Her Detached Conscience


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her detached conscience The Human A Incarnate




In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter, many of the characters suffer from the tolls of sin, but none as horribly as Hester's daughter Pearl.  She alone suffers from sin that is not hers, but rather that of her mother's.  From the day she is conceived, Pearl is portrayed as an offspring of vice.  She is introduced into the discerning, pitiless domain of the Puritan religion from inside a jail; a place untouched by light, as is the depth of her mother's sin.  The austere Puritan ways punish Hester through banishment from the community and the church, simultaneously punishing Pearl in the process.  This isolation leads to an unspoken detachment and animosity between her and the other Puritan children.  Thus we see how Pearl is conceived through sin, and how she suffers when her mother and the community situate this deed upon her like the scarlet letter on her mother's bosom.  
Hester Prynne impresses her feelings of guilt onto Pearl, whom she sees as a reminder of her sin, especially since as an infant Pearl is acutely aware of the scarlet letter "A" on her mother's chest.  When still in her crib, Pearl reaches up and grasps the letter, causing "Hester Prynn [to] clutch the fatal token so infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand" (Hawthorne 88).  Hester feels implicitly guilty whenever she sees Pearl, a feeling she reflects onto her innocent child.  She is therefore constantly questioning Pearl's existence and purpose with questions: asking God, "what is this being which I have brought into the world!" or inquiring to Pearl, "Child, what art thou?"  In this manner, Hester forces the child to become detached from society.  Pearl becomes no more than a manifestation based entirely upon Hester and Dimmesdale's original sin.  She is described as "the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life" (93)!  Due to Hester's guilty view of her daughter, she is unable see the gracious innocence in her child.
Hester's views toward Pearl change from merely questioning Pearl's existence to perceiving Pearl as a demon sent to make her suffer.  Hawthorne notes that at times Hester is feeling as if an "unutterable pain" (89) creates her penance.  Hester even tries to deny that this "imp" is her child, "Thou art not my child!  Thou art no Pearl of mine" (90)!  It is small wonder that Pearl, who has been raised around sin, becomes little more than a reflection of her environment.  Pearl is perceived to then be the walking, living scarlet letter.  She is a constant reminder to Hester and the community of the "evil" that Hester has committed.  Hester's own sin leads her to believe that Pearl is an instrument of the devil, when in reality she is merely a curious child who cherishes her free nature and wants to be loved by her mother.  She is not evil but is portrayed as such because of her mother's actions.
Because of her own profound sin, Hester is always peering into Pearl's burnt ochre eyes to try to discover some evil inside her daughter.  "Day after day, she looked fearfully into the child's ever expanding nature, ever dreading to detect some dark and wild peculiarity, that should correspond with the guiltiness to which she owed her being" (82).  Pearl is more or less Hester's conscience.  That is why Pearl always asks her questions over and over again and why Hester cannot lie to her; you cannot lie to you conscience.  Hester ultimately ends up fearing Pearl because of her inability to overcome her own guilty conscience, and thus fails to command the respect a mother needs from a child:
"After testing both smiles and frowns and proving that neither
mode of treatment possessed any calculable influence, Hester was
ultimately compelled to stand aside, and permit the child to be
swayed buy her own impulsesAs to any other kind of discipline,
whether addressed to her mind or heart, little Pearl might or might
Lacking any form of maternal guidance, Pearl pretty much does what she pleases; her creativity leads her to make up her own entertainment.  Pearl's lack of friends forces her to imagine the forest as her plaything.  However, she is clearly ... more

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The Great Gatsby
Nick Carraways Look at Man

Nick Carraway, the first character introduced in Fitzgeralds The Great Gatsby,  is primarily acts as the guide and pathfinder; he relates the story from what others have told him.  He strives at all times to be objective, and his comments are balanced.  His amusingly contemptuous remarks show his sense of humor, and although he is straight-laced, he does not bore the reader.  Nick is introduced directly, but Gatsby remains a distant character for a good while. The establishment of Nicks reflective, tolerant personality is essential, as are his limitations, so the reader doesnt just dismiss him as Fitzgeralds mouthpiece.  The fact that he disapproves of Gatsby so early on helps the reader to go along with his judgments when he tells of Gatsby and unfolds the story.
The first mysterious glimpse of Gatsby prepares the reader for much of what is to come.  The imagery of silhouette, moonlight, and shadow in this passage prepares the reader for Gatsbys shadowy, dark character.  Many more of his actions appear to the reader, and Nick, as curious.  The fact he is trembling shows he is intense in his emotions-- and none of this is for show; Gatsby believes he is alone.  His concentration on the single green light represents his determination to succeed, his constant drive; everything is designed so he can be with Daisy.  He then vanishes; echoing the end of the book.
Nick is unlike the other characters of the book; he is not one of the careless people.  He has a conscience, he is not selfish-- he has decency, which is well demonstrated in his efforts for Gatsbys funeral.  His down-to-earth character shows how superficial Daisy and Tom are.  They are ruthlessly practical, where as Gatsby is a hopeless dreamer. Nick guides the reader between these two extremes while remaining a detached observer whilst being involved in the action-- I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.
Nicks aim to be truthful and objective makes the reader trust him. When Nick says Gatsby has a rare smile with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, the reader knows his riches or parties, but is telling it to the reader straight arent charming Nick.  His contempt for much of what Gatsby says, but also Nicks tolerance, is emphasized when Nick doesnt mock him--  I lived . . . trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago.  With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter.  The reader trusts Nick to judge what is genuine about Gatsby and to uncover what is a facade.
The reader has no choice but to identify with Nick.  The other characters lack the dimension to trust them, which is what Fitzgerald is trying to demonstrate.  Nick feels sympathy for Gatsby and his unattainable dream.  Without Nick, the reader could perceive Gatsby as a corrupt man trying to disrupt an old girlfriends life.  This would not be the whole truth, and not what Fitzgerald wants the reader to see.
While clearly Gatsby is the focus of the book as well as and what he stands for-- hope, romance, the twisted American Dream-- there is an argument for saying Nick is the main character.  Gatsby does not speak until the third chapter, and he dies after three-quarters of the book. This of course is the only way Gatsby can go since his whole life was wrapped in Daisy and his dreams, and as he failed, there is no future for him.  His unbalanced obsession left no room for anything else in his life.  Nick is the more in depth character as practically every part of the story is related to the reader with his thoughts and his perceptions.  He is the character the reader leaves the story feeling he understands and supports, unlike Gatsby.  Nick acts as narrator, but his involvement in the events, no matter how much he tries to stay objective, make a difference.  The skill of Fitzgerald shows when he establish Nick as a character in his own right, not just Fitzgeralds mouthpiece.

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her detached conscience

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