The man Nathaniel Hawthorne, an author of the nineteenth century, was born in 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. It was there that he lived a poverty-stricken childhood without the financial support of a father, because he had passed away in 1808. Hawthorne was raised strictly Puritan, his great-grandfather had even been one of the judges in the Puritan witchcraft trials during the 1600s. This and Hawthornes destitute upbringing advanced his understanding of human nature and distress felt by social, religious, and economic inequities. Hawthorne was a private individual who fancied solitude with family friends. He was also very devoted to his craft of writing. Hawthorne observed the decay of Puritanism with opposition; believing that is was a mans responsibility to pursue the highest truth and possessed a strong moral sense. These aspects of Hawthornes philosophy are what drove him to write about and even become a part of an experiment in social reform, in a utopian colony at Brook Farm. He believed that the Puritans obsession with original sin and their ironhandedness undermined instead of reinforced virtue. As a technician, Hawthornes style in literature was abundantly allegorical, using the characters and plot to acquire a connection and to show a moral lesson. His definition of romanticism was writing to show truths, which need not relate to history or reality. Human frailty and sorrow were the romantic topics, which Hawthorne focused on most, using them to finesse his characters and setting to exalt good and illustrate the horrors of immorality. Nathaniel Hawthornes experiences as a man, incite as a philosopher and skill as a technician can be seen when reading The Scarlet Letter.
The man, Nathaniel Hawthornes religious background, seclusion from society, and devotion to his craft can be related to his novel The Scarlet Letter. His religious upbringing as a Puritan is what gave him the knowledge to write about Bostons Puritan society in his novel. Hawthornes great-grandfather, who one of the judges at the Puritan witchcraft trials, was like the magistrates of The Scarlet Letter that attempted to make a society that would be a Utopia of human virtue and happiness. A further parallel found between Hawthornes life and the novel is the element of seclusion found in each. Hawthorne secluded himself from society with his few family members and close friends. In the same way Hester Prynne was secluded from society in her little, lonesome dwelling that stood on the shore, looking across a basin of the sea at the forest-covered hills toward the west out of the circle of the town. