The Scarlet Letter: Exploration of Human Emotions

April 28, 2022 by Essay Writer

The British colonies on the eastern coast of the United States were highly influenced by English literature, before founding of the United States. Thus the American literary tradition began as part of the boarder tradition of English literature. However, modern American literature is considered to be a separate literary tradition. Colonial American literature emerged from the original US colonies during the period from 1607 to the late 1700s and was largely influenced by British writers. Colonial American literature includes the writings of Mary Rowlandson, William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet and John Winthrop. Religion is prominent in Colonial American literature and it can be found mostly in puritan writings. The puritans wrote about the religious foundations of many of their settlements, especially the exodus from Britain, and employed the constant theme that god should be Worshiped. Many of the puritan works were in poetry from. Anne Bradstreet’s poetry the ‘Bay psalm book’ and Pastor Edward Taylor’s ‘preparatory mediations’ are good examples of religious texts of the era.

Non-puritan writers also used religion to show the religious tension between the colonial settlers and Native Americans. American writing consists of physical abuse, a lack of love, and a morbid character, all across the board from the Native Americans to the colonists, revolutionaries, explorers, to the civil war, the American renaissance, and beyond. American literature exposed and conveyed a message of its own to the world, that are to be found in the changed environment and the varying problems and ideals off American life, more important than the changed ways of earning a living and the difference in climate, animals, and scenery were the struggles leading to the revolutionary war, the formation and guidance of the republic, and the civil war. All these combined to give individuality to American thought and literature.

Many writers quoted about American literature. Louis Auchincloss’s quoted, “In that moment I think I learned the real tragedy of living too long. It is not losing one’s health or one’s memory or even one’s mind; it is losing one’s dignity”. Don Delillo quoted, “We are not native. We have no generations of Americans behind us. We have roots elsewhere. We are looking in from the outside. To me, that seems to be perfectly natural”. Lara Bush quoted, “There is nothing political about American literature’. Allen Ginsburg quoted, “America, I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing”.

The contemporary writes of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s are Walter Scott, Herman Melville, James Fenimone Coopes, Stephen Crane’s, Maria Edgeworth, Edger Allan Poe. Herman Melville was very close to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Melville’s works read as psychological probing into the subjective individual consciousness. His famous works are Mardi and a Voyage Thither, Moby-Dick, The White Whale and Pierre. Like Hawthorne before him, was concerned with the problem of good and evil but for Melville the problem of “iniquity“ is never resolved.

The next famous contemporary writer of Hawthrone is James Fennimore Cooper, his famous works is ‘The Last of the Mohincans’, it’s a novel about race and difficulty of overcoming racial divides. They originally lived in an area that covered a lot of what is now New England part of Massachusetts. They major themes in the novel is interracial love and friendship and the role of religion in Wilderness. Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage’ is a war novel which takes place during the American civil war. The main themes of this novel are courage self-preservation, Manhood. This novel explains crane’s message that war in altering the connection between society and individual rights, undermines individual rights and thus prevents soldiers such as Fleming from pursuing the American dream.

Another well-known writer is Edgar Allen Poe, considered part of the Romantic Movement, in the sub-genre of Dark Romanticism. He gained worldwide fame for his dark, horror tales practically inventing the genre of Gothic Literature, and he also credited for inventing detective fiction genre, including: The Black Cat, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and The Pendulum. Poe’s epic poem The Raven was publishing in 1845 and he became an instant success.

