Idealism, Logic, and Puritanism in the Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, is about the struggle three people face while trying to live their lives and find happiness in a Puritan society. In the early 1640s, Hester comes to the small town of Boston, Massachusetts, while her husband, Roger Chillingworth, settles business in Great Britain. Hester and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the town's priest, engage in the act of adultery and produce a baby girl named Pearl; though, only Hester knows that Dimmesdale is the father. She makes a promise to Dimmesdale not to reveal his identity. Hester is put on display in front of the entire town to castigate her. So that she might serve as an example that it will deter others from sinning. She is then put in jail with her young child for several months and is forever made to wear a scarlet letter "A," which stands for "Adultery." Hester's husband, Roger Chillingworth, is captured by American Indians on his way to New England. He is held in captivity for two years before escaping and entering Boston. After learning of what Hester had done, Chillingworth poses as a doctor and vows to discover the identity of Hester's partner in sin. Hester agrees to keep her husband's true identity a secret too..
Each character in the novel represents one or more philosophies including idealism, logic, and Puritanism. Idealism focuses on the individual and advocates finding truth. Logic involves the belief that one can use judgment to solve anything, and a perfect society will create perfect men. Puritanism is a philosophy in which one 2.
believes that God is the only thing that truly matters.
In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses Hester Prynne's undeterred obedience to multiple philosophies, one being idealism. Roger Chillingworth's rigid devotion to logic, and Arthur Dimmesdale's steadfast loyalty to Puritanism to show his audience that sincere and absolute contentment can never be attained by strictly following only one philosophy.
Hester Prynne represents a number of philosophies: logic, Puritanism, and idealism. Early in the novel, following Hester's term of imprisonment, she is free to travel anywhere in the world, but she chooses to stay in Boston. Her decision to examine her state of affairs so that she can produce a reasonable rationale for remaining in Boston is proof of Hester's use of logic. While Hester's decision to stay is largely a product of her using logic, society's Puritan influence also plays into her decision process. Puritanism teaches her that the most significant part of life is her personal relationship with God. Hester deeply believes that because she has sinned, she must remain in Boston and undergo penance for her transgression. Many critics view Hester as a heroine, "She has sinned, but the sin leads her straight away to a larger life [
] the sin elaborated itself into nothing but beauty"(Darren 50).
Hester Prynne holds idealistic qualities that quietly urge her to flee, but she ignores them and stays in Boston. She allows her sin to alienate her from society so much that she decides to live in a small thatched cottage on the outskirts of town. Hester follows her instincts, falls in love with Dimmesdale, and gives birth to Pearl. Due to her alienation, Hester is forced to follow her instincts more closely, and trust her 3.
judgment. On the outskirts of town, virtually alone, she is free from the influences of the townspeople and is able to make her own decisions without any biased opinions.
A clear example of Hester's idealism can is seen when she and Dimmesdale are in the forest. Anthony Trollope tells us, Then there is the scene, the one graceful and pretty scene in the book, in which the two meet, -the two who were lovers, - and dare for a moment to think that they can escape [
] She flings away, but for a moment, the badge of her shame, and lets down her long hair [
] and shines out before the reader...
Bibliography: Able, Darren. "Hester the Romantic." A "Scarlet Letter" Handbook. Ed. Seymour Gross. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Wadsworth, 1961. 49 - 56.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Scarlet Letter." The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Ed. Nina Bayme, Arnold Krupat, Robert S. Levine. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2007. 1352 - 1493.
Loring, George B. "Hester Versus Dimmesdale." The Scarlet Letter: An Authoritative Text, Essays in Criticism and Scholarship. Eds. Richmond Croom Beatty, Scully Bradely, Seymour Gross, and E. Hudson Long. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1961. 185 - 188.
Trollope, Anthony. "The Genius of the Scarlet Letter." Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter: An Annotated Text, Backgrounds, and Sources, Essays in Criticism. Eds. Richmond Croom Beatty, Scully Bradely, and E. Hudson Long. New York: Norton, 1962. 231 - 236.
Van Doran, Mark. "The Scarlet Letter." Hawthorne: A Collection of Critical Essays. ed. A.N. Kahn. 3rd ed. New Jersey: Spectrum, 1996. 129 - 140.
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