The Paradox between an Individual and a Community

“In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she had inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs than the rest of human kind,” – The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter, by American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, explores humanity’s never-ending struggle with sin, guilt, and pride. These themes are most evident in demonstrating an individual’s relationship with their community.

How does a community hinder or emphasize one’s individualism?

I’ve thought about this over and over, from the initial creation of this ambiguous and open-ended question, to the finale, the part where I answer it. A community can help a person’s individuality by letting them bloom, or it can hide a person’s individuality by masking them with people of their own.

I believe that we live in a paradox between individualism and communities. People want to be both individual, yet part of a community at the same time. It is a person’s duty to act upon the community to shape the way their individualism is perceived.

They can either be part of a community, or not part of it. It is only their choice, and not the community’s doing, that decides it.

The Scarlet Letter proves that a community can impact a person’s individuality in so many different ways.

Hester is the most obvious example of my answer. Hester is introduced into the novel as a sinner and the “Diving Maternity.” Already, the scene is contradictory; Hester is deemed with a velvet and gold threaded Scarlet Letter, embezzled on her bosom. Yet, she’s carrying a pure and innocent baby. She’s brought onto a scaffold, much like the stage of the story, where she is condemned for her adultery. There, in a public forum, a Puritan court, consisting of Reverend Dimmesdale, Governor Bellingham, and Reverend Wilson, stand to question Hester about the identity of her conceived child’s father. Hester out rightly refused, speaking “I might endure his agony, as well as mine!”

From there, we are launched into Hester’s complex 7 year journey of self-understanding. Hester is at first cast as an outsider, with crowds that “mingled grin and frown around the poor sinful woman,” and parting waves of “children; for they had imbibed from their from their parents a vague idea of something horrible on this dreary woman.” The community shows Hester as a dreg, as bits of leftover cake crumbs that no one wants to eat.

But at first, Hester doesn’t seem to mind this shame, walking around with Pearl, her baby, “a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not abashed.” Of course, as time progressed, Hester’s shield against the animosity began to falter. A person can only take so much criticism and outcast before they shut down. Look at celebrities: Though most have a thick skin, the lashing and the terrible remarks by fans and others gets to them. The Puritan society that Hester lives in shamed her into isolationism. She lives in the outskirts of town, in a cottage by herself. She doesn’t work, rather she mingles around the poverty, and some who even refuse to acknowledge her after her good deeds. Wherever Hester goes, there are stares, there are pathways that part. Even her child, Pearl, cannot make any friends. As shown in chapter 13, the community totally destroyed Hester, cutting off her rich hair, hiding it under a cap. It also darkened Hester’s previously “mysterious and dark” face, for love, passion, nor would affection ever mark it again.MV5BMTIwMTU0MDE0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwMjAyNTA3._V1_SX640_SY720_

A community can just rip apart an individual. A person’s unique traits are just taken out and stomped on. A community tries to conform an individual into the same and bland traits that the whole mass has. Hester is brought into the book with “natural dignity and force of character.” She doesn’t give 2 hoots about what people are saying about her. But, that’s because she hasn’t been living under the shadow of their nasty words and treatment, yet. Then, because she’s basically banished by her Puritan neighbors, she becomes so lonely.

Eventually, I believe a community can change to become liberal to all people’s uniqueness. Hester is eventually named as “Able” in regards to the A on her bosom. The community emphasized Hester’s honesty. Hester openly admits to her sin. With Hester’s volunteering, she’s noted as a woman with the strongest character. Hester is there at the Governor’s deathbed as a friend.

I don’t think a person’s individuality is ever hidden, ever. Although Hester was repressed into a hollow shell through her years of suffering with the Scarlet Letter, the community talked about her, thought about her, and acknowledged her so much more. Before the Scarlet Letter, Hester was an individual. But with the Scarlet Letter and the Puritan Community, Hester became more of an individual. People parted ways for her in the streets – they weren’t ignoring her… It’s like they considered her presence even more so than before. Yes, the community just tore Hester apart, but that was because she was the topic of so many dinner table talks and lessons that parents taught to their children. Hester became famous for her sin. And she is famous because the community made her famous.

A community’s consideration of an individual makes them even more them self than before. Because of the hatred, and Hester’s stark difference from the black and white society she lived, Hester became more individual. She was different; like a black sheep among a white herd. She’s more of a sinner in a community of ‘non-sinners.’ Because a person is different, no matter how hard a community tries to fix them up to the norms, they’ll never succeed. A person’s individuality can never be repressed, unless the person changes themself.

Think of Taylor Swift. She’s known for writing songs about love and heartbreak and her infamous trek through relationships. The pop culture community notoriously tries to bring her down. And you know what?

She came out with a song called “Shake It Off” that was full of all the ‘annoying,’ ‘weird,’ and abnormal traits (as known as, her horrible dancing) that society put her down for.