Hawthorne belongs to 19th century the characteristics of the 19th century American novel differ based upon the period to which is being referred to. There were three different writing movements which took place during the 19th century: The Romantic period, The American Renaissance, and the realist Movement (Realism). The main characteristics of the Romantic period (1800-1860) were: The theme of the personal journey in regards to independence Romantic wished to move “life” from the corrupt urban areas to those of the nature-filled rural areas, and Romantic associated the rural area with clarity, purity and independence and the Romance valued intuition and feeling over reason, the power of imagination and viewed life as it should be heavenly instead of how it really war. The American Renaissance (1840-1860) was a period which instilled value in what it meant to be America and the Renaissance writers wanted to examine the possibilities associated with human ability while playing special attention to an individual’s ego. The American Renaissance writers desperately wanted to define themselves as American but not British writers. The main movements of this period were Rise of Feminism, rise of abolitionism and the necessities of self-improvement. The last period of the 19th century was ‘The Realist Movement’ (1855-1900). In this period’s writers wished to focus upon societies realism that problems exist within the American culture. The Realists therefore, focused upon changing specific social problems seen in America at the time. On the whole the Realists focused on the ordinary human being and the trials and tribulations faced by these individual as group.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 at Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne was a direct descendent of John Hawthorne, puritan justice of the peace. John Hawthorne is best known for his role as the lead judge in the Salem Witch Trials, in which he sentenced numerous innocent people to death for allegedly practicing witchcraft. Nathaniel added a “w” to his last name to distance himself from his infamous ancestor. He was a Soldier, legislator, judge, he was a ruler in the church he had all the puritanical traits, but good and evil. The greater part of Nathaniel ‘s boyhood was spent in Salem and it was only at the age of 14 in the year 1818 that he went to live in the town of Roymand along with his mother. Later in life, he spoke of this place as the one where he first got his “cursed habits of solitude”. In 1821, in his seventieth year he entered Bowdoin College, at Brunswick, Main. Though he did not prove himself to be a brilliant student. His main interest however, lay in the field of writing. In a light vein he wrote his mother, “I do not want to be a doctor and live by man’s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So I don’t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author”. Hawthorne had already begun his writings but the first evidence came in 1828, after his return to Salem, with the anonymous publication, at his own expense, of his novel, ‘Fanshawe’. This book was based on Hawthorne’s experiences as a Bowdoin College student in the early 1820s. Printing of this book was paid for at Hawthorne’s own expense. ‘Fanshawe’ generally received positive reviews, but didn’t sell well. After its commercial failure, Hawthorne burned the unsold copies. A dozen years after his death a copy was found and The Tale reissued by James o& co.

The period from 1825-1837 proved a formative period in Hawthorne’s carrier. After the publication of Fanshawe he happily hit upon the short tale for the exercise of his creative abilities. Between 1830 to 1852 he wrote over a hundred stories which were published in three collections. ‘Twice told Tales’ (1837), ‘Mosses from an Old Manse’ and ‘The Show Image’. A fourth collection of stories came out posthumously in ‘Sketches and Studies’ in 1883. In 1841 Hawthorne got a unique experience of communal living when he decided to join the Brook farm at West Roxbury where some enlightened persons like the famous Margaret Fuller, the transcendentalist, congregated to live close to nature. A year earlier Hawthorne had lived in Boston Custom House and made use of his experience as also of the communal living, for the purpose of his literary writings. In July 1842 he married a woman named Peabody and went with her to his ancient village of concord near Boston. Salem custom house was very important place to him, because it’s helped him to write ‘Scarlet Letter’. The summer of 1846 was Hawthorne a time of great diversity and severity of emotion. He was depressed by his mother’s death and also he frustrated by finance. Then he began to write longer stories like ‘Ethan Brand’ (1850), the account of a lime burner whose stone heart is a symbol of the unpardonable sin of pride and ‘The Great Stone Face’ (1850) in which man’s rectitude proves himself to be his own sought for hero, and the Scarlet Letter’(1850) appeared and which made him famous and which was afterwards recognized as one of the greatest American novels. When he visited Italy in 1859 he published his well-known novel, ‘The Marble Faun’. In the moral or symbolic tales of Hawthorne we always find an underlying idea and the most notable among such tales are ‘The Hallow of the Three Hills’, ‘Young Goodman Brown’, Rappaccini’s Daughter’, ‘The Birth Mark’, and ‘The Artist of the Beautiful’. In ‘The Birth Mark’ he exposes the struggle between man’s ceaseless aspiration towards perfection, and the inherent, careless imperfections of his nature.

The main themes in Hawthorne works are isolation, imperviousness, sin and guilt. Moral and religious concerns are almost central in Hawthorne’s works; he explores the nature of existential guilt, relating it to alienation, reunion and commitment. His novels reveal his preoccupation with the theme of the solitary egotist. He is a great writer of romances; his romances are about solitary people. They established “a neutral territory somewhere between the real world and fairyland, where the actual and the Imaginary may meet and each imbued itself with the nature of the other”. His style of writing though quaint, is remarkable for its directness, clarity and firmness which are qualities of modern prose. There is an infallible tightness of language in his style. Like Ruskin and Dequiency, Hawthorne was a poet who preferred to express himself in prose. In his irony, ambiguity and paradox he is a modern, in his concern for morality he is a nineteenth century man. In his psychological foundations too he is a modern. His ability at character drawing, powerful way of unfolding a story and his interest in the psychological analysis of his characters, his depiction of the effect of sin on the human psyche, his tone of gloom, theme of alienation is some of the trends which are the hallmarks of the modern age. He was merely telling what is common to human nature, not what is peculiar to himself.

