The Scarlet Letter Notes
1. Background Information:
The Scarlet Letter was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and was published back in 1850 during the Romantic Period. This novel can be classified as both romance and historical fiction.
The main setting of the novel takes place in Boston back in the seventeenth century in a Puritan community. However, within this uptight, law-abiding settlement, the novel also mentions many significant places in detail.
– The Prison:
The book begins with the description of a dark and ominous prison door complete with heavy woodwork and iron spikes which symbolizes the darkness and evil that exists in every human heart. Although the entrance to this edifice is forbidding and unsightly, the author paints the beautiful image of a wild rosebush growing next to the door and explains how it is Nature’s way of pitying and comforting the condemned as they enter.
When Hester Prynne was sentenced to stand on the scaffold in the Market Place, she had to endure the mockery and criticism of the public. This platform of ridicule and shame inflicted worse punishment than execution because it was said that that the disgrace that entailed would be as unbearable as death. Also, during the “minister’s vigil”, Reverend Dimmesdale stood on the scaffold along with Hester and Pearl at night. Although no one was present, he was still able to feel the ignominy and guilt of his dark secret surge at him.
– Hester Prynne’s cabin:
This deserted cabin on the outskirts of the town represents Hester Prynne’s strength and perseverance as she struggles to support Pearl and herself. Having to deal with poverty and the censures of the Puritan community, Hester is the depiction of those who suffer greatly, yet still persist to move on regardless.
– The Governor’s Mansion:
Exactly the opposite of Hester Prynne’s poor deprived state, Chapter 7 illustrates every aspect of Governor Bellingham’s estate. Flourishing with suits of armor and family portraits, each description of the Governor’s mansion reveals his aristocratic lifestyle and points out the drastic economic difference that existed in the town.
In Chapter 17, Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale meet in the forest. This is where Hester reveals to Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is her husband. Dimmesdale suddenly starts to blindly grasp onto the dark revelation that Hester is the cause of all his pain. However, as Hester begs for forgiveness and pulls him into an embrace, he becomes more pacified and concludes that Chillingworth is the root of all the evil and a greater sinner than either of them could ever be. As the two make plans of escaping to Europe, a little of the darkness is unburdened from their hearts and a feeling of long lost joy can be sensed.
As Hester pulls off the scarlet letter and lets her hair down, she returns to the glory of a beaming youthful woman. However, when she calls to Pearl from across the river, Pearl refuses to cross and keeps pointing at the empty space on her mother’s chest. Reluctantly, Hester is forced to pin the condemning badge back on. The river with its “unintelligible tale” of woe and sadness represents Hester’s never-ending suffering as it continuously flows and winds along its fated path.
The Scarlet Letter opens with a gloomy setting in front of the jailhouse where Hester Prynne emerges from the dark entrance. The letter “A”, embroidered with scarlet and gold, is pinned onto her chest as a sign of committing adultery. Hester was sent to Boston by her husband, and when two years passed with no sign of him, the unfortunate young woman sought the comfort of another man and soon, became pregnant with a child.
The sentencing at the Market Place is one of the significant scenes because it is where the protagonists and antagonists are all revealed and where their role in the story is hinted. When the ill and pallid-faced minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, is introduced, his speech to exhort the truth out of Hester is met with a suspenseful silence. As Hester responds by stating how the scarlet letter is already “too deeply branded” and the most she can do is “endure [the man’s] agony as well as [hers]”, Dimmesdale’s reaction betrays his relationship with Hester to the reader.
After several years of living in solitude with her daughter Pearl, Hester begins to hear rumors from the community counsel. Urged by the assumption that Hester is incapable of raising Pearl physically and spiritually, the counsel argues whether or not the mother and daughter should be separated. Saved by the Reverend Dimmesdale’s intervention, the connection between the three is confirmed. It is obvious that as Dimmesdale struggles with revealing his identity as Pearl’s father, he has to maintain self control in order to morally fit in with the society.
