Puritanism Scarlet Letter Essays

Puritanism in the Scarlet Letter

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Abstract

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s representative work, is a classical novel in American literature in the 19th century. The novel displays Puritanism’s great impact on people’s life and thought. This thesis will give a picture of puritans’ life and ideology through the analysis of the Puritan town Boston and some related characters, and introduce how the communities in the town are deeply influenced by Puritanism. Meanwhile, by analyzing the main character Hester, the thesis will present the harshness and the strict punishment in Puritan society.

In Puritan communities, whoever commits a sin will be punished. The thesis also presents Hawthorne’s attitude towards Puritanism. On one hand, he appreciates the Puritan thought and value; on the other hand, he condemns the negative impact of Puritan society on people’s spirit.

Key Words: Puritanism, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Boston,Hester

Chapter 1

Introduction

A. Puritans Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was written in 18th century. The setting of The Scarlet Letter is in the 17th century in Boston, America. Before proceeding to the analysis of the Puritanism in the novel, some fundamental definitions need to be established. Who were the Puritans? When did they arrive in the New World—America? How about their ideology and lifestyle? How about the author? Puritan is the name given in the 16th century to the more extreme Protestants within the Church of England. These Protestants thought the English Reformation had not gone far enough in reforming the doctrines and structure of the church. They wanted to purify their church.

In the 17th century many Puritans immigrated to the New World, where they sought to found a holy Commonwealth in New England. “The Puritans did not allow religious dissent (holding different religious belief). They insisted that high position,and achievements were signs of ‘eternal grace’, that is, favour of God, and they wanted to force God’s will on the rest of mankind. Puritan tradition also involved a respect for learning which led to the estalishment of schools and the spread of literacy. ”[1] (P238) Puritanism remaines the dominant cultural force in that area into the 19th century.

B. New England According to historical data, in 1620, the English Monarchy, as eager to be rid of the Puritans as the Puritans were to be rid of the King, granted a group of Puritans a charter to make a settlement in the English colonies that is now the New England of America. There were economic incentives for the Puritan to move to the New World, including economic upheaval in Europe and the prospect of making a profit in America, but their chief incentive was religious: they would be able to practice their religion freely. So in late fall some 103 settlers sailed on the Mayflower and arrived in New England.

Then in 1628, provoked by King Charles I’s increasing intolerance, another group of Puritans formed a business corporation, the Massachusetts Bay Company, for settlement of the New World. They arrived on Cape Ann, just north and east of what is now called Boston. Thirteen years later, about 1,000 English settlers, largely the Puritans, had immigrated to the Boston area. By 1643, there were some 20,000 in the general area of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, making Boston the largest and the most prosperous Puritan town in America.

Considering the large number of all these Puritan settlers, their wide distribution and their strong faith, religious and daily life in the new American colonies, especially in Boston, was mainly of Puritan color. In addition, religious doctrine became civil law, and the rule of the leaders was absolute. While the whole of New England was largely Puritan, it is those who settled in and around Boston, who influenced American culture profoundly and of whom Nathanial Hawthorne wrote.

C. Puritans ideology and lifestyle On the other hand, Puritan ideology is very important for Puritans for they designed their lives after that. The puritans believed in the majesty, righteousness and sovereignty of God. They regard him as omniscient and omnipotent. In contrast,all human beings were depraved sinners. They believed that God had predestined some of these fallen creatures for the gift of salvation. This status of the elected or non-elected signified God’s choosing of those to whom the grace of salvation was to be offered. The Puritans took the scripture, and the sermons as God’s own words, which they interpreted, following the works of the French Peter Ramus, in the most accurate way, and expected all Puritans to live strictly following these parameters.

It did not mean that sinners could save themselves, but the elect could improve their souls. Two of the main points of Puritan theology are the covenants of grace and work. The covenant of grace required a faith in God, and that God himself gave the elect to grasp. The covenant of work, on the contrary, depended only on human action. Although the Puritans believed in predetermination they did not wait their God-given fate. They spent their whole life trying to find out their destiny, whether it might be heaven or hell.

Work, even if it did not guarantee salvation, was their way to express their faith and to show their hope for heaven. Everyone who did not work was deprived of the high morality and a good life. However, Puritans paid much attention to their education. They thought that only those who were able to read the Bible would find religious truth. The Bible was read and interpreted very accurately and strictly. And this truth, that was to be found by accurate interpretation, was synonymous with a good life. Although the Puritans have been very strict in religious way, on the other hand they could be quite tolerant.

