Five weeks into a new school year and it is apparent that the school needs some more teachers to join us. The mission community here relies on and greatly values the support of teachers who enable their work to continue.
The aim of the school is to provide quality education for the children of international workers located in South-east Asia. The primary goal at GIS is to allow these families to continue to work in their fields without having to compromise the education of their children.
We particularly need high school English teachers. Presently students are receiving tuition via on-line courses, which is not ideal. At the higher levels, students study ‘Brit Lit’ and American Literature.
Having previously possessed the snooty attitude that there cannot be such thing as an ‘American classic’ this year I have repented and read two classics for the first time including: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and most recently: ‘ The Scarlet Letter.’
The latter is set in Puritan 17th-century Massachusetts, where a young woman named Hester Prynne has settled while waiting for her husband to join her from England. His delayed arrival leaves her vulnerable to her passion, and the opening scene of the book finds her serving her sentence on the town scaffold for bearing a child out of wedlock. Her punishment includes wearing a scarlet “A” on her clothing, marking her as an adulteress for the rest of her life.
Hester’s husband happens to arrive at this inopportune moment. He offers her his forgiveness, but extracts a promise that she will never reveal his identity and assumes the pseudonym Roger Chillingworth. His mercy does not extend to the unnamed father of the baby, as he dedicates his life to finding and punishing Hester’s partner in crime.
The years go by and Hester raises her daughter as quietly and piously as she is able. But the physical scarlet letter pales in comparison to Pearl, Hester’s “scarlet letter endowed with life,” and thus Pearl grows up under the shadow of her mother’s shame and the public’s scorn.
On the other hand, Pearl’s father fights his own guilt privately; it eats away at both his soul and body, in spite—or perhaps because—of the veneration he receives from the townspeople due to his role as their pastor.
He tries everything to assuage his guilt, from “confessions” of his general vileness to self-chastisement, even secretly standing on the scaffold as Hester’s sentence had required her to do publicly. Meanwhile, Chillingworth works to ascertain the identity of this man who did him wrong, watching his physical and mental deterioration with dark delight.
“The Scarlet Letter” is much more than a story of adultery in Puritan New England. It is a story that deals with universal themes—guilt, shame, and absolution—in a complex way.
The book begins with a masterful depiction of Hester’s shame from the public revilement. But the far greater guilt is borne in private by her lover. Although Hester is the one to carry the outward mark of her sin, the father of her child carries even deeper inward marks. She comes to find some sort of peace and purpose, while he grows increasingly tortured by his unconfessed sin.
Throughout the book Hawthorne emphasizes the inability of man to relieve his own guilt and restore his own peace.
The nature of repentance is a major theme, showing that religion and penance is insufficient for redemption. Hester’s lover, reflecting on his own hypocrisy, exclaims, “Of penance, I have had enough! Of penitence, there has been none!” The book shows, as does Jesus’ teaching, the difference between religion (which either crushes you or makes you proud) and the true gospel of free grace.
This book haunted me and yet made me grateful for the One who has not only, on the cross, taken the burden of future separation from God but offers to take the burden of the present hell of shame and guilt. It reminds me of the One who bore my scarlet letter in my place.God knows the scarlet letter burnished on our hearts. Yet in Christ he offers to ascend the scaffold and bear it in our place, taking away the condemnation.
“Come, let us discuss this,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow;
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool. (Isaiah 1:16)
What a great opportunity to study such works with ‘Christian’, ‘pre Christian’ and Buddhist students in this school.