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Discuss Hawthorne s presentation of the Puritan s throughout the novel The Scarlet Letter. You may wish to consider: P Hawthorne s links with the Puritans P The presentation of Puritanism in the novel The narrative methods through which Hawthorne presents Puritanism. The Puritans are complex characters and throughout the course of the novel the reader is exposed to many sides of their character. Mark Van Doren once wrote, The conflict in Hawthorne of two world s between which he hung, exposing the fanaticism of one, despising the blandness of the other, is not the least source of The Scarlet Letter s power. I agree, I think the power of The Scarlet Letter is so effective because Hawthorne is caught in-between his lineage and his own opinions. Hawthorne came from a long line of powerful Puritans.
His ancestry included William and John Hawthorne who were notorious in their time. He was a soldier, legislator, judge; he was a ruler in the Church; he had all the puritanic traits both good and evil. William Hawthorne was infamous for his cruelty to the Quaker Ann Coleman, his son John for his part in the Salem Witch-Hunts. Hawthorne uses his own family history to show the conflict in the Puritan ideals.
I the present writer, as their representative, hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes, and pray that any curse incurred by them... may be now and henceforth removed. Hawthorne uses both these examples within his own family tree to show that although his family history is soaked in the blood of the past he was able to free himself from that sphere of thinking. However, it is important to remember, his thinking has been freed from the strict confined of the Puritan way of life in his own family he still cannot escape the engulfing guilt of their crimes The first time the reader is confronted with the Puritan community is at the prison door in the market place. Hawthorne uses powerful symbolism to convey the atmosphere in the Puritan settlement. iron-clamped oaken door.
This is used to represent the rigorous enforcement of the laws and the inability to break free of them. The prison door itself also serves as a metaphor for the authority of the regime, which will not tolerate deviance. Hawthorne then deliberately challenges this notion by placing Ann Hutchinson s name in the opening page. Ann Hutchinson was a religious woman who challenged Puritanical teachings and was the imprisoned in Boston. Hawthorne then uses the symbolism of the rose bush to embody his feelings about Puritanism. The rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it has merely survived out of the stern old wilderness.
This is used to imply that the Puritanical authoritarianism may be too rigid, to the point of obliterating things of beauty. That freedom in religion could be found in this settlement but it faced harsh opposition shown here as the starker backdrop of the old wilderness. The Puritans had many hopes for their new settlement. They had left their homes in England in pursuit of their religious ideas. King James I of England wanted to rid England of all Puritans. When they asked him to purify the state Church of England of certain ceremonies and usages derived from the Roman Catholic Church his reply was severe.
I will make them conform or I will harry them out of the land. These Puritans were not dangerous revolutionists but plain citizens of England who sought out their religious Utopia in America. However, Hawthorne s presentation of their idealistic settlement is a stark contrast to this. The prison and the graveyard are in prominent positions within the settlement; Hawthorne uses this to stress their importance. These symbolism that even the Puritan are only mortal men. They too can fail in their religious ways.
Hawthorne uses this point to empathize that fact that the strict Puritan way of life is doomed to failure, human nature can not be confined only suppressed. Hester was only human in her mistake but the Puritan cannot see this. Hawthorne uses this description of the Puritans to convey their thoughts. grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of the good people would have argued some awful business in hand. The author places the community directly in front of the prison door, the effective use of this juxtaposition of the two forces, the religious community or the nefarious world within the prison, reaffirmed the Puritan idea that you either belonged to the religious community or the venomous underside of civilisation. Mark Van Doren once said Hawthorne did not need to believe in Puritanism in order to write a great novel about it.
He had only to understand it. It is here we see the true Hawthorne convey his feelings on the Puritans. He respects their ideas but finds them over power ingly wrong. He understands that the Puritans wanted to purify their religion but what they really do is separate themselves from the real truth of man.
The darkness of man s heart and the reality of evil can never be escaped and only through the process of time can this be realised. Hawthorne had the luxury of time to develop his thoughts. Hawthorne understands the Puritan way of life. They were her countrywomen; and the beef and ale of their native land, with a moral diet not a whit more refined. He does not blame the Puritans for their strict way of life it was just how they thought. The were raised on a moral diet and did know what tolerance meant in their society.
