What time period an event takes place in has a great deal of influence on how that event transpires. From slavery, to segregation, to apartheid, to an equal society, the world's view on certain subjects is bound to be subject to change over time. The events that took place in the novels we read this year were certainly shaped by the era in which they took place. with John Proctor from The Crucible by Arthur Miller, fear of religion and the devil overcame common sense and logic. With Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a society where women were insignificant and adultery was an unspeakable crime denied her of the life she deserved. and of course with Sethe from Beloved by Toni Morrison, a life of slavery that took away a person's chance at a free mind and a true personal identity. In all of these novels, the characters are defined by the time period in which they lived, and it made their trials and tribulations all the more terrible.
In Beloved by Toni Morrison, we are told the tale of an escaped slave name Sethe, who sought to create a new, better life for herself in Ohio after running away from her planation. The way that time defined Sethe was in the form of slavery. Slavery denied the slaves a sense of self, and for an escaped slave, one was never truly free. Even though Sethe was physically free she was living in constant fear of her past, blocking out all the horrible memories of Sweet Home. This kind of emotional and mental torture is not typical of a free woman. Because of the affect that slavery had had on Sethe, she could never allow her thoughts and conscious to be free gain. Morrison gives us an idea of just how humiliating and morally reducing slavery can be for someone when Paul D, on of Sethe's fellow slaves at Sweet Home, talks about feeling like he was less important, less free than a rooster. Paul D was being punished, and had a bit in his mouth as he watched the bird strut around proudly. "Mister, he looked so... free. Better than me. Stronger, tougher" (Morrison 89). The fact that a grown human man could feel reduced to less than a mere rooster is a telling example of how slavery can destroy someone's psyche. If Sethe had lived in a time period other than her own, she would have been a completely different woman; with a mind that was free to work at its full capacity. The same is true of all the characters in the over novels we read, namely Hester Prynne.
In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, we are first introduced to Hester Prynne as she is being brought into the open after being kept in jail for some time. We learn that she has committed adultery, and is condemned to a life of wearing the letter "A" on her breast. The way that time period plays into Hester's punishment is in the fact that during this time period, women were held in much less esteem than men. It could be assumed that a woman would receive a much worse punishment for the same crime as a man. The other way that time period factors in is that in present day society, adultery is not as awful a crime. When someone cheats on their spouse in this day and age, sometimes the couple does not even separate. But at this time, adultery was one of the worst things that one could do to their significant other. One way that Hester separates herself from the other characters of these novels is that she does not let the stigmas and stereotypes of her time stop her from becoming a prominent member of her society. This is not to say that John Proctor was not a prominent member in his society, but Hester had to overcome a lot more to achieve her status. One example of how Hester is able to hold her own and be her own woman comes from the first scene in the book where we meet Hester. She is being brought out of the jail to face public humiliation, and as the guard put his hand on her shoulder, she "repelled him, by an action marked with the natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free will" (Hawthorne 47). Hester's defiance shows that she is willing to fight for what she thinks she deserves: Respect. But not all of the characters had as happy an ending as Hester. Even tough he fights to overcome what is opposing him, John Proctor does not have the same uplifting ending as Hester Prynne.
John Proctor faces a challenge that is different from both those of Hester and Sethe. John is a respected member of his community, and an important man. But just because his life starts off with less challenges than his literary counterparts, does not mean that he will not have to fight for what he believers in. The time period in which John Proctor lived was one dominated by religion and faith. Religion was so important to early societies like Salem that it often overshadowed basic logic and reason. When some local girls get themselves into great trouble by dancing in the woods, their "leader" takes it upon herself to shift the blame to the townspeople around them that had nothing to do with the proceedings by crying witch. Of course, in our present day society, this would be a preposterous claim, and no community would widely accept that the devil had come to their town to wreak havoc vicariously through the spirits of the townsfolk. But alas, in this period of time, that is exactly what happened. John stayed true to logic, and denied the existence of witches, which made him an outcast, and eventually led to his downfall. John expresses his frustration with all the talk of witchcraft early on in the book when he is speaking to Rev. Parris and Mr. Putnam. The men speak of witchcraft and the devil and hell, to which John replies "Can you speak for one minute without we land in Hell again? I am sick of Hell!" (Miller 30). John is the only one in his society that remains true to common sense, and it is that which leads to his eventual death at the end of the book.
All of these characters were in some drastic way affected by the time period they lived in. If any of these characters lived in our current society, they would not have faced the same opposition that they did in these books. But in a way, it is because they suffered these oppressions that our society is as advanced as it is today. And we discuss these travesties of the past, the history of the future is busy writing itself now. Who knows what problems we face today will seem obsolete in the future. After all, tomorrow's history is today's present. All three of these characters faced time period based oppression in their own unique, yet almost similar way. But thanks to these characters who endured the pain of ignorance, these martyrs who gave way to a brighter future, we can now say that these problems that they faced, are no longer a thread to the structure of society.
Ben Upton ' 16