The grade of tolerance was dependent to the extent of the appropriate thing. For example they condemned the drunkard, but not the consumption of alcohol itself. And they did not taboo sexuality, as long as it was sexuality between husband and wife and not extramarital sexuality. But the strict Puritan code was far from tolerant. Relationship between men and women was very constrained and that are what made adultery such a bad sin in the eyes of everyone who in the community believed that their fate was controlled by God.

Public discipline nd punishment were used to discourage everyone else from committing the same crime or sin as the offending criminal did. The community was to follow the belief of God and to do their duties the best they could, yet were there to criticize and punish all who disobeyed the religion or laws. Church was the cornerstone of the 17th century life in New England. Everything was very strict and everyone was expected to follow the laws. It was against the law not to attend church—where men and women sat on opposite sides through long services.

The Puritan lifestyle was restrained and rigid: People were expected to work hard and repress their emotions or opinions. Individual differences were frowned upon. Even the dark, somber Puritan dress was dictated by the church.

D. Hawthorn’s family background As one of the most influential Romantic novelists in America in the 19th century, “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works mostly describe the people’s mental attitude, thought contradiction and life tragedy under Calvinistic pressure by the cruel clericalism domination in the colonial period.

Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem, his hometown, has ever been the place where Puritanism forces are rampant and several generations of his ancestors are fanatic Puritans; therefore, the rich Puritanism thought from his family has deep-rooted effect on Hawthorne. Because Puritanism itself owns the complicated state that positivism and negativism are coexistent, Hawthorne has doubtful or religious attitude to Puritanism. Hawthorne is inclined to conservation in political thought, and holds pessimism for future.

On one hand, he assails Puritan criminal behaviors such as religious fanaticism and impermissibility to heresy; on the other hand, he takes the religious basic creed as the criterion to cognition and judgment. ” [2](P65) The contradictive mentality is typically and deeply represented in his masterpiece “The Scarlet Letter”. His family was of Puritan belief for generations and had been prominent in the area since colonial times. Hawthorne knew Bible very well and went to church frequently. When he was four, his father died on a voyage, but maternal relatives recognized his literary talent and financed his education.

As a boy he went to the East Salem Church, which was described as “on the verge of Unitarism”. During his study in the Bowdin College, among his classmates were many of the important literary and political figures of the day: writer Horatio Bridge, future Senator Jonathan Ciley, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and future President Franklin Pierce. These prominent friends supplied Hawthorne with government employment in the lean times, allowing him time to bloom as an author. Later, when he served as a Consul in England, he attended services at a Unitarian church in Liverpool.

But, it could not be more typical for a Puritan that he could not get along with the religious rituals and ceremonies, like, for example, funerals. He simply had these Puritan aversions that already caused the Puritans to split from the Anglican Church. He simplely wanted to have a small regular income that would allow him to forget everything, which was not important to him. The rich lore of family and local history provided much of the material for Hawthorne’s works. The majority of his works takes America’s Puritan past as its subject, but The Scarlet Letter uses the material to the greatest effect.

Hawthorne perhaps chose this dark subject to convey his contempt for Puritanism. He indicates that his main purpose is to picture a way of “life” in the Salem Custom House, the satirical “the Custom House” became the critically acclaimed prologue to The Scarlet Letter, not before described. While not recognized by Hawthorne himself as his most important work, the novel is regarded not only as his greatest accomplishment, but also frequently as the greatest novel in America literary history. After it was published in 1850, critics hailed it as initiating a distinctive American literary tradition.

Chapter 2

Puritanism in the novel

A. The summary of the story The novel, The Scarlet Letter, is about the struggle three people face while trying to live their lives and find happiness in a Puritan society. It told the story like this. In the early 1640s, Hester has come to the small town of Boston, Massachusetts, from Great Britain, while her husband, Chillingworth has left to deal with something . But after then, there is no news about him and nobody know whether he is alive or not for two years. Then Hester and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the town’s priest, engages in the act of adultery and produce a baby girl named Pearl.

