Lucy was preparing the semester in her typical fashion, scouring the internet for new materials for the books she teaches and then making mounds of copies. We all try to ignore her on these occasions, but she must get bored because she always tries to engage us in a discussion. If we’re not responding, she just keeps talking. I protect myself by popping in and out of the staff room all morning for very brief projects. Inevitably, though, she seeks me out.
This time it’s about The Scarlet Letter which I haven’t read since college (a few years ago) and which I don’t intend to pick up again any time soon. “So C–,” she begins,”what is the ‘secret sin’ of Dimmesdale?” You’d think she’d leave me alone when I tell her I don’t know, it’s been too long. I tuned her out as I finished my own work, but I knew she was droning on and on about the “secret sin.” Finding that I wasn’t the captive audience she was looking for, she posed the same question to Ms. Hunter. I had to leave the room when Ms. Hunter suggested that Lucy actually read the novel again to find the answer for herself. She went even further and pointed out that felons may not exactly identify with the sins of a Puritan society.
The following week one of our mutual students asked me, “What is feminism?” The Scarlet Letter, abridged, was spread out in his large, black hands. It was hard not to laugh. It wasn’t his fault that Lucy had dropped the secret sin question, but included a question about whether a Puritan writer was pro- or anti-Feminism. This is my prejudice in literary criticism leaking out of course, and I know plenty of teachers who would just love to discuss that question, but it’s different with Lucy. In my mind I can hear the math teacher exclaim, “She’s a Mass Communication major, not an English teacher.”