Professor: Bernhard Radloff
Subject: ENG 2450 B
Date: December 4, 2012
Scarlet Letter Review
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter remains one of the best examples of Puritan literature, a novel, which points to the inadequacy of the Puritan beliefs and the moral duality of the Puritan culture. This paper reviews the author’s novel from a new, conformity vs. individuality angle. The context in which the novel was created is discussed. Hester’s silent challenge against conformity is evaluated. The goal of this paper is to understand what message the writer’s novel sends to readers.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter remains one of the brightest reflections of the conformity vs. identity conflict in the Puritan society. Written by a person of the highest moral order, the novel reveals the complexity of the Puritan ideals and beliefs and points to the moral inadequacy of the Puritan culture. The novel itself was created during one of the most difficult moments in the littérateur’s life – his fight against the prejudiced conventions of the Puritan society added rigor and pain to the moral and physical tortures of his characters. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne’s characters constantly fight to maintain a balance of uniqueness and conformity. The appearance versus purity contradiction accompanies the protagonists in their way to self-actualization and happiness. Hawthorne’s novel is profoundly philosophical and exposes the deficiencies of the Puritan world. In this literary work, Nathaniel sends the final message of duality in the Puritan culture, in which society tries to achieve the ultimate point of conformity, and individuals use silence and physical tortures to construct and reproduce their identity in the repressive realities of life. Hester Prynne: Silence as a Passive Revolt against Conformity
The duality of the Puritan society and an ongoing fight between conformity and individuality are the main threads of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Better than anyone else, jobless writer realized that any attempt to stand out from the Puritan conformity would be inevitably crushed by conformity. In the first chapter of the analyzed work, Hawthorne (2005) compares “the colony to a kind of utopia, where a portion of the virgin soil must be allotted as a cemetery, and another portion of the soil become a site for a prison” (Hawthorne 2005). In other words, in a small community torn between a prison and a cemetery, there is no place left to individuality, self-realization, and achievements. All members of the author’s society are bound to comply with the rules set by the Puritan majority. This is probably because the Puritan culture consciously tries to separate individuals from subjective feelings and meanings. The Puritan community deprives people of their right to freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and even freedom of thought. This, however, is the most problematic aspect of Puritan existence, since even the strictest rules cannot guarantee the destruction of individuality. In his novel, Nathaniel Hawthorn sends a message of ineradicable, inconsumable individuality, which people try to preserve through silence and physical tortures against the repressive realities of Puritan life.
The novel centers on the discussion of Hester Prynne and her moral failure. Guilty of adultery, Hester carries the red letter A and must spend the rest of her life in isolation and humility. With a small child in her hands, Hester has no chance to escape Puritan condemnation. Her feelings do not matter, as far as she is a member of the Puritan community and must abide to its laws and principles. Hester is subjected to public judgment. She is faced with the realities of the Puritan life, which leave no room for individuality. The heroine is used as an example of immorality and religious non-compliance – a lesson, which other women of the colony must learn by heart: “It would be greatly for the...