Haunted by his sinful memory, Dimmesdale decides to finds peace by standing upon the very scaffold that Hester had to endure on through her first hours of ignominy. Feeling the unbearable ache in his chest, Dimmesdale cries out loud in pain and later becomes delusional until Pearl and Hester arrive. Together, they hold hands and form an “electric chain” of energy and warmth; yet, when a comet lights up the sky and the letter “A” is formed in the sky, it is anything but coincidental. As the bond between Dimmesdale and Hester burns brightly in the dark night, Pearl, the other link, persistently asks about the day when they will be able to hold hands and stand together in public.
Meanwhile, the antagonist Roger Chillingworth starts to take on a more significant role in the plot. As Dimmesdale’s sinful secret creates crucial heart problems for him, Chillingworth plays along and pretends to become not only his physician, but his close companion as well. Soon, they move in together and Dimmesdale’s condition progressively worsens instead of improving. In reality, Chillingworth confesses that he is trying to pry the secret out of Dimmesdale; when he tells Hester of this, his face goes through a sinister contortion and it is confirmed that Chillingworth is on a rampant search for all the ways to destroy his enemy, Arthur Dimmesdale.
The most important speech that Dimmesdale delivers also turns out to be his last. Finally able to cast off the heavy burden on his shoulders, Dimmesdale’s final scene is when he reveals his own scarlet letter in public and collapses. As Chillingworth is enraged at Dimmesdale’s escape from him, Hester on the other hand is heartbroken as she asks whether or not they would meet in their afterlives. Dimmesdale responds by saying it will be done as how God saw fit, and on that note, he takes his last breathe and departs.
The title The Scarlet Letter is significant because it symbolizes the sin, shame and redemption of the whole story. The opening scene was used to explain the shame that being a sinful adulteress brought upon Hester Prynne, and what the letter “A” represented. In the ending scene, however, when Dimmesdale revealed his scarlet letter, it actually led to his peace of mind and freedom.
– Hester Prynne:
The main protagonist of the story is Hester Prynne as she works against the discriminating mentality of the Puritan community and the dark menacing grasps of her ill-fated scarlet letter. From a beautiful flawless young woman, Hester turns into a sad and forlorn pariah living on the edge of town with her daughter. However, towards the end of the novel, Hester’s compassionate and warm attitude was able to win the respect and trust of others. Although the letter “A” on her chest would never be able to vanish completely, her acts of kindness among the poor revealed that even in her circumstances, Hester would never let her sin define who she was.
Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne, mainly exists in this novel as a symbol and a reminder of Hester’s scarlet letter. Known to everyone as a little imp or devil, Pearl was indeed a curious and sensitive character who offered insights into the mind of the adults. As the author describes Pearl’s constant fascination with her mother’s scarlet letter, it can be inferred that Pearl serves as a protector, making sure that Hester’s sin would never be forgotten.
– Arthur Dimmesdale:
As the true father of Pearl, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is a character who has to struggle with revealing his sinfulness and defending his morality. Throughout the novel, Dimmesdale’s hand always strays to his heart in times of trouble or anguish because he too has to cope with his own scarlet letter. Even though Hester was publicly shamed and is the one who bears the clearly visible “A”, Dimmesdale’s continuous internal dilemmas proves that keeping the sin hidden is more agonizing than confessing out loud.
– Roger Chillingworth:
Initially Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth is the main antagonist as he ultimately represents all the evil and wrongdoing in the story. By practicing all sorts of alchemy, sometimes Chillingworth’s experiments lead to the notion of plain murder as he is driven on by the thought of killing Dimmesdale. Chillingworth’s sin is greater than that of Dimmesdale’s and Hester’s mainly because its intention is to seek revenge rather than love and forgive.
– The Narrator:
The narrator takes on two voices in this novel. In the Chapter “The Custom House”, he dimly mirrors Nathaniel Hawthorne, serving as the chief executive officer at the Salem Custom House who is the restless and bored character that discovers an old manuscript and a badge with the scarlet letter “A”. Thus, the story of The Scarlet Letter takes place and the narrator transforms into a character with personalities and troubles similar to that of Hester’s. The narrator writes this story not to mainly tell the tale of Hester’s plight, but primarily to show and expose the status quo and religious standings back in the 1700s.
