Morality Has Changed Over Time - Jack Morton '

Morality can be interpreted in many different ways.  The technical definition is a set of principles or values that distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad.  In the play The Crucible, written by Arthur Miller, and the book The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the theme of morality is deeply explored.  These texts take place during Puritan New England, a time in which people relied heavily on religion to govern their daily lives.  The authors use this Puritan template to investigate the morality of the people in those times.  Nowadays, religion does not play as crucial a role in the daily routine of life.  However, morality is still a key component to how people act and think.  Society today has a slightly more moral outlook than in Puritan times, with more voices and perspectives on morality; nevertheless, underlying stereotypes still result in immoral actions and perpetrations meaning that today’s society is not more righteous, even though their is a stronger attempt to be so.

Modern day society has a better grasp of right and wrong and the severity of people's actions, yet stereotypes, that are brought up constantly, lead to many acts that are immoral. In Puritan times, people were very strict in their view of right and wrong, so their punishments, even for trivial crimes, were severe and unforgiving.  For example, in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne describes how even though it was years after her crime, and she was performing good deeds, Hester was still being punished.  He writes that there were, “None so ready as she to give of her little substance to every demand of poverty; even though the bitter-hearted pauper threw back a gibe in requital of the food brought regularly to his door, or the garments wrought for him by the fingers that could have embroidered a monarch’s robe” (Hawthorne 146).  Even though she is doing good (moral) deeds, she is being scorned by the people she is helping because of a sin she committed years ago.  The distinction between right and wrong in Puritan times was purely black and white.  There was no middle ground.  Hester has repented for her sin and is helping those less fortunate, but she is still seen and condemned as a sinner and is treated poorly because of it.   If she had committed her sin in modern times this would not happen, she would not be subjected to the severe punishment that she endured.  She would not have been viewed as such a bad person.  Her husband had been gone for two years and she fell in love with someone else.  In today’s times, if her husband had come back he most likely would have left her and she would have been punished by her own guilt and sadness, or he would have understood and forgave her.  She would still be punished by her guilt but she would not be subject to the humiliation and destruction of her public standing.

Even with today’s more tolerant view of society, there are stereotypes and generalisations that people frequently make that end up with horribly unscrupulous acts.  One instance of this is when Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchmen.  Martin had been walking with his hoodie up in the rain and this drew the suspicion of the watchmen.  It ended with Trayvon dead (Botelho, 2012).  This combined with other recent law enforcement killings of unarmed black men show how stereotypes take away from the morality of our society.  The perpetrators did not, as far as we know, kill them because they were black, they killed them because of a stereotype that is frequently brought up in our society and has become ingrained in the minds of many, even though it is largely false and unwarranted.  The director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the San Bernardino campus, Brian Levin, says, “We're seeing these stereotypes and derogative statements become part of the political discourse,” during an interview for an article about an increase of muslim hate crimes (Lichtblau, 2016).  Levin is referencing statements made by Donald Trump, during his campaign for presidency.  These stereotypes coming up in political discourse speak to how they have become such a big part of society today.  Even as these stereotypes continue to surface in the form of iniquitous acts and conversations though, people start to fight back, something that would not have been done in Puritan times.  This fighting back is apparent through protests and the national outcries by citizens.  In another article written about the shooting of Trayvon Martin the writer explains how the shooting affected the nation by, “igniting a national debate on racial profiling and civil rights” (Alvarez & Buckley, 2013).  This statement summarizes how these events trigger the fight back and protest for morality, something that did not happen in Puritan times.  

Today there are more voices and perspectives providing views on and fighting for what is right.  In Puritan times, there was only one moral code, the Church, and no one dared to think differently from this perspective.  If they did go against it and stand up for a personal moral code, they were opposed and even accused of being evil themselves.  This is evident in an excerpt from a scene in Miller’s play, The Crucible, when John Proctor is being questioned and Reverend Parris says about John Proctor, “ ‘Such a Christian that will not come to church but once in a month!’... [Cheever adds] ‘He plow on Sunday, sir.’ [Danforth exclaims] ‘Plow on Sunday!’ ” (Miller 90-91).  Parris brings up John Proctor’s faithfulness to the church because he wants to put Proctor in a bad light and make him seem immoral.  In Puritan times, if you did not follow the church’s way you were seen as evil.  The fact that John Proctor did not follow the same exact moral code as the church made him seem corrupt in the eyes of the officials such as Danforth and Parris.  In their eyes, John was not completely in the right, so he was perceived as completely in the wrong.  This portrays the one-sidedness of the views of people in Puritan times.  This is also evident in The Scarlet Letter when Hester is given her punishment.  Only one woman empathized with Hester’s situation and saw it from another perspective.  All the other women viewed Hester as wicked and thought that she should be punished more.  This singular perspective on the world does not lend itself to a just and moral place.  It is easy to be swept up in the tide of similar or popular thoughts, as evident in the sudden and large scale accusations and condemnations of witchcraft in The Crucible.  Today, there are many different moral codes and opinions on right and wrong.  As a result, when an immoral thing occurs, people can view it in different ways and fight for what is right on a broader spectrum.  

Today’s society is more open and objective on morality and, although there are immoral actions stemming from long-lasting stereotypes, the different and broader perspectives on right and wrong mean that more steps can be taken to fight for what is widely accepted as morally right.   Overall, modern society is not more moral but at least attempting to be better.  Puritan society was very strict and one-dimensional.  Today’s society is more diverse and able to stand up for morality, unlike Puritan times.  Negative stereotypes still result in immoral actions but justice can more easily prevail due to the wider and more accepting moral code of today and the ability to fight for what is right.

Works Cited

Alvarez, Lizette, and Cara Buckley. "Zimmerman Is Acquitted in Trayvon Martin Killing." New York Times. 14 Jul. 2013: A.1. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.  http://sks.sirs.com/webapp/article?artno=0000353080&type=ART

Botelho, Greg. “What happened the night Trayvon Martin died” CNN.com. Cable News Network, 23 May 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/18/justice/florida-teen-shooting-details/

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Modern Library ed., Modern Library, 2000.

Lichtblau, Eric. "Level of Hate Crimes Against U.S. Muslims Highest Since After 9/11." New York Times. 18 Sep. 2016: A.13. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.  http://sks.sirs.com/webapp/article?artno=0000385954&type=ART#cite

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. Penguin Group, 1976.  

Colonialism in Africa - Emma Skelton '19

All over the world, and throughout history, there has been gender inequality. Even now, whether you live in a developed or developing country, gender equality is an issue everyone should be fighting for. This is a big problem in African countries especially. Colonialism in the late eighteen hundreds had an effect on many aspects of African culture, particularly gender roles and women’s rights. European influence changed the ways African women were and are treated and damaged the limited independence they had in their native cultures.

Before European missionaries brought their influence to African villages, native women and men each had a set role in their societies. While the very different positions were not exactly equal, neither was inferior to the other (Bwakali, Web). Women were traditionally found in the kitchen or with their children and men were the hunters and fighters. Women also often tended to the crops and fields. Because they did none of the cooking, men often did not have access to their wives’ kitchens (Kalu, Web). This is also seen in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Okonkwo becomes extremely angry during the Week of Peace because one of his wives, Ojiugo, is out instead of cooking dinner for him (Achebe, 29). They worked in a balance, men providing the meat, women cooking the meals. That is not to say life was perfect for women pre-colonialism. Polygamy was practiced, and generally expected, in many areas of Africa. Okonkwo had three wives and they were often seen as showing social rank: the more wives you

have the higher and more successful you are. It was also not uncommon to beat your wives, although the reader sees a circumstance in Things Fall Apart where the abuser is punished for beating his wife when she runs away to her brothers (Achebe, 93). Yet despite these things, women often held positions of power too. Priestesses were respected and revered in villages for having contact with the gods. In Ghana, the queen Yaa Asantewaa has a national holiday named after her, in honor of the battle against the British into which she lead her troops (Speaker, Web). While the traditional customs of many African groups were by no means perfect, gender inequality became a larger problem after the Europeans arrived.

During the time period of African colonization, in Europe, gender inequality was very prevalent. Women were seen as the lesser citizens in society and were treated as such. They did not have the right to vote, own property, and their husbands usually had legal power over them (History, Web). This view of women came into play when spreading European influence in African nations. In many forms of Christianity, women’s roles were almost entirely  subservient. Going back as far as the creation stories, Eve was seen as the downfall of man (Speaker, Web). So, as missionaries spread their religion throughout Africa, men were often targeted for conversion over women. When they built schools, they were usually only open to men and women were expected to stay in the kitchen. Therefore, as they were not being given a chance to educate themselves in the new schools, they did not have the qualifications for jobs and increasingly lost out to men. Leadership opportunities and positions of power were never offered to women. Because men were put in positions of leadership, women became more and more dependent on them and less hopeful for a chance of independence (Speaker, Web). Men from Europe who came to colonize Africa saw the “savage women” as barely worth their time and

took advantage of them. Men were expected to do everything, so women were pushed aside. Even in the poem “The White Man’s Burden,” which is essentially speaking against colonialism, the emphasis is put on the white man, never mentioning any women who may have been involved (Kipling). Because of women’s status in the empires of the world, the treatment and expectations of the “savage” women was even worse.

