Puritanism in the Scarlet Letter

Topics: Puritan, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne Pages: 17 (6430 words) Published: May 7, 2008
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



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...
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