5. Point of View
The Scarlet Letter is told in the omniscient point of view partly because the author himself was writing according to the manuscript he found in the attic, but partly because it is his own life story. Discovering the documentary of the protagonist, Hester Prynne, was a way for the author to transition from his current situation to memories of the past. Although the narrator connects with his characters due to his profound understanding of and relation to their situation, his constant judgments and comments on the characters’ decisions hint to us that he knows more than the characters do. Without giving the reader a chance to make assumptions, the narrator clearly turns his opinions into facts as he portrays Hester and Dimmesdale as two sinners and lovers who committed adultery only because they were seeking comfort. On the contrary to the two protagonists’ sinful love, Roger Chillingworth is seen as an icon of evil and vengeance.
As the author and narrator both tell The Scarlet Letter from an omniscient point of view, they are able to establish a clear correlation and comprehensible point of view for every action that the character makes. Another reason that Nathaniel Hawthorne chose this way to tell the story is so that the reader will not make biased conjectures against the characters, but rather, allow the readers to witness and experience each character’s innate feelings and internal struggles.
6. Tone and Style
In the very beginning of the novel The Scarlet Letter, the author starts with a puzzling discovery of an old manuscript in the attic along with a rag of scarlet cloth with the letter “A” sewn on it. As the mysterious tone arouses a sense of curiosity in the reader, the suspense takes hold and the author begins his story. The attention then switches to Hester Prynne, a young woman condemned for committing adultery, and the mood transforms into a more sardonic yet heartfelt sympathy for the poor girl. When Dimmesdale and Chillingworth are introduced, the tone switches between the truth of righteousness and true malevolence. Then as Pearl comes into play, she is the symbol of Hester’s sin, but the author still introduces her with an innocent tone. Throughout the plot, the mood fluctuates as Dimmesdale fights against the dark forces of his hidden sin and the pure evilness of Chillingworth, and his benevolent nature to reveal the truth. In Chapter 17, Hester and Dimmesdale take a break from all their pain and the mood changes temporarily as the former joy in their eyes is restored for a moment when Hester takes off the scarlet letter. However, the author does not linger long on their happiness, and his tone abruptly goes back to being melancholic. For the most part, the sad tone stays consistent until the end of the story, especially when Dimmesdale delivers his confession speech and dies.
The style that Nathaniel Hawthorne uses to write The Scarlet Letter is very strange and complex to our modern generation. His vast amount of complicated vocabulary and sentence structure causes readers to read and reread everything many times in order to comprehend it. However, his use of symbolisms, imageries, and allegories is all very similar and in depth. His symbolisms like the prison door and the scarlet letter “A” all convey the message of evil, sin, and forgiveness very clearly and are all more than once brought up throughout the plot. Hawthorne’s excessive use of detailed descriptions and imagery help draw the reader in and visualize the setting in order to fully experience it. Another literary device that Hawthorne uses in his writing is the reference to allegories. For example, in the Chapter “The Custom House”, the author describes the most beloved and well-known icon of American freedom, the eagle. However, as he tells in detail of this monumental statue in front of the Custom House, the original sense of freedom and liberty is replaced with a morbid and chilling feeling, implicating that there might be something wrong with the Custom House government.
Motifs serve as the cause for themes and sometimes strengthen the meaning in order to create a lasting message that will embed itself in the reader’s mind. An obvious motif in the story was public vs. isolation. In The Scarlet Letter, the public place served as a place where punishments were always carried out and left for gossipers to talk about. In the Market Place, the scaffold is an example of a public place where humiliation and discipline was demonstrated. On the contrary, the forest and Hester’s cabin were isolated places where the convicted sought comfort and privacy. Away from the public eye and criticisms, it was in the lonely forest where Hester and Dimmesdale shared and experienced a temporary joy.