The influence that Europeans had during the time they controlled colonies did not leave when the colonists did. The inferior status of women has continued throughout the years, not only in Africa, but all around the world. Because of the lesser education provided, many girls were not offered the same opportunities as boys were. Even the jobs they did have were often inferior to those of the men. In farming, women were put in charge of the “lesser” crops, like yams and other vegetables for households only, while men controlled the expensive crops such as coffee and cocoa beans to make a profit (Bwakali, Web). Women were not only treated unfairly in their workplace, but at home as well. It is evident in Athol Fugard’s Master Harold… and they boys that the gender inequality formed by colonization continued well through the 1950s. There is a scene in which Hally is speaking to his parents on the telephone and the author, Fugard, clearly emphasizes the tone he uses with his mother versus his father. He yelled and used harsh words when speaking with his mother, but when his father took the phone, his voice became much more respectful (Fugard, 31). It is clear that even years after the colonization of South Africa and after its independence as well, women were still not treated fairly, even by their own children. Yet this problem has persisted far beyond the 1950s and 1960s. Paul Rusesabagina writes the story of the Hutu and Tutsi feud in An Ordinary Man. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed, including women and children simply because they were Tutsi. And they were defined as either Hutu or Tutsi based on their father, because of the man’s prevalent role in society. It did not matter whether your mother was Hutu or not. If your father was Tutsi, so were you (Rusesabagina, 38). Women no longer held a place that was remotely equal to men and that has not changed as years have gone by.

Gender inequality in historically colonized countries is relevant even in our so called modernized culture. For example, in Tanzania, students must pass a test to prove they are proficient in English in order to receive a high school education. But many children, mainly girls, do not have the academic or monetary resources they need in order to pass the  English test (Bearor). This creates a vicious cycle where women cannot better themselves because they do not have the qualifications. Because of this, they cannot be hired for many high paying jobs and, in turn cannot provide their own daughters with the means for an education. And as time goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult to break the cycle. As women are often found in the kitchen or doing the “lesser” jobs, likewise men are in positions of power and the leaders of their household.

In many African families when the father is not present the eldest boy steps up as the head of the house, completely overruling the mother. For instance, an interracial couple living in Chad has two teenage boys. When their father is away the eldest boy takes charge; even though he is only fourteen or fifteen years old. Yet his actions go beyond the typical teenage behavior which many people wave away as a phase. When the boys visit their grandmother here in Maine for the summer, the oldest struggles between wanting to be in charge or respecting his elders. He acts in a way that he has been taught is appropriate to treat women, but which we would see as disrespectful (Poirier). Growing up in a household and a society that treats women as inferior influences the way that a child sees the world and his own privileges. If you are taught that you are superior, then you will act as such and teach your children in the same way. Thus begins a cycle very similar to the one mentioned above and equally as difficult to escape from. As mentioned in Things Fall Apart, a man’s wives were his to treat as he pleased in many traditional African cultures. Although Okonkwo may have beaten Ojiugo in the book, sexual activity seems to be mostly consensual. Yet nowadays, statistics say that in South Africa a woman is raped every thirty-six seconds (Bwakali, Web). Despite the fact that there are more laws regarding sexual and physical abuse now, the numbers of sexual assault incidents are higher in the modern era are still extremely high. Even though women in many developed countries, such as Theresa May and Angela Merkel, have been taking great strides forward, when it comes to less developed nations, many women are still taking baby steps.

The European men who colonized Africa were most likely fighting for a prominent place in history. But surely none of them could have predicted the impact they would have on the “savages” they colonized, abused, and overthrew. This impact heavily affected the women of a hundred years ago in the ways they were treated, taught, and expected to behave. Yet it has also had an effect on African women in the recent years. Prior to colonization, women had set roles in their societies and were generally respected. But after Europeans “settled” the land, those standards were changed and gender roles manipulated in a way that has lasted well over a century. Europeans proclaimed they were bringing civilization to the natives and showing them how to be real men. But in reality they suppressed the women and damaged their independence for years to come.

 

Works’ Cited

Bearor, Meg. Personal Interview. December 29, 2013

Bwakali, David J. "Gender Inequality in Africa." Contemporary Review, 2001., pp.

270-272.

"History of the Women’s Rights Movement." National Womens History Project. N.p., n.d. Web.

27 Oct. 2016.

<http://www.nwhp.org/resources/womens-rights-movement/history-of-the-womens-rights-movement/>.

Kalu, Anthonia C. "Women and the social construction of gender in African development."

Africa Today 43.3 (1996): 269+. Global Issues in Context. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.

Poirier, Susan. Personal Interview. August 14, 2010.

"Speaker: Women's Role in Pre-Colonial Africa Highly Esteemed." Africa News Service 26 Nov.

2003. Global Issues in Context. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.