Although only Hester know that Dimmesdale is the father, she has promised Dimmesdale not to reveal his identity. Hester is put on display in front of the entire town in order to punish her, and to also serve as an illustration to the town’s people from sinning. She is then put in jail with the baby for a few months and forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” which stands for “Adultery” forever. Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth, who had been captured by Native American Indians on his way to New England and held in captivity for two years, escapes and enters the town of Boston.

After learning of what Hester had done, Chillingworth poses as a doctor and vows to discover the identity of Hester’s partner in sin. Hester agrees to keep his true identity a secret, too. “From main idea of this story, it’s easy for us to see the fact that it exposed gloomy and despicable repulsion of human nature and at the same time extolled glorious soul by portraying the dark reality under Puritanism in the 17th century. “[3] (P92) Through this novel, the characters and situations have helped to describe the Puritan town Boston and Puritanism.

B. Hester,one of the victims of Puritanism Firstly, Hester Prynne, one of the main characters, who in order to pursuit her own real love is convicted of adultery and is condemned to wear The Scarlet Letter “A” on her chest as a permanent sign of her sin. In modern society, Hester has done nothing wrong. She is brave and of graceful nature. She isn’t hide her own feeling and to love Dimmesdale bravely and commit a sin. But in the Puritan society, Hester should have kept adherence to her husband, even she had not a bit love for him.

And furthermore, she should kill her natural love within her, instead of letting it released and committing such a sin at Boston. After Hester commits the sin, the Puritan society immediately enforced its law against her. “Hester betrayed her husband and went against the principle of honesty on Puritan, so she must accept the severe penalty in the Puritan society at that time. ”? [4] (47) Besides to wear the red letter, she must suffer public shame on the scaffold. The beliefs of the general public at that time can easily be summed up in the first scaffold scene, which also gives a prospective of what Hester Prynne must deal with.

On the summer morning when our story begins its course, that the women, of whom there were several in the crowd, appeared to take a peculiar interest in whatever penal infliction might be expected to ensue. ”[5] (P42) For the public, Hester’s punishment is reasonable. They don’t pay any pity on her, but take her punishment as one way of amusing themselves. It is a typical phenomenon of Puritanism thought. And the introduction of the words “Boston”,“Cornhill” ,“King’s introduction” also brings to the mind a picture of historic Boston and early American Puritanism.

Boston, a staunch Puritanical town, is a moralistic and gloomy place where the citizens dress in drab colors and lack any liveliness. Even on the Election Day holiday, they cannot relax and enjoy themselves. Here the stonehearted Puritans are about to denounce Hester. She is forced to stand on a high platform, called scaffold, in full view of everyone, as a public penance for committing adultery. One of the women said, “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. ”[6](P43) How stonehearted they are.

Later the official sentenced Hester to stand for three hours on the platform of the pillory and for the rest of her life, to wear The Scarlet Letter “A” on her bosom. The Puritan communities were formed in a theocratic state where the Church and State share authority, and having equal responsibility for keeping law and order in the colony. This is based on the social order pictured in the Old Testament, and scholarly clergymen such as John Wilson and Arthur Dimmesdale, the English university graduates, explain it. Emphasis is placed on the Biblical Covenant, which promised obedience to elect leaders.

They were “magistrates” in the Puritan colony. Such social order helps to explain that the different professions represented by the different characters. For example,the Governor,a military man, and the ministers assembled on the balcony overlooking the scaffold. The Scriptures demand death for adultery, and the Puritan laws closely follow the Biblical pattern. Thus, Hester’s crime of adultery is punished to death. Since her husband (Dr. Prynne) is reported to be dead, the magistrates extend to her what they consider to be great mercy.

This scene also shows the weight of values and morals upon society in the 17th century where public punishment was not only used as a punishment but as a way to discourage others from committing the same crime. The community was the key helper in making this punishment because it didn’t helped to alienate Hester but to further her pain. The punishment brought forth of Hester’s underlying pain, Hester sent forth a cry then she turned her eyes downward at The Scarlet Letter, and even touched it with her finger to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real.

This pain only broke surface once,yet throughout the whole story Hester must deal with the shame and emotional pain of The Scarlet Letter. The stranger summed it up best with the quotation, Thus she would be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone. Near in the end of Chapter XIV;Chillingworth says to Hester that, since her first step in the wrong direction, “it has all been a dark necessity …”[7](P147) He refers to the consequences of her action. Hester’s disobedience to God’s will is her act of adultery, a fearful word on Puritan days, for this act against fidelity in marriage endangers the very basis and strength of the Puritan life.

