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Romanticism v Puritanism

By dgotthelf15 Jan 15, 2014 658 Words
11 November 2013
Scarlet Letter
In The Scarlet Letter, Nathanial Hawthorne tries to incorporate the Puritan and Romanticist ways that were apparent at the time that the story takes place. Throughout the ending chapters one can really see the difference between the Puritan traditions and the incoming Romanticism showing through. Hawthorne, being raised a Puritan, can portray the strict and dark ways of the Puritans through different characters and actions.

One might say that Hester Prynne and Pearl represent the Romanticism at the time because they are so bright and more liberal. Hawthorne shows their light heartedness by saying, “Pearl set forth, at a great pace, and, as Hester smiled to perceive, did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the midst of it, all brightened in its splendor, and scintillating with the vivacity excited by rapid motion” (166). This quote really shows the less strict Romanticism that is within Pearl and Hester. Arthur Dimmsdale on the other hand strongly represents Puritanism because of his strict rules and strong beliefs in G-d and G-d’s word. Pearl frequently refers to Dimmsdale as “the black man”, implying that his presence has darkness upon him.

In the beginning of the book, the crowd showed a cold vibe that gave the idea of the strictness in a Puritan society. Hester was shunned and forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest for committing adultery. It was described as, “a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical” (47). Throughout the story the main idea was how the Puritanism traditions were fading. For example the people start to take the scarlet letter less seriously than they did before. Hester does not seem to be looked at in the same kind of way that she was before. People somewhat look up to Hester for being so strong and proud of her letter.

The biggest moment of change from Puritanism to Romanticism is when Hester takes off her letter in the forest. The heavy burden of the letter and the pressure of the Puritan people was lifted off of her. With the letter gone, “Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit” (182). This is the point where the Romanticism comes into play. Her moment of freedom represents her letting go of Puritanism. She also, “took off the formal cap that confined her hair;” (182) letting her dark hair fall down upon her shoulders. These are free spirited acts that are not necessarily accepted in the strict society.

As soon as the letter was put back on, Puritanism came back. She was still burdened with the letter in the middle of her chest showing to the world that she had sinned. She placed the letter back upon her breast and tied her hair back up gaining back the Puritan ways. Her joy seemed to disappear the moment it went back on. Even, “a grey shadow seemed to fall across her” (190). Even Dimmsdale seems to change slightly. He wishes to tell the townspeople about his sin. He starts to write his speech to read on election day.

Puritanism and Romanticism are opposite traditions. Puritans are tough and strict and Romanticists are more liberal and free spirited. Hawthorne made it evident in the story the different ways of the two religions. The drastic difference is also ironic in the sense that the two that came together were complete opposites. Hester is more of a Romanticist and Dimmsdale is more of a Puritanist. Though Dimmsdale went back on his puritan ways toward the end of the book, there was a point where him and Hester were both showing signs of being more of a Romanticist. Pearl remains the same throughout the whole story, but contains characteristics from both parents. Her free spirit came from her mother, but it was clear that she followed some of the strict Puritan ways as soon as she realized her mother removed the letter.

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