absolute best thing in the world, and it all depends on your life right now. It depends on you right now, your current self.

What do you want out of life? What do you want from your future? And how far will you go to make it happen? That is the future.