The way an individual interacts with others and the world can either enhance or restrict their sense of belonging.
In relation to your prescribed text and one other related text, discuss this perspective in detail.
The importance of an individual’s interaction in shaping their sense of belonging is emphasized in the text. This crucial human need is explored in three literary works: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The characters’ longing for or rejection of belonging heavily relies on their environment and the people they come across.
The Crucible is based on the Salem community in Massachusetts, a small and religious Puritan village in New England. The story is true and revolves around a group of young girls who initiated the infamous Salem witch hunts. These hunts led to the deaths of numerous innocent people as the girls sought a sense of belonging. The Salem community exists in a secluded area, far removed from mainstream society. It has its own social hierarchy, belief system, and way of life. The physical setting of Salem serves as a metaphor for its isolation and detachment from the rest of the world, creating an identity of non-belonging.
Abigail Williams, who is the niece of the town’s reverend, serves as the catalyst for the play. Her affair with John Proctor drives her strong desire to be his wife. Abigail states, “I look for John Proctor who took me from my sleep & placed knowledge into my heart,” indicating that her relationship with Proctor awakened her sense of belonging. When her attempts to belong with Proctor fail, Abigail seeks other avenues for acceptance. She finds it among a group of young girls in the village who are tired of being treated as children and want to be respected adults within the community. By dancing in the woods, they express their isolation from Salem society, as dancing is prohibited and punishable by whipping. However, the consequences for Abigail’s actions – conjuring spirits to kill Goody Proctor – are even more severe, as it is a hanging offense.
Abigail establishes her sense of belonging to the group of girls by taking charge and orchestrating the act of ‘crying out’. She asserts her authority by threatening consequences to anyone who speaks out against their actions. This display of power and control partially fulfills her desire for acceptance and solidifies her sense of belonging.
The character of John Proctor in the play demonstrates a sense of belonging or not belonging based on his interactions with those around him. Initially, Proctor is an outsider within his own family due to his affair with Abigail. He is also disconnected from the Salem church community because he does not attend church, a behavior influenced by his dislike of Reverend Parris. This further separates him from the community and the Salem courts. The belief that one can only conform or choose not to conform is exemplified in Danforth’s speech, a Salem magistrate, when he tells Proctor that “A person is either with the court or against it, there be no road in between.” This interaction with Danforth limits Proctor’s sense of belonging.
After being displaced in his own family, he takes solace in his wife when he realizes she is suffering for a sin he committed. His sense of belonging becomes evident as he prioritizes his wife over his social status, as he states “I will fall like an ocean on this court!” This shows that he has chosen to detach himself from societal norms and is willing to face the consequence of death.
The concept of belonging and not belonging is depicted in Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. Set in the 1950s at Welton Academy, a single-sex boys’ prep boarding school, the film highlights the importance of tradition and conformity. However, when English teacher John Keating arrives, he challenges the students’ conventional way of thinking, inspires them to embrace life to the fullest, and encourages them to seize every opportunity.
Keating becomes the influence in the lives of a group of boys who come together to form an exclusive group called the Dead Poets Society. This society rebels against the established norms of their school and embraces the idea of seizing the day, or “Carpe Diem.” They are enlightened by the realization that every individual has a limited number of days left and will eventually “fertilize the dandelions.” Through seizing the day, the young boys Neil, Todd, Charlie, Richard, and other members of the Dead Poets Society engage in independent thinking and explore their inner artists.
Neil, a lively student with natural leadership qualities, discovers his passion for acting, which he considers an act of rebellion while pursuing his dreams. Meanwhile, Charlie Dalton becomes infatuated with a high school girl and attempts to propose the idea of Welton changing from a single-sex school to a unisex school. This act challenges the traditional pillars of Welton – tradition, discipline, honor, and excellence – which are upheld by the school’s authorities. In order to maintain discipline and conformity within the school, physical enforcement is used. Charlie is asked to conform and is warned that others who have rebelled have failed and suffered the consequences.
Mr Keating embodies non-conformity through his unconventional teaching techniques. He encourages his students to physically elevate themselves by standing on their desks, allowing them to gain a fresh perspective on life. Additionally, he challenges the traditional classroom setting by taking his students out to the playground. By using a demonstration involving three boys walking in different strides gradually synchronizing their steps while the rest of the class applauds, he effectively illustrates the innate human desire to conform.
The limitations of conformity are evident in the constant cross-cutting between the interior wall and high ceiling of the school and the autumnal landscape. One scene captures the flight of a flock of geese soaring into the vastness, devoid of any restrictions or constraints. This starkly contrasts with the stationary shots of the inside of the imitation-gothic style buildings, where the vibrant and dynamic colors of nature symbolize the freedom experienced by the geese compared to the confined boys within Welton’s restrictions.
In Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, a contrasting theme of belonging and consequence is depicted. The novel narrates the life of Hester Prynne, a young woman who engages in adultery and bears a child. As punishment, she is forced to wear the letter ‘A’ on her bosom for the entirety of her life. The story is set in 17th century Boston. Unlike the previous example, where belonging stems from one’s own choice, Hester’s sense of belonging is imposed upon her by society. Consequently, she finds solace in accepting her exclusion from societal norms.
After serving her prison sentence and being publicly shamed in front of the entire town for her sin, she is then left to reside alone with her daughter Pearl in a small cottage on the outskirts of town. Despite having the opportunity to escape the town and remove the letter, Hester decides to stay, choosing to embrace the symbol of her shame instead of running away from it. This choice reveals Hester’s determination to create her own identity rather than allowing others to define her. Through her relationship with Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester experiences a true sense of belonging, as opposed to her marriage to Roger Chillingworth which is portrayed as a merely convenient union.
Hester Prynne wears the symbol of shame, the letter ‘A’, which publicly humiliates her. However, she ultimately embraces it as her identity. Initially, the letter represents her as an ‘adulterer’, but over time it evolves into a symbol of her ability and growth. Through her charitable deeds, she gains dignity and self-respect, ultimately earning forgiveness from the scornful community. Hester’s isolation from society is evident in Pearl’s curious observation that the sunshine avoids Hester because of something in her bosom. This metaphor reflects Hawthorne’s portrayal of Hester’s sinful and dark past, which separates her from the rest of society.
The concept that an individual’s sense of belonging can be impacted by their interactions with others and the world is evident in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Peter Weir’s The Dead Poets Society, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. In these works, characters such as John Proctor, John Keating, and Hester Prynne demonstrate how one’s sense of belonging can be enhanced or restricted, leading to harmful consequences for themselves and those around them. These consequences may involve death, suffering, or a cathartic experience. Throughout these texts, it becomes apparent that the main characters prioritize staying true to themselves even when risking their lives because they recognize the importance of maintaining self-respect and unwavering conviction for survival.