My Experience Formulating My Draft Prospectus

The third component in which I was forced to formulate questions was the most useful for me because it forced me to think of aspects of my topic about which I would like to know more. I can research these questions which gives me the confidence that my topic can be expanded into a large paper which was my biggest fear going into the drafting process. Drafting has changed my thinking because it has forced me to narrow down my topic. I began with a larger idea when drafting my prospectus and through the process I was able to focus my thoughts into a more productive topic.

The most frustrating aspect of this assignment was developing focused and unanswerable questions. This is ironic I suppose because I also listed this as the most productive part of the process but it was also the most difficult for me. I tend to think big and to immediately try to answer my own wonderings and so it was difficult to find questions which I could not quickly answer without further research and it was also difficult to make each question matter in terms of being focused in relation to my topic once I had narrowed it down. The question that I would like discussed at greater length is how to make the essay cohesive. How do I relate all of my ideas closely enough with my topic so that there is a clear theme and noticeable path from beginning to end.


Repression of Secrets v. Admission of Guilt

The characters in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter believe that the community should punish sin and Hester Prynne has committed adultery as evidenced by the appearance of Pearl, her daughter who is living proof of this sin. The townspeople seem content to punish Hester but Mr. Chillingworth is intent upon discovering her partner. The way in which he tortures Hester trying to gain a confession is ruthless, but I can understand his cause since the most unfair part of this story has always been that Hester was forced to face her shame alone in my opinion. I suppose that we as readers are meant to be consoled by the prospect that Hester is set free through her community service and her admission of sin as well as by her graceful bearing of her burden while wearing the scarlet letter.

Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is tortured by his hidden sin although I do always find myself wanting him to admit his wrongdoing in order to spare Hester some of her burden. Part of Hawthorne’s message seems to be that we should not hide our sins but should instead admit them and embrace the consequences. He brings to light the consequences of secrets and he measures these as being much greater than the consequences of humiliation brought upon by the admission of sin. It is the secret that tortures Dimmesdale rather than the sin and so we should all learn that while to ere is human, admitting our own sins is often the best medicine for a guilty conscience rather than waiting for them to be discovered by someone else.


Suspicion, Secrets, and Misunderstandings in Jane Austen’s Emma

In the end of Emma, a series of misunderstandings occur which prevent the characters from understanding for which person each one has affection. Emma finds Frank delightful and therefore entertains his flirtation although she has no plans for a relationship with him. Emma’s dislike of Jane Fairfax leads to Mr. Knightley’s defense of her due to his sympathy for her situation. Misunderstanding ensues when Mrs. Weston assumes that Mr. Knightley’s defense of Jane is an indication of some hidden affection that he holds for her. Of course this is not true and Emma doesn’t really believe this notion. The residents of Highbury assume that Frank and Emma are forming a relationship although Emma wishes for him to be with Harriet. It is problematic that nobody is honest and forthright about their feelings towards the end of the novel because it creates a great deal of confusion as incorrect assumptions are made and rumors are spread.

The incorrect assumptions continue when Harriet tells Emma that she loves a man who holds a higher social position than herself in the community. Emma assumes that it is Frank but as we find out eventually as the assumptions unravel, the man whom she loves is Mr. Knightley. Mr. Knightley, observing the friendship, which has developed between Frank and Jane, assumes that they have an understanding in secret, but Emma laughs at Knightley’s suspicions flirts even more overtly with Frank. Mr. Knightley rebukes Emma for her flirtation and also for her insult of Mrs. Bates. Emma is actually truly upset by Mr. Knightley’s disapproval, which reaffirms our certainty that she and Mr. Knightly will be together in the end because Emma has true feelings for him.

Following the death of Frank’s aunt, he and Jane reveal their secret engagement, unraveling some of the assumptions and proving Mr. Knightley’s suspicions to be well founded. However, Emma continues to believe that Harriet loves Frank but is quickly proven incorrect when Harriet confesses her affections for Mr. Knightley, which forces Emma to admit her true feelings for Mr. Knightley. It is Emma’s fortune that Mr. Knightley returns her feelings. At this point all of the secrets have finally surfaced and the reader can see the dangers surrounding assumptions, rumors and secrets. The ending reveals who have feelings for whom once the secrets are revealed and the rumors are put to rest by the revelation of all of the characters’ true feelings. I believe that Austen would like us to remember that secrets can lead to untrue assumptions, which can lead to rumors, and misunderstandings, which only stand in the way of true happiness.