C. Hester’s rebellion to the Puritanism Secondly, if we have a glimpse of Hester’s state of mind and her attitude towards her sin during her punishment in scaffold; it is evident that Hester does not feel that she has sinned against God. Partly this is so because God has never been a very real presence in her life. Even her lover, Dimmesdale just remains spiritually in her mind.

Hester shows her rebellion against Puritanism to the community. This also can get approved by following stages. One is “her strong protest against her daughter being taken away from her”. Another is “her standing out in helping her lover, the weakened priest Dimmesdale against the leech, Roger Chillingworth. Hester’s bravely, in a large extent, brought much sunlight to the sober Puritanical society. ”[8] (85) For one thing, she breaks a law for love of Dimmesdale. For another, she persists in loving him when he is in danger. In fact,one aspect of Puritanism is a Trinity with absolute power, controlling everything.

Man has no real decisions to make things which concern the world around him, for God-at His whim-will completely decide for him. There is hope through the sacrifice of the Christ. But not all people are to be saved. The Doctrine of the Elect states that God choose some for heaven and in the same manner, allows others to go to hell. One does not exactly know who is destined for heaven, but hold the generally idea that reverends are sent by God to help people. As in the case of Dimmesdale, the highly reputable Boston minister there is a strong feeling that some sainted individuals are certainly fated to go heavenward.

In The Scarlet Letter, part of Dimmesdale’s torture is his knowledge of his own sin, which was not confessed, will keep him from heaven. Faithfulness between husband and wife is important. Certainly a woman destined for heaven would never commit adultery as Hester Prynne did. She could not do so if she wished to, because her conduct is determined ahead of time. Then too, Hester and Arthur’s action are affected by predestination. Since Adam and Eva, man has lost the power to make decisions for himself, for the “original sin” disobedience to God’s will in the Garden of Eden.

So man has lost the power of free will. God absolutely makes all the decisions. But Hester doesn’t think so. She believes one has the right to determine their own destiny. In rebellion against Puritanism, she achieves her goal and comes to understand that the society is not fixed by God in immutable law but is subject to change. So at the end of the story, the author Hawthorne arranges Hester back to the town which shows that Hester wants to give the puritan society a big-show of her victory against the Puritanism.

She also gives others more and more understanding of her love of life. Although the Puritan believes that man is saved by faith, rather than by work, which is also seen in The Scarlet Letter. Over and over again, Hester aids those around her who need help. She especially makes great efforts to nurse and sew for the poor. However, often this group repays her by taunting her with bitter words. And in the official estimation of the Puritans, it is impossible for Hester to advance her standing by helping others.

D. Dimmesdale’s attitude toward his sin In The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale and Hester commit the same sin but they suffer the different punishment and have the different attitude toward it. Since religion was such a key point of their lives, anyone who did disobey their god was looked down upon. What made religion ironically in this story is that the difference between people’s attitude towards the reverend and Hester. The reverend who had committed the same sin still own high reputation but Hester was looked down upon severely. Dimmesdale said “before the judgment-seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand together!

But daylight of this world shall not see our meeting! ”[9](P129)The reverend knows his sin and wants to be punished with Hester and Pearl, yet not until what he calls judgment day. The Puritans are intolerant of anything they consider to be evil. Their community, Boston, is an experiment, where the Christian world is watching with interest—so intolerance of evil must be their watchword. Hester is forced to openly accept her shame. Dimmesdale, her lover, is able to avoid public shame. But when Dimmesdale appeared again, it seemed that he was suffering from poor health.

One reason might be that he labored long and hard at his religious duties, but another—more important—reason was probably that he was plagued by his conscience, the knowledge of his hypocrisy. And it is very ironical that as a Puritan authority to determine others’ sin, Dimmesdale himself is a sinner who has committed adultery. But he is an intransigent Puritan and nothing can make him change-not even death. He becomes the embodiment of Puritanism, follows more closely than any philosophy that his relationship with God matters more than anything else, and that he must only answer to God.