There is a universal appeal in his novels. Even though he was a genius he had its limitations. His range was deep but not wide, he had a brief period of important productiveness, but when practical life claimed him, he was compelled, except for his journal to give up writing altogether. In his later life, his own early works became his principal sources. According to Edward Wagenknecht, “his prose is as fine as any we have to show in America, but the eighteenth century still kept her hold upon him. He could write stiffly and formally on occasion and he never attempted characterization in terms of distinctive speech”. Browell said, “In a sense he never meant anything. He drifted”. Woodberry complains, “at every stage he was materially aided by his friends in obtaining employment and position”.

When the Scarlet Letter was published in the spring of 1850, the initial print run of 2,500 copies sold out in only 10 days. However, given the publicity that had surrounded his firing the years before, readers were initially was interested in the tale of Hester Prynne than they were in the novel’s introduction, “The Custom House” in which Hawthorne’s barbed pen Skewered his political enemies. The Introduction chapter that generally functions as a preface , but more specifically, Hawthorne accomplishes four significant goals: Outlines autobiographical information about the author, describes the conflict between the artistic impulse and the commercial environment, defines the romance novel, and of authenticates the basis of the novel by explaining that he had discovered in the Salem Custom House the faded Scarlet A and the parchment sheets that contained the historical manuscript on which the novel is based.

The Scarlet Letter is Nathaniel’s first romance and well received novel. Over the course of twenty-four chapter, Hawthorne portrays the fate of Hester Prynne, a woman who is condemned by puritan law to wear the letter A on her bosom as a punishment for her adultery. Over the time she has become one of the most intriguing and enigmatic female protagonist in American literature. The story has numerous interpretations, like the social isolation, redemption, passion and love, an individual struggling against society’s conventions, sin and more. Puritanism played a major role in this novel. Throughout the novel Hawthorne expressed his rejection of puritan’s rules and regulations and their way of life. His habitual reference to the puritan’s as “stern visage men” and “unkindly- visage woman” sets the tone for his criticism of their way of life. Hawthorne found the puritanistic life gloomy, joyless and rigid. The puritan society claims to have been based on the highest principles of more idealism but in reality it is lacking in the elementary Christian virtues of love compassion. He also explores the extremely narrow attitude of the woman of a puritan bias. In his novel the conversation of some of the female spectators of Hester Prynne’s public disgrace clearly shows that they have an extremely narrow attitude because they are dominated by puritan thinking.

Carl Van Dorer is justified in holding the view, “Hawthorne’s works shows that he was not a puritan at all, he was indeed, a rebel”. Another critic tells us that Hawthorne always felt the religious system of Puritanism to be hard, cold and confined. He would seek religious solace, but not in the order whose embrace was deadly. So, he turned back his back upon the religion of his ancestor. He does not spare his puritan forefathers. He describes in his introduction of The Scarlet Letter, “who came so early, with the Bible and his Sword. Had all the puritan traits both good and evil”, and persecuted dissidents ruthlessly. The whole novel set in puritan Boston, Hawthorne created four unforgettable characters of American fiction. The characters are Hester Prynne, condemned to wear a Scarlet “A” on her breast in token of her sin adultery; the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, revered as saintly by his parishioners but torn by hidden guilt; their child Pearl of great price and Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, who as he probes into the hearts of those who have wronged him becomes the greatest sinner of them. The letter in this novel had deep meaning, but the letter was Scarlet, and Pearl, its embodiment, had no principle of being save the freedom of broken law. He believed that man is not a machine. He has a soul; he therefore cannot be understood. Often he presents the soul of good even in evil things, such as in Hester in The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne discards the conventional means of advancing action. For example, Chillingworth, is finally convinced of the guilt of his victim not by devices common in stories of infidelity, like a glove, a letter, or a handkerchief, or a chance meeting but by a fantastic discovery of an “A” on Dimmesdale’s breast.

Herbert Gorman gave the view that characters of The Scarlet Letter are symbolic figures, rather than the being of flesh and blood. They are not made of flesh and blood but they are made of moonlight and abstract qualities. The Scarlet Letter a tension or conflict between the puritan and the romantic tendencies in seen throughout the novel. Hawthorne is certainly responsive to the romantic temper; according to him the individual has the right to be happy. Hawthorne was deeply influenced by the works of the early New England divines, the puritans, the Bible and The Pilgrim’s progress. Under such influences he felt evil to be a reality that could not be explained away. The book is first of all concerned with “the ways of Sin”. Hawthorne is not so concerned with the cause of sin as with the consequences of Sin. According to him, Sin is relative, not absolute Sin is something subjective.

