Hawthorne's Tone in the Scarlet Letter

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Hawthorne’s Tone
Phillip Vernon
Hawthorne’s tone towards the Puritans is critical while his tone towards Hester is admiring. His criticism is apparent when he points out the Puritan’s hypocrisy, as well as when he shows respect for people and ideas that seem oppositional to Puritan beliefs. Hawthorne’s admiration for Hester becomes clear both when he describes her physical beauty, and her independence.

The Puritans are, at times, extremely hypocritical. They strive to create a Utopia in which all of their perfect citizens will live. As one of their leaders described it, a “city upon a hill”. Hawthorne points out that despite their goal of reaching a Utopia, the Puritans definitely expect crime in their city, “The founders of a new colony, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site for a prison.” Although the Puritans claim that their town is perfect, they must not truly believe this if a prison is one of the first things they build. Another example of their hypocrisy that Hawthorne shows is while Hester is being judged on the scaffold: “before society had grown corrupt enough to smile, instead of shuddering at it.” Puritans claim to be prime examples of people who attempt to devoid themselves of all sin, yet judge this woman from their community and use this judgment to punish her even! They are clearly not the near-saints they claim to be since they are so judgmental.

Hawthorne uses another, more direct technique to illustrate his disapproval of the Puritans. His description of the Puritan woman who speaks of Hester as she exits the prison shows his criticism, as well as his respect for Anne Hutchinson. Hawthorne sounds very condescending while talking about the Puritan women outside the jail, “There was, moreover, a boldness and rotundity of speech among these matrons, as most of them seemed to be, that would startle us at the...
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