Hawthorne uses Dimmesdale as a symbol of Puritanism. He picks up and exaggerates the flaws in Puritanism and makes them become Dimmesdale’s characteristics. Dimmesdale feels that God will punish him for his sin and that he need only answer to God for his sin, so he keeps it as a secret. He tries to live a life as if nothing has changed, but his guilt weakens him and ends him in death. “At the end of the novel, he died tragically in confession and atonement and became a victim in religious monasticism.

The restraint from religion in uman nature not only wrecks the god-people like Hester but also ruins the devout clergies like Dimmesdale. ”[10] (48) He is the victim of the Puritan society. And another aspect of Puritanism is the source of God’s will. It is in the Bible. The Puritans distrust nature as a guide for behavior, which just explain why Hester and Dimmesdale feel free in the forest during their talk. University trains clergymen such as Dimmesdale and Wilson from Cambridge, England are highly respected, for they are well able to interpret the meaning of the Bible. David, Bathsheba, and Nathan the prophet are not exactly representative of the Christian virtues of fidelity emphasized by the Puritans.

E. The confession in the Puritan society In addition, the Puritans greatly view the value of confession. The first members of the Boston Puritan church are required to make a public acknowledgment of their sins. Later, the new members of the Puritan group are allowed to confess their sins in the privacy of the minister’s study. How Hester’s scarlet symbol must delight her viewers, for she is constantly confessing to the world by displaying her letter of adultery!

How unattractive to Dimmesdale the confessing be! He can work himself into an emotional state in which he feels that at any moment he may confess such as his humiliation in the pulpit, or his scream for attention on the scaffold in the middle of the night. But,after having relieved his conscience to some extent by those long preparations, he then retreats from actually telling his sin. His hidden sin burns inside his breast, this remorse is intensified by the goading of Chillingworth, who has no real wish to reveal Dimmesdale as a sinner of hiding congregation.

His wish is to torture him with thoughts of public shame if distrust in decisions reached only by the head; the Puritans feel the necessity of understanding as a result of spontaneous decision coming from the heart. Notice that Dimmesdale’s great popularity as a speaker stems from his wonderful ability to excite the imagination, no fire but the enthusiasm of his hearers. Dimmesdale’s greatness does not appeal solely to the mind—his greatest sermons speak to the heart. Finally, the fidelity in marriage and the sacredness of the family are both stressed by the Puritan “fathers”.

So Hester is regarded as a crime for she is not loyal to her husband. Although it is believed that her husband has been dead, Hester is still not allowed to have love affairs with other men. When Hester is talking to Dimmesdale in the forest he is very surprised, for she is not quite sure that a human being is talking to her. It is the first time that Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale have been together since the midnight watch on the scaffold. Before that time Pearl and Chillingworth had observed them. Now they are alone, for Pearl is playing at some distance in the forest.

The two lovers address each other wonderingly—almost as if each doubted that the other lived. Seven years have gone since they met each other last time. How cruel it is for two lovers. Hester’s husband has been disappeared for such a long time that Hester has her own right to accept a new love affair, or even marriage. But under the doctrine of the Puritanism, it is impossible because Hester is strongly requested to be faithful to her husband whether he is alive or dead. But the irony of the novel lies in the fact that the most respected member of this Puritanical society, the Reverend Dimmesdale, is Hester’s partner in sin.

Hester, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale struggle throughout the novel to find happiness while staying within their belief. Hester ultimately finds happiness by venturing beyond the confines of pure Puritanism though it is her Puritan faith that causes her life to stay in Boston and wear the scarlet letter. Chillingworth is unable to stray from his strict adherence to logic and reason. He is doomed by needing to know who has committed the sinful act of adultery with his wife. His logic and reason guide him to his answer but his drive to know eventually weakens and kills him.

Reverend Dimmesdale strayed from his Puritan beliefs when he committed adultery. His struggle is not with reason but with his stead adherence to the Puritan belief. Dimmesdale does not find reason within himself for his relationship with Hester nor does he reveal the truth about his sinful relationship until he realizes he is dying. So in this Puritanism society, everyone no matter who has done something wrong will get punished.

F. The features of the punishment in Puritan society Many laws were enacted in Boston, and a lot of Puritans were similarly punished. The custom of labeling a criminal with words or initials expositive of his political or religious offense is so ancient in the Puritan communities.

