’s Teenage Essay, Research Paper
Is The Scarlet Letter Relevant to Today’s Teenage Parents?The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, is the story of Hester Prynne, a woman in colonial Puritan Massachusetts who is condemned to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest as punishment for an adulterous union which produced an illegitimate child. It is a novel of great psychological depth. However, it is not relevant to today’s teenage parents. Hester and the average teenage parent of today have to face completely different situations. Hester is not a teenager, and, unlike most teenagers, she has a husband. This husband is not the father of her child. No teenage parent of today has to deal with anything like Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, who was once a good person but who is transformed into an obsessed, revenge-seeking man, a self-described “fiend” who is determined to discover who Hester’s lover was. (The reason that it is known that Hester’s child, Pearl, is not Chillingworth’s child is because Chillingworth, then known as Roger Prynne, and Hester had lived in Amsterdam at first after their marriage. Roger sent Hester ahead of him to Massachusetts. When Roger did not subsequently arrive, he was presumed dead. When Hester gave birth to her child, almost two years after her own arrival, it is realized that her absent husband cannot be the father. When Roger finally arrived a few months later, he adopted the alias of Chillingworth to conceal his true identity.) When Chillingworth becomes convinced that Hester’s lover was the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, he makes Dimmesdale’s life miserable. Most of today’s teenage parents have to face nothing like this. While today’s teenage parents do not have to worry about an obsessed, vengeful husband, they do have to concern themselves with several things about which Hester never had to worry. One situation involves the teenage parents’ own parents. While most parents would justifiably be disappointed in their child and disapprove of his or her actions, their subsequent actions may vary greatly. Some parents of teenagers would be loving and supportive of their child and new grandchild; others might even go so far as to do something extreme, such as throw their child out of the house. Whatever the reaction of the parents, however, it is bound to have a great effect on the teenage parent’s economic and social status. Hester’s parents, on the other hand, have no effect on her. Her mother is dead. It is not clear whether her father is alive or dead, but even if he is alive, he undoubtedly lives in Hester’s “paternal home” in “Old England” Even if Hester’s parents were alive and well in Massachusetts, however, their feelings toward her, while probably important emotionally and psychologically, would not have much effect on her economic and social status because Hester is an adult.
Another difference between Hester and today’s teenage parents involves education. Today’s teenage parents often drop out of school because the needs of their babies are so great. Those who do not drop out often have to maintain a precarious balance between their schoolwork and the needs of their babies. Hester did not have to deal with this problem. Women were not educated in Hester’s time. (Indeed, few men were educated.) Not only that, but the fact that Hester was an adult means that her education, even if she had had one, would have been long behind her. So far, most of the evidence collected to show that The Scarlet Letter is not relevant to today’s teenage parents has centered around one fact – today’s teenage parents are adolescents, whereas Hester was an adult. However, there is another factor just as important – differing attitudes toward extramarital sex in Hester Prynne’s time and our own. In Hester’s time an extramarital affair was almost universally considered shameful. “The penalty thereof [was] death” [sl03.html#g12] “both in the Scripture and the statute book” although the authorities commuted the sentence in Hester’s case to wearing the scarlet letter. Although Hester developed an intuition that led her to speculate “that, if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynne’s” nearly everyone in Puritan New England at least paid lip service to the ideal of “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”Nowadays, things have significantly changed. Modern attitudes toward sex are much more permissive than those of the Puritans. Many people believe that extramarital affairs are not morally wrong, and even more people condone premarital sex, which is the type of sex in which teenagers generally engage. Furthermore, the relative commonness of premarital sex and single parenthood in the modern world make it unlikely that one particular person would be singled out, as Hester was, as the subject of sermons and preaching on the evils of extramarital sex; not is it likely that a teenage parent would think, as Hester thought, that “[i]n all her intercourse with society… there was nothing which made her feel as though she belonged to it.” Nor is it likely that, in our permissive age, a teenage parent, even one who regretted having engaged in premarital sex, would feel the same sense of overwhelming, soul-consuming guilt that Hester’s lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, felt. The Scarlet Letter is certainly not without value. Many of its insights into human nature remain timeless. Nevertheless, the two factors discussed above – the difference in age between Hester and teenage parents and the difference in sexual attitudes between Hester’s time and our own- prevent The Scarlet Letter from being relevant to the teenage parents of today.