7. Author’s Purpose
As Nathaniel Hawthorne weaves tone, mood, and style into this story, most people would question his purpose for writing this tragic tale of shame, deceit, and redemption. Apart from telling the sad story of Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Dimmesdale, there is a much deeper meaning and reason for the publication of this novel.
Hawthorne’s purpose for writing The Scarlet Letter was so he could reveal the life and hypocrisy of the Puritan communities back in those days. He implies that back then in the stiff and stubborn society, many humans were wrongfully sentenced and blamed for all types of sin. However, his characters Dimmesdale and Hester show that staying hidden and suffering in silence is worse than being publicly humiliated and shunned. When Hester took the blame all upon her, Dimmesdale’s conscience was in agony and he was torn apart between his sinful and moral feelings. As Hester walked around with the scarlet letter upon her chest, Dimmesdale’s own chest burned as his guilt created a scarlet letter of its own.
Therefore, while revealing and hinting strong criticisms against the Puritan religion, Hawthorne objects strongly against Puritanism as it sometimes ridiculously persecutes and punishes people, forcing victims to endure needless and extreme suffering.
8. Themes and significant quotations
Throughout Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, he brings up many significant life lessons and themes. As the novel starts out, we are introduced to Hester Prynne’s act of adultery and therefore, Hawthorne reveals the tendency of human’s sinful nature. When Hester mounts the scaffold with the letter “A” on her chest, we learn about predetermined identities and how one must act accordingly to be accepted by the society. Then, as the story progresses, we are shown the relationship between punishment and forgiveness when Chillingworth is surprisingly forgiving towards Hester, but looks towards Dimmesdale with hate and vengeance. Throughout this tale, these three themes are constantly revealed and reminded as Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth experience each of these life lessons and Hawthorne hopes that the readers will never let their conscience stray and learn those lessons the hard way.
Human’s sinful nature
In the novel, Hawthorne offers many examples of the human tendency to sin. He elaborates how every character, even the Puritans, is capable of sinning because it is an innate behavior that none can prevent.
In the opening chapters of The Scarlet Letter, we meet the youthful and beautiful woman, Hester Prynne in the Market Place. The child in her arms and the scarlet letter on her chest is used to represent the sin of adultery that she committed. Sent to Boston ahead of her husband, Roger Chillingworth, Hester Prynne waited two years and thought that he was long dead and gone. With absolutely no kin and friends in the town, it was normal for Hester to befriend the town pastor, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. However, as Hester kept seeking comfort in the kind and young minister, their relationship resulted in an unlawful and sinful act. Even though Hester Prynne was just innocently trying to be friends and cure her loneliness in the foreign town, her sinful nature caused her to lose her self control and soon, she was pregnant with Dimmesdale’s child.
Although most of the sin in the book is associated with the adults, the young Puritan children also revealed a sinful nature. When Hester and Pearl were walking through the town, the author said that “the little Puritans…had got a vague idea of something outlandish [and] unearthly…in the mother and child; and therefore scorned them in their hearts, and not infrequently reviled them with their tongues” (Hawthorne 84). Even though the sin that the children committed was not as severe as adultery or murder, the little seed of sinful nature was already planted in them. With absolutely no compassion or understanding in their hearts, the children knew only to look upon Hester and Pearl with distain and abhorrence; they didn’t even bother knowing what the situation was really about.
Another character who demonstrated sinful nature in this book is Roger Chillingworth, the former husband of Hester Prynne. When Chillingworth arrived in Boston, he was described as a “white man clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume” (Hawthorne 53). Although one could only get a ominous hint from his first appearance, later on when Chillingworth realizes that Hester Prynne is charged for adultery, “a writing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them’ (Hawthorne 54). From then on, the reader can slowly see his personality take on a drastic change towards evil and revenge.