It was the characteristics of the times—every little Puritan community sought to know by every fireside, to hate in every heart, offence, great or small, which could hinder the growth and prosperity of the new abiding-place, which was to all a true home, and which they loved with a fervor that would be incomprehensible. As we know that their spiritual exaltation is their new found freedom to worship God. Since they were human, they sinned.

But the sinners were never spared, either in publicity or punishment. Keen justice made the magistrate rigid and exact in the exposition and publication of crime, hence the labeling of an offender. However, the most severe punishment for those sinners is the isolation from the society or the community he or she lives in. The harsh, Puritanical point of view is noted in the unfriendly attitude of the townspeople toward Hester. They also feel that her sentence is much too lenient. They punish her further by making both Hester and Pearl social outcasts.

They avoid interaction with either of them and often cast suspicious looks and insulting comments in their direction. Hester’s sin, shame, and guilt are clearly heightened by the fact that she lives in a strict Puritanical society, which is unable and unwilling to forgive her sin. The “little Puritans” are very “intolerant” of the mother and the child and often “scorn” them in their hearts and say unkind things to them. A t home, Pearl makes companions of everyday objects. She talks with ancient pine trees, imagining them to be Puritan elders.

By resenting and reacting against the Puritan children, Pearl joins her mother in the same circle of seclusion from human society. No better place to put someone on display for alleged wrongdoing. People are so consumed with others lives and “spirituality” that they completely ignore their own. This is because the actions of individuals are put in the spotlight for public scrutiny. The veil and letter are successful devices because of the shallowness of the Puritan community, especially those portrayed within these two works. The outsiders miss the point completely, the allegory is lost, but we see a positive result in The Scarlet Letter.

Found in the conclusion is a description of Hester’s growth as a result of the letter. Being able to withdraw herself from her mundane surroundings and ideals, she is able to gain perspective and see the reactions of her community for what they really are. Women in the community for advice seek her out because of her experience and the resulting wisdom she has gained. The true righteousness and genius within these works lie within the two put on display for their community; inflicted with seemingly dark and wicked symbols, they are able to stand on the other side of the madness and judge for themselves.

G. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s attitude towards Puritanism In this novel, Hawthorne used the repressive, authoritarian Puritan society as an analogue for humankind in general. The Puritan setting also enabled him to portray the human soul under extreme pressure. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, while unquestionable part of the Puritan society in which they live, also reflect universal experiences. Hawthorne speaks specially to American issues, but he circumvents the aesthetic and thematic limitations that might accompany such focus.

His university and his dramatic flair have ensured his place in the literary canon. Back to his attitude towards the Puritanism of ancestors, when Hawthorne read the accounts about his first American ancestors, he was reported to have read them with fascination and horror. He was different from his ancestors; he had a feeling to some extent of Puritanism as being intolerant and cruel. He seemes to think that the Puritan religion was too strict and harsh. You can see how he disliked them by the way people act, talk, and live.

Meanwhile, he also showed how he thought the Puritan people would react to the manner in which Hester stitched the “A”, and he did not make them look very pleasant. By showing them as being ruthless, and evil, Hawthorne was able to reveal his views of the Puritan people, and how he disliked them through the townsfolk (the woman in particular). He made them come across as people you would love to hate. Throughout the entire book, Hester was looked down upon though slightly less as the story progressed, and treated like a second class citizen.

Hawthorne showed his distaste of the Puritan culture by expressing himself through the characters and their actions. Not one person in this novel was truly good, and all the characters sinned. It was impossible to have a perfect society, and Nathaniel Hawthorne explained to us in The Scarlet Letter, that one ruled by the Puritan religion, proved this true. Nevertheless, although he was shocked by the Puritan injustice, he was convinced that there was both good and evil in Puritanism. He thought a lot about the conflict of God as omniscient and omnipotent on one hand, and vengeful and cruel on the other.

He saw that religion was able to produce evil. Things like the witch trials, where innocent people had to die, could happen in his Puritan hometown of Salem, which led him to the opinion that the fusion of religious dogma and political authority was the worst evil. His ancestors and all the other Puritans maybe thought to have found the devil when prosecuting witches, but Hawthorne was of a different opinion. Whose side was the devil on? Hawthorne’s answer was evil in everybody. It makes people blind so they are not able to recognize the evil in themselves.

