Essay 1

The millennial generation (defined by the group of people born between 1981-2000) is so stigmatized, I had to look into what the older generations were saying about us. It boils down to a perception of rampant narcissism. In 2013, Time Magazine released an article titled “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation ,” calling out the perceived laziness and self-obsession of the millennials (If I had a dollar for every time this article used the word narcissism, I'd have 16 dollars). Though the article's lack of educated terminology regarding underprivileged youth (see the last sentence in the third paragraph) is enough of a reason to discredit the opinions of this particular author, the unique characteristics of the millennial generation are fascinating. The revolutionary perceptions of individualism and self worth, as well as an overall accepting culture, has led to something that has never happened before, an almost complete lack of a rebellion by a certain generation as they become young adults. The millennial's relationship to society and authority figures is unique and hard to describe, but there is certainly an overconfidence in our ability to take over and be successful.

So how do transcendentalists fit into all this? In Thorough's "Where I Lived, and What I Lived for," the narrator searches tirelessly for a place to build a house, and reveals the approach to homeownership and "settling down" that was conventional in his community. He imagined himself buying many different farms, "for all were to be bought." This introduces an old, Europe view of land ownership that permeated American culture; the idea that land is here to be bought and owned, instead of shared and celebrated. It's so fascinating that the Millennial generation is viewed by Generation X, as well as all older, living generations in the same way that is would be viewed by Thorough's generation in regards to ideas about homeownership and landownership. Millennials are simply not buying homes, but choosing to rent instead. This can be attributed to the overall financial situation of the generation, such as high unemployment, fixed wages, high college loans, and fear stemming from the recent housing market crash that had so drastically affected their parents. Though it's easy to attribute the changes in homeownership to these circumstances, something deeper is going on. While the narrator in Walden realized the weight that a decision about where to build his house would have on the rest of his life, the millennials reject the need to make such a permanent decision; they'd rather rent an apartment and be more open to change in the future.

When the narrator gives up his claim on the property, he realizes that this outcome may have been for the best. Forced to simplify his life, he concludes that it is best “as long as possible” to “live free and uncommitted.” Thoreau takes to the woods, dreaming of an existence free of obligations and full of leisure. Throughout Walden, the narrator changes the way that he regards home ownership and the concept of permanently settling down. The emotional growth that the narrator goes through in the course of his lifetime mirrors the emotional growth that occurred between generation X and the millennial generation

Essay 2: Social Criticism Essay

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is accused of adultery, and is punished by the public humiliation of wearing a Scarlet “A” on her bosom and of standing on the scaffold for hours with her illegitimate child in front of the entire town. No woman today would be punished by law for having a child with a man other than the one she is married to, so many people would come to the conclusion that society’s treatment of women has improved since Hester’s time. Though it may have improved, public humiliation is still used as a tool to punish women for sexual expression.
The most prevalent example to me is street harassment. Street harassment is hard to define as one thing, but it is most often when a man approaches or interacts with a woman he doesn’t know in a public space, often to comment on her appearance. While this may seem a natural consequence of being constantly exposed to rape culture, there’s something deeper going on. The man is asserting his power over the woman in a public space, therefore claiming the space as safe for men to pass without feeling threatened, while women constantly run the risk of being approached or harassed. The harasser is asserting the power that men have over women in a patriarchal society, just as the Puritan leaders due to Hester. They force her to mark herself as different with the “A,” and stand on the scaffold to be publicly humiliated. This is asserting the sexually stunted, patriarchal ideas about sex and marriage of the Puritan society on Hester, someone who obviously doesn’t subscribe to them. Just as women on the street are forced to interact with men who’ve decided their ideas about women’s bodies are important, Hester is forced to face punishment for a “sin” that she may not even view as a sin. Her opinions towards extramarital affairs are unimportant, because the men of the society have decided that she will suffer a certain punishment based on their beliefs about sin.

Another way that public embarrassment is used to punish women for sexual expression is the prevalence today of hateful, slut-shaming terms used to describe women. There are too many to count, yet there are no real equivalents for these terms when referring to men. These words are used in pop-music, they’re plastered over the internet, they’re used when someone disagrees with a female politician, and just in day-to-day interactions. The frequency with which teenage girls are called skank, whore, slut, etc. is alarming. These terms are used as a tool for men and women to shame a woman’s choices, if those choices go against mainstream views about how a women should dress her body. This form of pubic shaming can ruin a girl’s day when she feels good about her new outfit, and then is told by her parents to dress more appropriately. It can also be used as a tool to excuse/ justify a rapist’s actions. Either way, public shaming of women for their sexuality to any extreme, and in any time period is harmful.