In Chapter 4, Chillingworth’s actions towards Hester is actually that of care and concern as he used his skills to administer Hester and Pearl a draught to help them through the overwhelming events of that day. He even confesses to Hester that he “drew [her] into [his] heart… and sought to warm [her] by the warmth which [her] presence made there” (Hawthorne 66). Even though no presence of his sinful nature can be seen there, it is actually later revealed that his hate was reserved only for Dimmesdale. He loathed the young and energetic personality that Dimmesdale had; being driven on by this feeling, Chillingworth’s sinful nature slowly arises to the surface as his experiments and concoctions in alchemy turn into a practice of witchcraft and ways to kill Dimmesdale. Latching onto the poor minister like a leech, Chillingworth is described as the devil’s associate and helper as he torments and destroys his enemy.
Initially a man enjoying the love and company of his wife, the betrayal Chillingworth felt in his heart after Hester committed adultery exposed his sinful nature as he refused to forgive and instead, turned to revenge and death to alleviate his hate.
2nd Theme: Predetermined Identities
In the novel, it is shown that if a person wants to fit in and be accepted by the community, they must act according to the laws and abide by them. If anyone decides to act differently or voice their own opinions, they will have to face severe consequences due to the rigidity and stubbornness of the government.
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s predetermined identity was one that everyone looked up to and that everyone expected him to act as an example and flawless prototype. After committing adultery with Hester Prynne, he is forced to hide the fact that he is Pearl’s father and pressures himself to never acknowledge that fact. However, overwhelmed and pained by this dark secret and self-denial, Dimmesdale confesses at his pulpit many times, but every time, his parishioners “reverence[d] him the more” (129). That was the cause of his predetermined identity because everyone refused to believe that their minister was anything but holy. They assumed that if Dimmesdale was discerning his sins in such a fervent manner, the “spectacle that beheld in their own hearts” would be worse. Dimmesdale realized that he could not escape his sin or his identity and that caused him the greatest suffering of all.
Similar to Dimmesdale, Hester learned that she could not hide her true identity. Marked by the letter “A”, Hester’s predetermined identity is that of an adulteress. After being released from jail, Hester had the choice to run away to another country and remove that emblem on her chest. However, she accepted the fact that “it [was] too deeply branded” (60) and it would be no use to take it off. Instead, she acknowledged it as part of her life and identity. As she wore it with no sense of shame, her compassion and eagerness to help slowly pushed back the meaning of ignominy that the scarlet letter had and instead, transformed it into a positive and comforting mark.
Nevertheless, in Chapter 17, Hester still clings and glimpses at a hope that the scarlet letter can be forever removed from her identity when she and Dimmesdale forgive each other and plan to run away to Europe. After unclasping the badge from around chest and tossing it away close to the river, Hester is restored back to her formal beauty as she lets her hair down and smiles in happiness. However, Pearl comes back as a reminder that her identity can never be removed and it is only until Hester pins the letter back on, does she truly learn the lesson that predetermined identity can never be denied or thrown away.
Unsurprisingly, the citizens of the Puritan community also have to face their predestined identities. Forever confined by their surroundings and the laws around them, the Puritans in the community had to agree with whatever the counsel deemed or with whatever the holy priests said. Unable to give opinions or voice comments, the Puritan settlement portrayed in the novel gives the reader a foreboding sense of something dark and wrong. Everyone acted like robots and whoever malfunctioned or disobeyed would have to face the most severe consequences.
Nathaniel Hawthorne concludes with the fact that identity is a part of who we are. It is not something we can change forever or forget about because it is linked to our sins, our failures, and ultimately, our past. The only thing possible for us humans to do is to accept that fact and hold on to our identities, for when we lose the things that define who we are, we lose ourselves.
3rd Theme: Punishment and Forgiveness
Perhaps the greatest theme in The Scarlet Letter is punishment and forgiveness. These two aspects of human tendency are portrayed in two different ways in the novel. The first uses punishment to lead to forgiveness. The second is the vast difference that separates them into two completely dissimilar things. Although it might sound improbable that punishment and forgiveness can incorporate two such unparallel meanings, but the situations that the Puritan community put Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth through is enough to prove that.