Gossip Forever Thrives in the Small Town

I found that the most striking issue in Jane Austen’s Emma was the lack of personal responsibility taken by the characters for spreading rumors and gossip, which affected the lives of others. Everyone in the novel seems to gossip in order to fill their time and it is an enjoyable practice which keeps them entertained in their small community of Highbury. While Emma seems to recognize that gossip can come with a price and does not condone the spreading of rumors by others, especially Miss Bates, she often engages in gossip herself. It is her own propensity for believing and spreading rumors that affects the lives of others in the novel. Emma’s obsession with the idea that Jane Fairfax and Mr. Dixon are having an affair causes her to make trouble in many ways because she does not stop to consider that she may not know all before she spreads this rumor. Emma regrets her actions only after realizing that she has shared her suspicions about the sender of the pianoforte with Frank Churchill who was secretly ready to become betrothed to Jane Fairfax.

Emma seems to accept that gossip is a part of life. She shows this attitude as she remarks, “such extreme and perpetual cautiousness of word and manner, such a dread of giving a distinct idea about any body, is apt to suggest suspicions of there being something to conceal” (24.42). Emma is recognizing that the people of Highbury do not keep knowledge to themselves and gossip is natural despite the fact that it is at the root of most issues, misunderstandings, and conflicts in the novel. Small towns commonly feed the need for people to gossip because there is little else to amuse the inhabitants of such a remote space.

Being as I am someone who comes from a very small town in eastern Suffolk County on Long Island, I can say that I know first hand that gossip is most prevalent in the more remote places of the world. I worked in a small shop in the village of my town for three years during high school and I quickly realized that I knew pretty much all there was to know about everyone in town. I was one of the privileged who knew information before everyone else because my co-worker made it her business to find out about all of the most important goings-on in the town, much as Miss Bates does in Emma. This novel is extremely enjoyable for me to read thus far because I can identify with it so well and I find that it is interesting to see how some things, such as the human propensity for gossip never die out throughout the years as in many places, we still gossip today with the same zeal as the characters in Jane Austen’s literature.


Rumour and the Plague

In Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, I noticed first how the plague seemed to cause a frenzy, which would seem natural because one can imagine how it would feel to face losing loved ones and possibly one’s own life. However, Defoe makes it clear that due to the lack of media, much of the information about the plague was spread through word of mouth and according to his journal; rumour seems to have governed the people’s actions during this time. The speaker was saddened by the hurried way in which people were fleeing their homes and he felt disturbed as he watched the large volume of people traveling day and night past his house, spurred by the rumour that soon travel would be prohibited. He describes how this scene filled him with “very serious thoughts of the misery that was coming upon the city, and the unhappy condition of those that would be left in it.”

Defoe explains that the “hurry” to obtain certificates of health for traveling abroad which went on for several months, continued “the more because it was rumoured that an order of the Government was to be issued out to place turnpikes and barriers on the road to prevent people travelling, and that the towns on the road would not suffer people from London to pass for fear of bringing the infection along with them, though neither of these rumours had any foundation but in the imagination, especially at-first.” This is most interesting because at this point, he mentions how nobody had suffered any fatal illness in the city during this period of fear while people fled their homes. Defoe says, “Now, as there had none died in the city for all this time, my Lord Mayor gave certificates of health without any difficulty to all those who lived in the ninety-seven parishes, and to those within the liberties too for a while.” People were actually deserting their lives in London based only upon the rumour of what was to come, without any physical proof that such predicted ruin would actually befall them and their families.