Hester's punishment for adultery was simply the discomfort of public embarrassment, ignoring her small stay in prison. Some of the townspeople in Chapter 2 of the Scarlet Letter complained that her punishment wasn’t harsh enough. I think that these women underestimated the impact that public shaming of a woman in a patriarchal society has. Hester put on a brave face, and showed off her “A” proudly, but inside she was embarrassed and uncomfortable. She felt how ever woman today feels when publicly shamed by messengers of a patriarchal society, making her feel unsafe on the street, or calling her by hateful terms. It all equates to the same thing; a woman feeling powerless in a man’s world.

Essay 3

“…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Thoreau) I felt that this sentence encapsulates Thoreau’s main message in “Conclusion.” Thoreau is suggesting that one can achieve unexpected accomplishments if he pursues his goals and doesn’t let society’s expectations hold him back. I disagree with this claim, because society’s preconceived notions about a persona have the ability to hinder his accomplishments, even when he wholeheartedly tries to achieve his goals.

Societal disadvantages are not something that can be ignored in the pursuit of a dream. If a young black girl from a poor neighborhood in Baltimore City has the goal to become a doctor, and help people, Thorough’s message would suggest she can achieve her goal, and more, if she focuses on it and puts all her effort into becoming a doctor. In reality, she is put at a disadvantage from birth compared to a white boy from a wealthy family growing up in Howard County with the same goal of becoming a doctor.

For the sake of clarity, let’s say the girl’s name is Alexis and the boy’s name is Ben. As Alexis and Ben begin Kindergarten, Ben is already more prepared, as he was able to attend Pre-School, while Alexis was not. Ben now attends one of the many prestigious public schools offered in Howard County, as he will through middle and high school. Alexis’s experience with public schools will be quite different, as her middle school gets shut down while she’s in seventh grade due to “underperformance” and she is relocated across the city from her home and all of her old friends. Still, Alexis perseveres, and has a real interest in science, reassuring her that becoming a doctor would be a good career path for her. Ben feels the same way as well. Ben’s guidance counselor finds out about his goals, and suggests he takes AP biology. Alexis has endured years of a patriarchal society encouraging her not to answer questions in class or excel in a STEM field, so she doesn’t let anyone know about her interests.
Here comes Junior Year, bringing with it the pressure of the SATs. Alexis, the motivated student that she is, brings home a review book and studies as much as she can after she gets home from her part time job. Ben’s parents had enrolled him in a quite expensive SAT prep class for the past two years. No surprise, Ben well outperforms Alexis on the test. College applications are due now, and both students have their sights set on Johns Hopkins. Alexis needs the acceptance, because she doesn’t know how else she’ll pay for college, except for the Baltimore Scholars Program. Ben just likes the school and thinks it will help him get into a good medical school. Both students apply early decision, and check anxiously the day that scores are released. Ben got in. Alexis did not. Somewhere between the Advanced Placement class and the higher SAT score, Hopkins decided that Ben is a better candidate that Alexis for their pre-med program.

Ben goes on to be a top student at Hopkins, and is accepted to a prestigious med-school. Alexis is discouraged by her rejection to Hopkins, and doesn’t pursue other scholarships to make college an option for her. Instead, she gets a minimum-wage job and gives up on the hopes of ever becoming a doctor.

It may seem like Ben and Alexis are oversimplified stereotypes; privileged white men can still get off track and be unsuccessful, and there are plenty of Ben Carson success stories out there. But Ben and Alexis model socioeconomic differences and how they affect the achievements of different groups in America. The situations that made Alexis unable to reach her goals can be attributed mostly to her parent’s socioeconomic status, one that she now shares in adulthood. This means that her children, no matter their intelligence level or goals, will have a high chance of ending up in her situation. This is referred to as the cycle of poverty, and it works the other way as well. Ben was set up to succeed by college educated, wealthy parents. He will now become a member of their socioeconomic status, and be able to give his children the same opportunities that he had. And the polarization of the socioeconomic statuses is perpetuated through yet another generation.

Essay 4

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the idea of sin, and its consequences, plays a huge role throughout the book. But what exactly is sin, and who gets to decide what does and doesn’t count as a sin? In The Scarlet Letter, sin is closely related to religious definitions, and this holds true for all major characters in the book, except Chillingworth.