At awards show, Taylor is literally the only one dancing in the whole crowd.

After each show, dozens of websites and many Twitter ranters would talk and talk about her terrible dancing.

And let’s not mention the fact that the media perceives Taylor as a serial dater.

In her new album, the song “Blank Space” plays on the type of person the media paints her to be. In that video, she just destroys her ‘boyfriend’ because that’s the type of person the paparazzi and the whole world thinks she is.

Of course, back then, she hated the media. 2013 was a terrible publicity year for Taylor. She only hid herself in a tighter and tighter shell as she tried to fight back all the terrible things that were said about her.

Why else would Taylor be on the subject of so many magazines, videos, Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, and articles?

Because she’s so different, and people only talk about people who are different.

All the videos and songs she made this year are acts of her own genius, which is taking advantage of all the talk she’s hearing about herself.These were the most innovative things she’s ever done because she just brought herself even more individualism than ever before. Society made her seem different, and she’s taking advantage of that.

tumblr_ndpx4eTWQ91s5x6kso2_250 tumblr_ndpx4eTWQ91s5x6kso3_250

I think this mirrors Hester when she was first feeling the weight of the community’s hatred upon her.

Taylor grew to be her own individual. Just like Hester, it was a process. First, society didn’t like who she was. But time in time, they came to accept her individualism.

Both these women chose to not let community hinder who they really were. Both these women didn’t’ let community conform them into someone entirely new.

I think that in the end, no matter how badly society tries to condemn a person into fitting the restrictions and rules of the day, a person still comes out as their own individual.

We are all the same people, in the end. We come from different backgrounds and we have different stories. I think communities are just giant groups of different people. We are in a community based on our differences, correct?

And we differentiate among communities based on their own traits.

There’s a community of Vietnamese people in Westminster, and of Korean people in Garden Grove.

Vendors during the traditional night festivals in Little Saigon

Because we’re all so uniquely different, it’s impossible for a single community to bring down a person in shame.

Communities are just groups of different people who are connecting more and more different people. Communities are supposed to be there to help an individual become accepted for their individuality.

In, “Walking the Path Between Worlds,” by Lori Arviso Alvord, she recalls her years at Dartmouth and explains that the world is tribeless, full of people seeking a place to belong. All those people are individuals. Being part of a community makes people feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. Alvord is Native American. At Dartmouth university, there are only 50 Native Americans. That’s less than 1% of the entire student population. Yet, in Alvord’s tribe, she is able to find that a community is connected by people’s beliefs. It helps reduce the alienation people feel as an individual.

I find this in so many clubs across campus. You have the Anime lovers, in the Anime club. The Vietnamese Students join Vietnamese Student Association. All these individuals join communities to not feel so different.

They’re accepted as an individual in their community.

Dinaw Mengestu writes in “Home At Last” about the different communities of cultures in Brooklyn. He sees multiple ethnic groups, all clustered together along sidewalks and walls. “We can rebuild and remake ourselves and our communities over and over again,” he argues.

Diversity in Brooklyn, New York

If a person likes being an individual, they won’t try to fit in with the rest of the world. But when a person feels like an outsider, they take on their own incentive to find a new group of people to become a part of.

It’s their own choice. Communities are created by people. So it’s impossible for a community to do anything to a person’s individuality. As I probably said so many times before, it’s their own choice.

I chose to be myself in high school. I’m known as that “Taylor Swift” girl and that “Harry Potter nerd.” I haven’t found a giant group of Swifties on campus or a giant group of Harry Potter nerds. I could if I wanted to, create a club just to worship Taylor on campus.

But I want to be myself, and that’s my choice.  I’m not going to go find a community of people like me.

Me, a self proclaimed Harry Potter nerd, Taylor Swift afficionado, baker, and photographer.
Me, a self proclaimed Harry Potter nerd, Taylor Swift afficionado, baker, and photographer.

I am, myself.

A community can help you bring out your wild self. Or, you can bring yourself to blend with more people of your type. You have the sole power to dictate how your individualism is perceived.

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2 thoughts on “The Paradox between an Individual and a Community”

  1. I love that you included some of your own outside insight and perspective into your response. I think your idea that individuality is never hidden is actually pretty on point. I agree; it’s hard to never be yourself, and if you try, there’s so many problems that can come up in your life, mentally and emotionally. I like that you promised to always want to be yourself- it’s really encouraging to me, as a reader.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this because it gave me a whole different perspective on how to view the suppression that communities put on individuals and how individuals can react to that. I agree that it’s someones choice to conform, and people often find it easier to blend in than stand out. Also, love your Taylor Swift reference. I adore her. She’s a perfect example of breaking societal norms and she does it all very gracefully! Great post!

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