For the Puritans the religious code of Law was applied rigorously in all parts of life in the community. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of Puritanic code of law. The women in the community were harsh judges of Hester in Hawthorne s eyes, but still we are reminded that they only knew the intolerance they were brought up with. This woman has brought shame on us all, and ought to die. Historically the community in Puritan times was extremely important the minister was their voice. There was no individual voice; Hawthorne realises the importance of community because he knows of the destructiveness of isolation.
The fact that Hester had disgraced the whole community brought into sharp perspective that the community had failed as a unit but due to the hypocrisy of the Puritans, she stood alone in her failings. In the Governor s Hall, the Puritan dignitaries are shown in their true hypocritical light. They deemed the pleasure gained from material objects as being morally wrong, yet they lived in wonderfully elaborate houses. The brilliancy might have befitted Aladdin s palace, rather than the mansion of a grave old Puritan ruler. The words grave and old are cleverly used. The symbolism death, Hawthorne is saying to the reader the Puritans views on pleasure are worn and unimportant.
An heir to Puritan tradition as well as one of its severest critics. (A. N. Kaul) Hawthorne despises the Puritan sanctimony. A. N. Kaul realises this as does the reader.
The double standards of the Puritans are further conveyed by the presence of the ale tankard. Had Hester or Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy remnant of recent draught ale. This was an old English tradition which seems ironic that a man of Governor Bellingham s standing would partake of such a tradition when, he as a Puritan, went to such great lengths to separate himself from old English ways. pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men. Here Hawthorne describes the pictures that hung on the walls of Governor Bellingham s home as the representations of his thoughts on the Puritan way of life. Even through the medium of a painting the Puritan severity could not be dampened, it is only through time it can be diluted.
In Another View of Hester Hawthorne explores the thought that without living within the iron framework of Puritan ideas that Hester still feels the ever-imposing presence of the Puritans gaze upon her. Glaring at her but this time the glare can sometimes contain sympathy. Hawthorne tells the reader that the Puritans have changed their judgement on Hester. Such helpfulness was found in her (Hester) - so much power to do, and power to sympathize, - that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original significance. The letter, for the Puritans represented the shame of the community; the letter became an example of how crime acts as a deterrent for others in the community. The letter became a gateway into the Puritans secret crimes and acts as the focal point for the shame of the community.
The Puritan community slowly reformed their opinions of Hester but the Puritan leaders were stubborn in their recognition of Hester. Hawthorne s Puritan leaders find it difficult to accept people who failed to live up to their faith as they do. The rulers, and the wise and learned men of the community, were longer in acknowledging the influence of Hester s good qualities than the people. The Puritan leaders took this stance which is harshly criticised by Hawthorne but yet he explains their reluctance. Thus it was with men of rank, on whom their eminent position imposed the guardianship, of the public morals.
They did not want rush into the acceptance of Hester they wanted to safe guard the people. Although they eventually did forgive her, she was never truly integrated back into their community. Standing alone in the world. Through Hester, Hawthorne reveals his thoughts on the regime of the Puritan existence. The prejudice which they shared in common with the latter were fortified in themselves by an iron framework of reasoning, that made it far tougher labor to expel them. He understands how difficult it is to shed the intolerance of the past and become more liberal.
The Scarlet Letter was written in 1848, but was based some two hundred years earlier; it gave a more in-depth look at the Puritan culture than most history books ever could. Henry James best described The Scarlet Letter it belonged to the soil, to the air, it came out of the very heart of New England. The Scarlet Letter was truly a book based on the history of the American people. Hawthorne took an old story and retold it for many reasons. The question the reader has to ask themselves is this.
Why if Hawthorne came from a notable Puritan bloodline, would he retell a story that was potentially damaging in their eyes? The answer I think is that Hawthorne wanted to dispel the stereotypical image of Puritans. He wanted to show the many facets which form the intricate character of a Puritan. The novel The Scarlet Letter was the unusual in its time.
Most novels that dealt with the issue of women having children out of wedlock such as Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens or Tess of the d Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy had the woman dying prematurely just as the Puritans dictated would happen to people who lead an irreligious life. Hawthorne went against the grain and had the man dying and the woman lives on but is the stronger of the two. Hawthorne uses the symbolism of the eagle to represent the Puritans. With the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl, she appear, by the fierceness of her beak and eye and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive community This is the way I felt about the Puritans by the end of the novel. That there is more to the Puritans than meets the eye. They appear harsh but really the only are trying to do what they think God wants.
They have interpreted the Bible in a different way than most and it was this interpretation that leads them into a strict way of life.
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