Therefore, Hawthorne tried to find distance from this face of Puritanism and lived Puritan ideology and philosophy in his own way. In a whole, Hawthorne’s attitude towards Puritanism was split. There were things he was absolutely in favor of and things he condemned from the depth of his heart. And to some extent, Hawthorne was a Puritan because of his Puritan origin. It was Puritanism that has led to today’s American achievement oriented society. But Hawthorne described the Puritan society of the 17th century as narrow and relentless.

He did not share the dogmas and delusions of the people be condemned because he had little interest and less belief in doctrines and theological debate. His imagination was repeatedly drawn the subjects of temptation, guilt and shame. He sought the depth of the human things. Of course Hawthorne’s point of view is that of the 19th century, not that of 17th century, where his short stories are settled. He is aware of his roots and history, but he questions these roots and history from his modern point of view.

Conclusion

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne explores several aspects in the Puritan community of 17th century Boston. Such as the relationship, religion, community, discipline and punishment and so on. Relationship between men and women are very constrained and that are what made adultery such a bad sin in the eyes of everyone in the community. Religion seemes to govern over all. Reverends own high status in the Puritan society and people completely believe that their fate are relevent with God. Public discipline and punishment are used to discourage everyone else from committing the same crime or sin as the offending criminal did.

The communities always follow the belief of God and try best to do their duties. And are always here to criticize and punish all who disobeyed the religion or laws. In 17th century Boston every thing was very strict and everyone was expected to follow the laws, which makes Hester’s sin such an excellent illustration of the belief of that time period. Through the things like relationship, religion, community, discipline and punishment,the reader can get a better understanding of what was expected of town’s people in the 17th century.

The Scarlet Letter shows the pain and suffering a woman went through when she broke her marriage, and disobeyed her religion. The fate driven religious society in 17th century Boston would not accept sin of any kind so they branded Hester Prynne with the letter A for the rest of her life and made her stand in front of the whole community as an illustration for everyone that sin and corruption was not accepted in their Puritan society. After the 17th century, the Puritans as a political entity largely disappeared, but Puritan attitudes and ethics continued to exert an influence on American society.

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They made a virtue of qualities that made for economic success—self-reliance, frugality, industry, and energy, and through them influenced modern social and economic life. Their concern for education was important in the development of the United States, and the idea of congregational democratic church government was carried into the political life of the state as a source of modern democracy. Through The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorn highly praises the beauty of human nature and comprehends the Puritan thought and values which deeply influence the Americans.

Author: Royce Ballin

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Puritanism in the Scarlet Letter

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The Puritan Guilt in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Society Essay

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The time was the nineteenth century, a time of great prudishness in America but born a man Nathaniel Hawthorne that would put the Puritan society and their way to the test. A Puritan is one who follows the English Protestant lifestyle and someone who adheres to strict religious principle; also one who has a strong regard for pleasure sex and nudity. (Webster’s Dictionary, 2003) Born on July 4th 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts and of Puritan decent himself, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family experienced intense harassment during their time.(Hoeljte, pps 25-26) Experiences that today make Hawthorne not only a great author, but very well liked by readers as well. Nathaniel attended a prestigious school with the aid of wealthy family…show more content…

Many of Hawthorne’s works deal with religion and his characters often have to struggle with their beliefs. It could be suggested that Hawthorne too was not comfortable in his religion and in ways renounced it through his writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays the ideology of Puritan society in the novel the Scarlet Letter; however reader also get to witness his characters being an illustration of hypocrisy and victims to their own guilt. In the Scarlet Letter, as in many of Hawthorne’s shorter works, he makes profuse use of the Puritan past: its odd exclusionary belief, its harsh code of ruling, its concern with sex and witchcraft. The Scarlet Letter is a story that is embellished but yet simple. Many readers may view this novel as a soap opera due to the way Hawthorne conveys this Puritan society’s sense of strictness and inability to express true emotion along with the secrecy and how deceiving the characters are being. As the story unfolds the main character Hester Prynne is bounded in marriage at an early age. She engages in an adulterous affair with an unknown member of their small village. Hester soon becomes pregnant and with her husband’s absence the chances of this child belonging to her husband are slim. The towns’ people know that she has committed a sin and imprisons her for her crime. The child is born and Hester is forced to sew an “A” for adultery into her dress. This is too shame her and make her feel guilty about her crime. Hester is

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