Nathaniel Hawthorne’s as Anti-Transcendentalist
Nathaniel Hawthorne an American romantic writer, whose literature is known for its Anti-Transcendentalism, wrote Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne is a writer during the American Romantics, where the majority of writing is focused on nature, supernatural elements; one’s psychology and the criticism of society’s “norm”. Nathaniel is Hawthorne known for his notorious Anti-Transcendentalist literature. Anti-Transcendentalism ideals are about one’s evil and inner and sinful nature, where everyone is born evil and no matter what, and that humanity is evil and destructive.
Hawthorne is not able to accept the optimism of the Transcendentalists and through his writing he tries to look for truths in one’s heart and mind. Hawthorne’s use of symbols, characters, and themes in his literature classify his writings as Anti-Transcendentalist.Through the use of character development Hawthorne’s literature can be classified as Anti-Transcendentalist.
In both pieces of literature Hawthorne uses characters who act as the epitome of Anti-Transcendentalism. The Scarlet Letter has two imperative characters that exemplify Anti-Transcendentalist.
First we have Dimmesdale; he is a minister in the town and is one of the most highly respected men in Boston. In reality Dimmesdale is a sinner and an adulterer as he slept with Hester, another man’s wife and got her pregnant. Hester’s punishment for her actions are; public humiliation, and the Scarlet Letter. Though Dimmesdale is not revealed as her accomplice over time he himself grows a Scarlet Letter of his own. “Most of the spectators testified to having seen, on the breast of the unhappy minister, a Scarlet Letter…Mr. Dimmesdale, on the very day when Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badge, had begun a course of penance”(SL 211). When Hawthorne reveals Dimmesdale having a Scarlet Letter it expresses the ideals of Anti-Transcendentalism where his own Scarlet Letter is the example of one’s inner darkness and evil that is inside of him.
In Young Goodman Brown after Goodman Brown witnesses all of the townspeople participating in a witchcraft ceremony and comes back to his home he sees the world in a new perspective. “The next morning Goodman Brown came slowly into the streets of Salem staring around him like a bewildered man”(YGB 7). He is never the same and trusts no one, including his wife. It says that he snatched away the children that Goody Cloyse was talking to and when his wife embraced him he just walked away.(YGB 7 )Hawthorne uses Goodman Brown to show that everyone is evil inside and that he human spirit is destructive. Character development acknowledges a role in how Hawthorne’s literature should be classified as Anti-Transcendentalist.Character Development is not the only factor that classifies Hawthorne’s literature as Anti-Transcendentalist; symbols take on an enormous role as well. In the Scarlet Letter two symbols are Pearl, and the actual Scarlet Letter.
Pearl is not only a peculiar child for her age she has a much deeper meaning. Pearl is Hester’s living example of her sin. Pearl’s purpose in the Scarlet Letter is to represent sin, but not only to Hester but in the world as well. The Actual Scarlet Letter is also a symbol which represents not only sin, but the Anti-Transcendentalist idea that your sins will never go away, sin will remain evident inside you and around you. These two examples could not exemplify Anti-Transcendentalist beliefs any more as its primary focus is about sinfulness and how people view sin. In Young Goodman Brown a few symbols that embody Anti-Transcendentalism are the forest and the old man who is meant to be the devil.
The forest in both of Hawthorne’s literature has a dark meaning towards it and also is a place where no good can happen Goodman Brown believes that the devil could be present in the forest, and when he sees a woman from his town he hides as he is ashamed to be walking in the forest. The forest is characterized as devilish, frightening, and dark. The old man is also a symbol which is portrayed as the devil. He is used to represent the destructiveness of the human spirit and to show the evil within humanity. All of these characteristics contribute to classify Hawthorne’s writing as Anti-Transcendentalist.
Aside from characters and symbols Hawthorne uses themes in his literature which contribute to classifying his writings as Anti-Transcendentalist. The most prominent theme in both pieces of his literature is the, nature of evil in humanity. The Scarlet Letter uses the “Black Man” as an alter ego to Chillingworth who is a representation for the Devil. On the outside Chillingworth is a doctor who is supposed to help people when they are sick but inside he is evil. Instead of giving Dimmesdale life he is making him sick, as he is taking life and making it miserable. “‘Come away, or yonder old black man will catch you! He hath got hold of the minister already. Come away, mother or he will catch you!’”(SL 61) The quote is from Pearl who understands Chillingworth is the devil and has already captured and made Dimmesdale’s life horrible. Another instance of the evil in humanity partakes in the Story of Young Goodman Brown where it contains a greater depth of evil in humanity.
The Scarlet Letter is only one man consumed by the devil but in Young Goodman Brown the whole town appears to be taking part in a witchcraft ceremony. When he is taken into the forest he sees the minister, a deacon and many more respected men of his town are evil. “He recognized a score of church members of Salem…Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived, his reserved pastor”(YGB 6) These men and women who are highly respected are taking part in English witchcraft. Hawthorne is expressing that humans are capable of inner darkness and evil, which enable his literature to be classified as Anti-Transcendentalist. Symbols, characters, and themes are the elements that Hawthorne uses to show how his literature can be classified as Anti-Transcendentalist.
The symbols in both pieces of Hawthorne’s literature represent sin, and evil, both which are qualities of Anti-Transcendentalism. All the characters in Hawthorne’s literature contain evidence of sinful nature, inner darkness and the destructiveness of the human spirit. These qualities are most prominent in Chillingworth and Dimmesdale and especially with Goodman Brown. Lastly Hawthorne’s primary theme in all his literature is the nature of evil in humanity. Chillingworth exemplifies this theme greatly as well as the towns’ people in Young Goodman Brown. The way Hawthorne writes and his use of symbols, themes, and characters classify his writing as Anti-Transcendentalist.
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