Though Hester’s definition of sin is clearly different from the rigid, religious view of the Puritans, she still reveals that she expects to go to Hell, with Dimmesdale, for her sin. This means that she views adultery as a sin, aligning closely with the Puritan way of thought. Dimmesdale also believes their affair is a sin, and this is shown by his internal and external torture as his sin remains hidden. It is no surprise that Dimmesdale has such a biblical view of adultery, because he takes his occupation as a Reverend so seriously.

Chillingworth, however, has a view of sin that doesn’t align so well with the biblical definition. It’s clear to the readers of The Scarlet Letter that Chillingworth is not a religious man that seeks to do good and strives to reach Heaven. But does he think that his torture of Dimmesdale is wrong? Evidently, no, he doesn’t, as shown when he says, "What evil have I done the man?” So his definition of sin doesn’t include torture.

There is no quote that directly shows Chillingworth’s feelings about adultery, but his interview of Hester in the prison does reveal a lot about his way of thought. He is quick to forgive Hester, because he feels as though he wronged her just as much as she wronged him. This eye-for-an-eye view of redemption separates Chillingworth from the Puritans. They sought to punish Hester, but their punishment was because she went against God’s definition of sin. Chillingworth doesn’t feel a need to punish her because they are already even. If he had felt that she had wronged him more for some reason, his version of punishment wouldn’t be about justice, but about hurting Hester as much as she had hurt others (namely himself).

We now, in the 21st century, have a social contract about what is and isn’t a sin, yet there are still differing opinions on this topic. Because of this, my opinion about torturing a sinner will be different from the opinion of someone else reading The Scarlet Letter, and that’s okay. Back in Puritan times, the social contract was religious text, and disagreements about what constitutes a sin weren’t okay. There was a right answer, and it was the biblical one. Chillingworth rejected this idea, and enacted revenge, which was what constituted justice in his mind. This makes Chillingworth the only character whose views of punishment would most closely align with the views of Americans today. I observe the people around me hurting a person who has hurt them, instead of letting God handle that person’s punishment on judgement day. It’s true that the Puritans didn’t simply leave Hester alone and let God make the decision, but they punished her preemptively in an effort to carry out God’s work, according to his definition of sin. Chillingworth is the only one unconcerned with God as he was carrying out his punishment of Dimmesdale, and this makes him most similar to people who live in American culture today.

Essay 5

There are many hypotheses about what exactly happened in Poe’s Ligeia, when the narrator claims that his dead second wife turns into his previously dead first wife. That explanation, though enough for the narrator to accept, makes modern readers a bit skeptical. In my humble opinion, Ligeia is a story about Opium abuse gone wrong. Or, in the narrator’s case, gone right. Ligeia, no matter how much the narrator thinks that death can be overcome with sheer willpower, is dead, and I don’t believe that Poe is trying to create some supernatural ending for the story. He is trying to show that, through the narrator’s willpower, he can get back his life with Ligeia, even if it’s through a delusional, drug induced hallucination.

The narrator becomes severely depressed after losing his wife, and true love, Ligeia. Though the shady circumstances of their relationship imply that he may have had a drug problem long before the story admits, his passion for her is the one true reality throughout the story. The fact that he immediately moved and got remarried to a woman he despises may have also had something to do with his inadequate grieving process. This depression leads him to start taking Opium, and he continues to think about Ligeia constantly, even as he cares for his sickly wife. The circumstances around his second wife’s death are suspicious, and even the narrator isn’t sure exactly what’s going on. Something potentially supernatural occurs, resulting in the second wife’s death.

After this section the narrator is clearly stricken with confusion and grief. These emotions, coupled with Opium, most likely led to visions of the second wife waking from the dead… as Ligeia. The narrator so desperately wanted to see Ligeia since her death that his subconscious took his second wife’s death as an opportunity to hallucinate Ligeia.

When the narrator realizes that the second wife seems taller, he asks, “What inexpressible madness seized me with that thought?” He is implying that the hope of having Ligeia back cause him to go crazy. I believe that his preexisting craziness caused him to see Ligeia. So in the beginning of the story, with the well know quote, “And the will therein lieth, which dieth not,” the author isn’t claiming that a strong will can overpower mortality, as many readers may think. The author is actually claiming that a strong will, and maybe some hallucinogens, can bring back the memories of a loved one, so powerfully that they may seem real.