Defoe states that the rumours were “only in the imagination”. It is amazing how powerful one’s imagination can be and the actions which an imagination can provoke. Much of Defoe’s journal seems to reflect that people will behave in the most disturbing of ways when driven by fear and despair. It is interesting to think about how rumour can spark the imagination of today’s population. For me, the speaker’s account brought to mind the frenzy, which was created during the predicted “rapture” this year. The date is now rumoured to be sometime in October and so it will be interesting to see if the same fervor, which occurred during the first predicted rapture will be repeated in the coming weeks. The rapture did not actually come of course, whereas the plague was an actual occurrence. However, I do believe that it is interesting that the people began to react frantically based solely upon the rumours, which sparked in their imaginations the possibility of their being trapped and infected by the plague.


Gossip and Morality

Most striking to me while reading Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan was the clear way in which the characters demonstrate different moral codes or values. It seems that morality plays a large role in shaping the characters’ attitudes towards gossip. Lady Windermere, lord Darlington, and the Duchess of Berwick each have contrasting values although I did note that Lady Windermere and the Duchess of Berwick have some overlapping values throughout the play. We see that Lady Windermere adheres to a strict moral code, which precludes her from entertaining Lord Darlington’s advances and believing his gossip about her husband. She seems to scorn women who do not lead moral lives, however, she continues to speak to Lord Darlington, allowing him into her home for her birthday. Her high moral standards seem attractive to Lord Darlington who tells her that he is reforming but continues to maintain his mischievously wicked tendencies. I did not feel that he was truly “wicked” although the Dutchess of Berwick characterizes him this way. He is full of life and although he does not hold the same values as Lady Windemere, he seems to have good intentions and is just chiefly concerned with enjoying life.
Lord Darlington seems to have fun with gossip and does not mind making playful comments to those around him, which is attractive to the women, although they condemn him for his immorality. Dutchess Berwick repudiates Lord Darlington’s comparison of marriage to card tricks because she believes in appearances and leading a moral lifestyle, although she gossips about Lady Markby’s tea and sees nothing wrong with criticizing others. This would indicate that she believes that gossip is natural and not immoral. This is interesting because in Othello, gossip seems to be criticized as an activity that can destroy lives and which can ultimately lead to the highest levels of immorality in the form of murder. The high society portrayed in Wilde’s work has fun with gossip. Lord Windermere and Cecil Graham say it best during their exchange in which Lord Windermere asks, “What is the difference between scandal and gossip?” and Cecil Graham replies “Oh! gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.” (Act 3) This shows us that the attitude of this society is based in the idea that gossip is enjoyable and morality ruins this joyful pastime, turning it into scandal. When Duchess Berwick criticizes Lord Darlington, she is using his non-conformist attitude as fodder for gossip transformed into scandal by her moralistic analysis of his actions. I feel that Wilde is showing us that without looking at people’s actions through this kind of moral lens, gossip can be interpreted as a natural occurrence among friends, which is innocent until sullied by judgment.


Why Do We Believe Rumors?

In Shakespeare’s Othello, which I had never before read through in its entirety, I noticed that rumor seems to drive the story and to govern the actions of the main characters, mainly Othello.  Othello’s actions caused me to examine the plot through the lens, “what makes us believe rumors”?  I feel that we have all as humans, fallen into the trap of believing rumors, which have proven false. Othello does this when he believes Iago and ultimately strangles his wife Desdemona who has been accused of having an affair with Cassio, his trusted chief lieutenant.  It is peculiar that Othello would believe Iago who represents evil and manipulation in the story above his good and pure wife.  I can only conclude that it is difficult for Othello to trust in those who love him.  I can relate to this in many ways and I feel that many of us have felt betrayed at one time or another and know that the feeling of being betrayed by one whom we love hurts most powerfully and that it leaves us feeling unable to reach out to others in life.

Othello may be experiencing these feelings of distrust for those who love him because he finds it hard to believe that they could love him.  Desdemona is devoted to her husband but perhaps there is something inside him that makes him doubt her motives.  I feel that he comes across as a bit insecure in believing Iago.  He chooses to believe in hate instead of in love.  In this story rumor takes control of Othello and jealousy takes hold of Iago, the perpetrator of the rumor.  The tale revolves around the negative attributes of human nature and how rumor can destroy the purest heart, such as Desdemona’s.  I choose to hope for mankind to overcome jealousy and fear, but many times we let our emotions and life experiences govern our lives to terrible ends, just has Othello does here.  All of us can take a lesson from his mistake.