When Hester Prynne was charged for adultery, the Puritans were unhesitant to scorn her and agree to her punishment, if not disagree it was not harsh enough. After walking through the Market Place with the letter “A” on her chest, Hester was forced to stand in the public for hours while the people below the scaffold mocked and criticized her. As all sorts of mean gossip permeated throughout the crowd, Hester had to endure the shame of showing off the scarlet letter and holding her child, both which were signs of her immorality. However, even though the Puritans had disgraced her, Hester did not harbor any hate and continued to serve her community as a seamstress and was eager to help anyone who needed her skills. This act of forgiveness later led to the acceptance and trust from the Puritan community. When they recognized how strong Hester was physically and morally, they became friendlier and all their attitudes towards her changed to an act of forgiveness. The author said that the “hatred, by a gradual and quiet process…even transformed to love” (144). Many started to refuse to define the scarlet “A” by its original meaning, and gave it a new meaning: Able, for “so strong was Hester, with a woman’s strength” (145).
After Hester’s punishment on the first day, Chillingworth went to visit her. During his confrontment, Chillingworth told Hester that it was “[his] folly and [her] weakness” (65) that led to their situation. Surprisingly he agreed that it was foolish of him to think that he could ever satisfy a woman so young when he was so old and told her that he understood why she would forsake him. However, despite his quick forgiveness towards Hester, Chillingworth vowed to seek revenge and punish the man that committed the sin with Hester.
When Hester refuses to reveal the man’s name, Chillingworth works himself into a fury and swears that he will never rest until the adulterer is rightfully punished and destroyed by him. Despite Hester’s efforts to hide the truth, Chillingworth eventually suspects Dimmesdale and seeks to find ways to kill the minister.
This is an example of the difference between forgiveness and punishment because though Chillingworth was quick to forgive Hester for her act of adultery, he mainly blamed Dimmesdale and the poor minister was actually the one he hated and wanted to punish. He detested Dimmesdale for his passion and love, which was what he could never offer Hester. As he acts like the phsycologist and close friend of Dimmesdale, little does the poor minister know that his closest and most trusted companion is the one who is destroying him from the inside and causing him all the internal pain. This is Chillingworth’s way of punishing Dimmesdale because although it seemed like a slow and harmless process, the way Chillingworth ate the minister’s mind and will from inside out was worse than any other punishment.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s way to twisting forgiveness and punishment teaches us that the best way to live is to forgive in order to avoid the harsh enmity that entails punishment.
The Tipping Point Notes
1. About the Author:
The Tipping Point is an insightful novel written by Macolm Gladwell who published this book with the purpose of helping people to understand the turning point, or “tipping points”, of the things in our everyday life. Explaining his reasoning from the point of a careful observer and dedicated researcher, Gladwell intertwines the concepts of being a Connecter, a Maven, and a Salesman in order to show how little things can sometimes make the biggest difference in society. Throughout the novel, it can be inferred that the author himself is a Connecter with many outside and inside connections as well as the personality of a charismatic business man. Using his various interviews with the characters in the book and his vast knowledge of historical and current events, Gladwell weaves an explanation for the “tipping points” that can apply not only to our community, but essentially to every instance worldwide.
2. About the Topic:
The main topic identified by the book is the account of all the rules and factors that lead to the tipping points of many epidemics. Gladwell starts out by introducing to us the basic three rules that basically help an epidemic reach its tipping point: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.
By using the familiar tale of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Gladwell explains The Law of the Few, and later divides it into three specific categories of people called the Connectors, the Mavens, and the Salesmen. On this note, he transitions to The Stickiness Factor and proves that “the key to making an impact on someone lies with the inherent quality of the ideas we present” (131) by providing examples such as the sudden wave of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues. Once Gladwell is certain that we understand these two rules, he moves on The Power of Context; this explanation stresses more upon the “conditions and circumstances of the time and places” (139) that an epidemic occurs.
The Tipping Point can relate to people who are interested in business or trendsetters who are constantly looking for ways to start something erratic. By recognizing those three crucial concepts and understanding the people necessary to start an epidemic, those people can, with the help of Gladwell’s masterpiece, be inspired and achieve ways towards establishing their own tipping points.