The Dimmesdale feels isolated from God because he believes that he has sinned against God. But Hester does not have any feeling of isolation from god because she didn’t believe that her adulterous act was sin against god. According to Hawthorne sin may produce a feeling of isolation, but it may also produce understanding. It may cause suffering people, but it may also hind them together. Hester is, in a way created by sin, the girl Pearl is the product of Sin.

The place Massachusetts Bay was an important place in American literature especially for Scarlet Letter. The literary movement known as Transcendentalism flourished during the 1830s and 1840s, primarily in Massachusetts. The Transcendentalists believed in the power of the human mind to shape and determined experience. The Transcendental view of religion stood in stark contrast to the practices of groups like the Puritans, who believed in strict societal governance of religion. Transcendentalism’s most famous works are Thoreau’s Walden (1854) and Emerson’s Essays, most notably “Nature” (1836). Though Hawthorne is not considered a Transcendentalist, many of the movement’s central tenets appear in his work. The root conception of the Scarlet Letter had already been expressed in the tale of “Endicott and the Red Cross”, in which John Endicott, a historical puritan fanatic, is shown as rousing the people of New England against the England of Charles-I and of Bishop laud, and tearing up the British Flag (The Red Cross) in his anger with England. The story shows a religious dissident and a Roman Catholic in the stocks and a woman wearing the letter “A” on her breast in the crowd surrounding Endicott. This story was written in 1837, thirteen years after The Scarlet Letter was published. This novel turns upon two deep- seated fundamental struggles that between natural impulse and conscience, and that between the individual and the restraints of society. It’s a story of guilty love and passion not Hawthorne aim.

The Scarlet Letter begins with a prelude in which an unnamed narrator explains the novel’s origin. While working at the Salem Custom House (a tax collection agency), the narrator discovered in the attic a manuscript accompanied by a beautiful Scarlet Letter “A”. After the narrator lost his job, he decided to develop the story told in the manuscript into a novel. The Scarlet Letter is that novel. The story begins as Hester Prynne carrying an infant, named Pearl and standing in the Scaffold. A bright red “A” is embroidered on her chest while a scaffold, Hester recognizes her estranged husband, Chillingworth. He too recognizes her but pretends not to know her and learns her story that she was married to an English scholar and fell in to sin, committing the adultery that resulted in her baby and this Scarlet “A” on her breast. Her beloved Arthur Dimmesdale commands Hester to reveal the man’s name, but she refuses and sends back to her prison cell. Chillingworth pretend as a physician to finds her beloved. After three years she moves to outskirts of Boston, near forest with her child and she refuses to tell Pearl what the Scarlet Letter signifies. Dimmesdale is one of the patients, who have fallen ill with heart trouble. Chillingworth takes care for him full time and begins to suspect connection between Dimmesdale’s heart trouble and Hester’s crime. Finally he discovers that Dimmesdale has a mark over his heart that resembles Hester’s scarlet letter. So he decides to torture Dimmesdale.

Under Chillingworth’s cruel care, Dimmesdale’s health deteriorates. Hester pleads with Chillingworth to stop to torturing him then she convinces Dimmesdale to flee with her and Pearl to Europe, and they make plans to take a ship day after Dimmesdale is scheduled to deliver an important sermon. While him preaching he realizes he’s dying so he asks Hester and Pearl to join him and reveals the relationship between Hester and him. He dies as Pearl kisses him for the first time. Hester and pearl leave Boston. Chillingworth dies a year after Dimmesdale and leaving Pearl a small fortune as an inheritance. Many years later Hester returns her town and she still wears her letter “A”. Pearl has married. Hester remains in Boston until her death and is buried alongside Dimmesdale. They shared tombstone bears a letter “A”.

The next two chapters going to talk about the theme of Puritanism society, maternal ideal and Sin and Redemption. He also portrayed the sexual passion in this novel. The Scarlet Letter compared to Moliere’s comedies or the comedies of manners and Gustavo Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’. Like these works this novel also shows a conflict between marriage and passion. A critic Mark Van Doren calls The Scarlet Letter “one of the great love stories of the world”. The women role in this novel is very essential part. Hester Prynne is the central figure, the heroine of the novel. It is around her that the whole plot revolves, it is on her coat the letter “A” is embroidered, it is she who suffer most in the novel and she is the symbol of human suffering and she evokes our sympathy and blow up our heart with pity. We can see it thoroughly in chapter two.


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