New England canoe
Elephant in the grass
Boat in docks
Boat in docks
Culturissima picture

Features

The sample opposite consists of the closing remarks of a lecture by David Winter on “The ‘Outsider’ in the Literature of New England… and Beyond” presented in 2004 in New England.

The Outsider

And, so, we’re back where we started: the people of North Dormer, like the first colonists, stand on the edge of a perilous wilderness – threatened by the inhabitants of “the Mountain”, just as the Puritans lived in fear of the Native Americans.

Like the inhabitants of Hawthorne’s puritanical village, like the wealthy of New York society, everybody must be on his or her guard against intrusion from that most frightening of things: the uninvited guest, the destructive interloper, the trespasser and transgressor - apparently bent on destroying a society’s orderly existence.

Would that paranoid fears such as these were found nowhere else but in the distant generation that is the Puritans, or in the pages of two long since-deceased American novelists…

This isn’t the case, however.

The Mountain, Hester Prynne, Ellen Olenska, Lilly Bart, the forest? These stereotypes of evil are alive and well. Indeed, they are an established part of the mental landscape of modern America.

Such unconscious and often illogical fears of the outsider, deeply rooted in the American psyche, continue to help shape the way the country – or successive American governments, at least - view much of the world.

Because, although the identity of the outsider may change over the centuries – from Indian to Englishman to Rebel to Yankee to Don to Hun to Nazi to Jap to Gook to Arab – the structure of the typecast remains constant.

Hawthorne’s paranoid Puritan processes – religious absolutes, simplistic splitting, concretising of complex abstracts, the elimination of the “baddie” – all these animate the way successive American governments have characterised the world.

In short, the language of Hawthorne’s distant Puritans echoes and re-echoes throughout early 21st century American politics:

"We are engaged in a cosmic struggle, a conflict between right and wrong and good and evil in which the American nation is enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might."

Ronald Reagan on the Soviet Union

"To every sailor, soldier, airman, and marine who is involved in this mission, let me say, you’re doing god’s work. We will not fail."

George Bush Senior addressing armed services personnel being sent to Somalia.

"Good versus evil, right versus wrong, human dignity and freedom versus tyranny and oppression."

George Bush Senior on the First Gulf War.

"This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil. But good will prevail."

George Bush Junior on the First Gulf War

"Evil is real, and it must be opposed."

George Bush Junior on the Second Gulf War

"We’re fighting evil… the evil ones… it’s a crusade against terrorism because it is America’s duty to rid the world of evil. "

George Bush Junior, presiding over “Operation Infinite Justice”, on Al Qaeda

In each case, as with the Puritans, the potential for profound analysis is surrendered to blind faith. Simplification and certainty is what the world needs.

And, for as long as the other is labelled as evil - “Evil is real, and it must be opposed” as George Bush Junior declares – so violent action is justified.