3. About the Author’s Premises:
Gladwell’s basic premises are that the littlest of things can make the biggest difference and that the tipping points of epidemics “are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action” (259). In order to prove those points, Gladwell provides cases where he has discovered and interviewed several connectors, mavens, salesmen, and other people who are examples of his statements. He also researches and delves into every news event, past or present, and uses them to support his arguments. Starting out with something as trivial and unknown as the Hush Puppies product boom, Gladwell points out other major tipping points such as the drop of crime rates in New York after 1990. From these instances, we can learn how the people involved are very significant and vital when starting an epidemic and how the smallest changes can actually be the most effective. Hush Puppies would never have come to its tipping point if the connectors, mavens, and salesmen had not shown up and given the product its necessary push forward. For the sudden decrease in New York crime rates, it was due to the decision of one person who realized that the supposedly unimportant matters, such as the graffiti and fare-beating, are really the root of all violence and crime. Although there are many other situations that support Gladwell’s claims, these are the ones that provided the best explanations.
4. About the Author’s arguments:
As said in the book’s title, Gladwell’s main point for The Tipping Point is “how little things can make a big difference”. However, another important point the author brings up is that “in a world dominated by isolation and immunity, understanding [his] principles of word of mouth is more important than ever” (280). These two matters relate to each other because it is true how our world today is segregated into secluded groups and communities. If someone tries to change things by targeting the big issues, no one is going to notice and be aware of it. However, by using word of mouth, the little changes that entail will sooner or later become contagious and widespread as it travels from person to person, group to group.
Gladwell provides many concrete evidences because all of the historical material, statistics, and case studies he finds are justifiable and valid. Each of his narratives is based on interviews he held with actual people or the accounts of real historical events. For example, the meeting he had with the top executive at Gore Associates was very insightful. The experience of a first-hand conversation helped clarify the fact that small groups who communicate well actually make bigger differences in a company. Another example of Gladwell’s ability to incorporate unusual and concrete evidence is shown when he explains the Micronesian teen suicide epidemic. He said how that once a suicide occurs in a community, it is anticipated that more will follow due to the word of mouth spread its the songs, graffiti, and T-shirts. Even though each suicide seemed like its own case, all of it added together created an epidemic that increased suicide rates to over three victims in the course of a few weeks.
The Tipping Point is presented in an objective view because of Gladwell’s ability to integrate so many concrete and believable evidences. Even though Gladwell presents his reasons and explanations for tipping points from his point of view, his examples add up to acceptable and well-proven theories. Throughout the book, it can be seen that Gladwell’s choice of organizing his writing is very detailed and clear. Although at some points his purpose is confusing and dangerously close to losing the attention of the reader, he throws in many interesting facts and narratives that once again elucidates his purpose and reverts back to the main point. Overall, Gladwell explains the theory for tipping points very thoroughly and does not hide any piece of information from the reader. By reading The Tipping Point, the society can be more aware of the good and bad epidemics and the way the tipping points of those outbreaks are started. From this book, people worldwide can learn how to achieve the tipping points of things such as products and lower crime rates, and how to better understand or prevent the tipping points of harmful matters such as smoking and suicide.
6. Six Passages:
In Gladwell’s interview with Roger Horchow, he personally meets with the well-known connector and asks him all sorts of questions that provide us with an example of how those overly sociable people work and the roles they play in society. It is an undeniable truth that Gladwell held an interview with Horchow, but the fact that Gladwell was able to weave the information he learned from Horchow into his explanation of Connectors is amazing. He does not show or explain from a biased view, and he merely gives an objective analysis and incorporates all the facts to prove his point. From the interview with Horchow, Gladwell is able to explain how “Connectors [are] people with a special gift for bringing the world together” (38). I chose to cite that quote because it is Gladwell’s final statement that he believes there truly are people such as Connectors who are partly the cause of tipping points.
