Your RDA of Irony

The Tutor Diaries

Several years ago, I participated in a volunteer program, attempting to be a writing tutor for the gilded youth of my suburb. For a satirist, it was inspiring. I kept a diary of my efforts and here is one of my recollections.

I just had my latest tutorial in the adolescent mind. Today’s middle-class teenager has a selective intellect. He could discuss psychology with Freud and sexual aberration with deSade; but our sophisticated pubescent would not know where or when the good Doctor and the bad Marquis lived. Is historical and cultural context really so important? I think that it might have helped the students’ interpretation of The Scarlet Letter.

The students diagnosed the Reverend Dimmesdale as a masochist. One could argue how the letter A erupted upon the chest of the right reverend. Hawthorne leaves it to the readers’ imagination. Did Dimmesdale carve it himself, was it the physical manifestation of his guilt, or was he a prototype for a letter on Sesame Street? The students, however, were certain that Dimmesdale was a masochist. They repeatedly used the term without understanding it. If Dimmesdale did mutilate and monogram himself, it was not for kinky pleasure. A masochist would not have needed the physical distractions offered by Hester.

In post-modern education, all interpretations are equally valid. So I did not dare refute the students’ theory of sexual aberration. I could proffer the fact that Hawthorne had never heard of masochism, a word that would not be coined for another fifty years. For lack of prescience, the author thought that he was writing about good and evil, nature and society, freedom and repression. The students may have missed those points, but they certainly detected the implicit perversions. I was surprised that none postulated on Dr. Chillingworth’s erectile dysfunction.

Two of the students were unclear as to the meaning of the letter A. I resisted the temptation to say that it stood for Amherst, and it represented the shame of not getting into an Ivy League school.

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