20 July 2009
The Scarlet Letter: Literary Criticism
Published in 1850, The Scarlet Letter is considered Nathaniel Hawthorne's most famous work, and the first quintessentially American novel in style, theme, and language. Set in seventeenth-century Puritan Massachusetts, the novel centers around the travails of Hester Prynne, who gives birth to daughter Pearl after an adulterous affair. Hawthorne's novel concerns the consequences of the affair, rather than the affair itself. Hawthorn uses Hester's public shaming as a springboard to explore the lingering taboos of Puritan New England during his time; furthermore, the novel raises issues that are just as controversial today as they were then. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a critically acclaimed American writer of the nineteenth century, was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. The novelist's book, The Scarlet Letter, is said to be his most commendable work, and universally considered a literary classic, pertaining to sin and its inherent consequences. Some speculate Hawthorne's work related to his own personal sense of shame regarding his ancestors’ persecuting roles in the seventeenth century Salem Witch Trials, and his views pertaining to a woman’s role in society (Baym 49-70; Answers Corp., “Duyckinck”). By indirectly dealing with his sense of guilt through fictional circumstances, he shows his viewpoint as being highly critical of the Puritans, while teaching a strong moral lesson in the process. Graduating in the middle of his class from Bowdoin College in 1825, he went on to write a variety of novels, short stories, and articles. Generally, his writing contained powerful symbolic and psychological aspects of, "the effects of pride, guilt, sin, and secrecy" (Encarta Encyclopedia). In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne brought to life Hester Prynne, a beautiful, yet headstrong, Puritan woman married to an elderly husband for which she held no love, and was...