A Critic's Meta Review 5/5
What are we but the things we are known as? Indeed, in this life, we are nothing if not slaves to our reputation. You could be a puppet, a pirate, a pauper, a poet, a pawn, and a king (all at once), but if you have a bald spot somewhere or could stand to lose a few pounds, well, good luck buddy - that’s life. However, these days (as well as in the days of Hawthorne, I presume, or this book would not have been published when it was) the most egregious form of institutionalization through classification is not physical - it is social.
What do I mean by this? Well, let me give you an example, since that would probably be the best way to illustrate what I am trying to say here. Let’s say that you are walking down the street with some coworkers, and pass by a Chinese restaurant. One of your coworkers recommends that you all stop by there for a bite to eat, but another politely declines because she doesn’t much care for Chinese food. Then, another coworker (the guy that’s always looking to start some drama because he lives alone and sings himself to sleep every night with Liza Minelli showtunes and a bottle of Chardonnay) stops everyone in their tracks, points a big, meaty finger (did I mention he was just a tad bit overweight?) at the Chinese food averter, and shouts “RACIST!”
Now, all of a sudden, there is a scene gathering around this poor woman. What started out as a simple distaste for dumplings has turned into the beginning of her downfall. At this point, it no longer matters what spurred the accusation. The accusation alone is enough to warrant permanent damage to her reputation, and she will be forced to live out the rest of her days with a big, scarlet letter “R” branded right on her forehead, like Charles Manson’s swastika tattoo. Hell, it might as well be a swastika tattoo. That’s how people are going to interpret such a label, anyhow.
Is this fair? Should we not hold people to be innocent of such charges until they prove otherwise? How can we ever presume to know what is inside someone’s heart? Are we God? The answer may suprise you!
The answer to the last question is, of course, yes - we are God - but that’s neither here nor there. The answer to the other question is, who knows? That’s why this book is so good; it pokes at a question that we have yet to come up with a rational answer for, even after over a century and a half. Good grief, man.