Another example of Gladwell’s unbiased explanation is his interview with Mark Alpert. The author once again takes on his reporter-like façade and sets out to meet the Alpert the social Maven. Once Gladwell gathers all the facts about Alpert’s daily life and habits, he sits back down and ties what he learned and uses it to confirm his beliefs about the Mavens role in tipping points. After Gladwell talks with a person who experienced the marvelous effect of a Maven, he states that “Mavens want to help, for no other reason than because they like to help [and] it turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone’s attention” (67). I incorporated this quote mainly because it shows how Gladwell doesn’t explain his theories from a biased point of view; instead, he carefully assesses every possible explanation and goes with the most reasonable one according to all the objective evidence he gathers.
In Chapter 3, the reader might become confused about Gladwell’s reasoning on the reasons why Sesame Street and the repetitive and uncreative show, Blue’s Clues, reached their tipping points. Throughout the chapter, Gladwell gives examples such as the story of a girl who talked to herself before sleeping, and the research where children were given pictures and puzzles. However, these are examples of what might confuse the reader as they wonder about the relation between children talking and analyzing, and the tipping point of the TV shows. But, Gladwell cleverly brings the reader back as he explains how Blue’s Clues took these little ideas and made small changes in their show to prove that “the key to making an impact on someone lies with the inherent quality of the ideas [they] [presented]” (131). This shows that although some parts in The Tipping Point might be puzzling, Gladwell always manages to clarify things again by rephrasing his explanations and summarizing his examples in a more comprehendible way.
Even though some of the material that Gladwell uses might seem extraneous and useless, that thought is usually proven wrong when he brings his arguments full circle and carefully recaps his examples again. In Chapter 4, The Power of Context, Gladwell writes a full eighteen pages on the decrease of crime rates in New York. Even though it seems improbable that someone can write so much on just a single subject without including irrelevant facts, Gladwell proves it possible and even does a remarkable job of tying in this epidemic into his explanation for The Power of Context. After providing example after example of the crimes in New York and introducing the Broken Windows theory, the author constantly restates the fact that “the impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior [does] not [come] from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment” (142). From shooting to graffiti and fare-beatings, Gladwell never gives examples that stray from his purpose to explain how a little change can make a big difference.
On that note, Gladwell includes much relevant information to support his theories. In the chapter “The Power of Context (Part Two)”, he uses a very specific and strong example that shows how “in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first” (192). By using the Rule of 150, Gladwell enhances his own theory of small things leading to big changes, and at the same time, explains how Gore Associates used an effective strategy to help itself reach its tipping point. Although the number of workers was limited to 150 for each building, this method allowed the workers to bond more and form decisions that were the result of everyone’s decision, affecting the company as a whole. With this obviously relevant piece of evidence, Gladwell is able to convey his specific message very thoughtfully and thoroughly.
Overall, Malcolm Gladwell achieves the purpose of the book very well with his massive amount of supporting evidence and explanations. In the last chapter titled “Conclusion”, Gladwell basically summarizes his whole book in less than four pages and allows the reader to finish his book with a clear understanding of his purpose. He reminds the reader that the “first lesson of the Tipping Point [is that] starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas” (255), thus recapping the Law of the Few and its Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Then he goes on to review the Stickiness Factor and The Power of Context by stating “the second lesson of the Tipping Point [is] those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right, they deliberately test their intuitions” (258). All those quotes listed in just that chapter prove how thorough and detailed Gladwell was in order to make sure that we, the reader, could successfully learn from this book, and apply the concepts to our daily lives.
7. Final Comment:
By reading The Tipping Point, Gladwell has revealed the secrets to the success and “tipping points” of the “mysterious changes that mark everyday life” (14). The book described every epidemic possible, the good and the bad, the ones related to business or the everyday local issues. As for future research into this amazing topic, I think that Gladwell has already thoroughly covered almost everything we need to know about tipping points and epidemics. He has researched things we never would have known about, and met people we could probably never get connections to. From this book, I now understand the power of manipulation and the factors needed to start my own epidemics; that all I need to do is have the courage to make a small change, and hopefully the rest will take charge and make a big difference in society.