What Makes a Group of Individuals a Community?

The early settlers in Massachusetts Bay came from various European countries. These settlers were able to form communities such as the one described in The Scarlet Letter. The community was formed because of common life experiences, goals and dreams, similar social customs and traditions, settlement in the same geographic region, and the establishment of all necessary services that a community needs including a place of worship, a marketplace, a baker, a barber, a doctor, and a seamstress.

The settlers described in The Scarlet Letter had left their native lands and settled in the new world seeking religious freedom that they did not have.  They all shared harrowing travels and adventures during their long and unpredictable journeys to the new land.  These Puritans wanted religious freedom and to be able to practice their faith as they please.  To achieve this goal, they had to start a new life by finding a way to make a living and establish a new home.  These shared past experiences and future goals and dreams helped them establish a community.

Another factor that helped individuals establish a community is that they shared similar social customs, traditions, and beliefs.   This common set of beliefs was part of the reason why Hester Prynne was looked down upon by many members of her society. They all frowned upon adultery and had disdain and contempt for adulterers.

In Anne Applebaum’s “If the Japanese Can’t Build a Safe Reactor, Who Can?” she discusses how the Japanese are together a society because of their passion for technology: “The Cohesiveness, resilience, technological brilliance and extraordinary competence of the Japanese are on full display.”

This quote shows the resentment that many had for Prynne:”The magistrates are God-fearing gentlemen, but merciful overmuch,—that is a truth,” added a third autumnal matron. “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. Madame Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she,—the naughty baggage,—little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!” Hester Prynne was looked at as beneath society for making one mistake. Perhaps the entire group of Puritans had a habit of using scapegoats to justify problems within their society.

This picture shows a group of individuals working on a project together, making them a community.

The development of a community is a consequence of a group of  individuals settling in a common small area of land.  This allows the individuals to interact frequently and share their thoughts and ideas.  The fact that these Puritans in The Scarlet Letter lived near each other meant that their various ideas floated around from person to person faster than if they did not live in the same proximity. When one person considered Hester evil, many agreed to that claim. Similarly many people considered Lou Gehrig as Jesus himself because that was what common opinion had become and because of the fact that he had ALS. In his farewell speech, he claims “I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.”  The sharing of opinions and ideas between people living in close proximity caused them to meld their thinking and unify their opinions, making it easier to form a community.

The establishment of the necessary services that any individual needs in close proximity to where they live helps to establish a community where individuals can have all their daily needs met locally.  They no longer feel the necessity to leave their “community”.  In this story, the community establishes a local place of worship with Arthur Dimmesdale as the pastor,  a local bakery, a local market and a local barber.  Chillingsworth provides medical services and Madame Hester  provides services as a seamstress.  Each individual finds his role in the community.  With all these local services available, they now felt as a self sufficient community.

The novel The Scarlet letter demonstrates the many ways that a group of individuals coalesce and form a community.  First, sharing common goals and dreams of establishing a society with freedom of religion helped them unite and form a community.  The presence of common beliefs and customs helped unite these individuals.   Living in close proximity helped the individuals share their opinions and ideas which helped establish community opinions and norms.  Lastly, the establishment of all necessary services that a community needs near where they lived, helped them feel that they are one community.  There was no longer a need to go elsewhere for their daily needs.

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