Scarlet Letter and Feminism

Topics: Gender role, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter Pages: 7 (2862 words) Published: May 23, 2013
The Superiority of Men?

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is commonly known as America’s first great novel and as America’s first feminist novel as well. Hawthorne writes The Scarlet Letter in the middle of the nineteenth century while the novel actually takes place in the mid seventeenth century puritanical Boston. Different people at different times viewed women in very different ways. In this novel alone women are viewed in two different ways. Hawthorne was a transcendentalist from the eighteen hundreds looking back on history writing a character which the Puritans would have viewed differently than him. Hawthorne’s views and opinions influenced his writing as the Puritans and transcendentalists of the eighteen hundreds viewed women in different ways. The Puritan society was a society centered on the males. It was a common belief that men are superior to women. The thought was supported by the church, which is a big deal (because life revolved around God and pleasing him), in sermons that preached that “the soul had two parts, the immortal masculine half, and the mortal feminine side.”1 Women were not included in church or town meetings because they were expected to stay home and be a house wife. The fact that the names Patience, Silence, Fear, Prudence, Comfort, Hopestill, and Be Fruitful1 were common names for girls puts women’s place in society into perspective. Women were not supposed to leaders and active members of the community, but more of second class citizens that obeyed the real leaders, men. Their main focus was to bear children, tend to the house, and obey the man of the house. With marital sex being encouraged, the status of women was elevated. However, women were typically not trusted in the community as daughters of Eve because it was thought they were naturally greedy for power. With no trust in women, people did not doubt that some of the women in Puritan society were “witches”. During the Salem witchcraft trials the accused were almost all women with a few exceptions of men being accused. During the Puritanical time women did not ban together and were not viewed upon well. Often women made it worse for other women like in the Salem witchcraft trials it was predominantly women accusing other women. The first chapter in the Scarlet epitomizes the Puritanical view on women. The women of the community thought that Hester’s punishment should be far more severe, to the point that execution was an option. “The ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges,” (36) was the biggest advocate of Hester’s desired demise. It can be implied that based on Hawthorne’s description of the woman’s physical appearance he is also referring to her personality. She is ugly on the outside and inside. These Puritan women were evil and cruel. The overall view Puritans had on women was that their job was to be obedient, helpful, caregivers in a male centered society. The Puritans were a very classical society. Transcendentalism was a fresh new idea that started in the eighteen hundreds. Transcendentalism is the idea that all people equally know themselves and how the world around them is more than what meets the eye. Transcendentalism at the very beginning was influenced by women. In the Transcendentalist Group Margaret Fuller was a major contributor. She was a proponent of Brook Farm, which was an idealist town that lived with Transcendentalist views. More importantly she was the main editor of The Dial, the newspaper that the Transcendentalist Group published. She had final say as to what the group would put in print for the public; a huge job for a women of the times. The responsibility Fuller had was not common and demonstrates how Transcendentalists were giving women more rights. In the group and her especially they stood for women’s rights. This was the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement. Other women such as the Peabody sisters were also important...
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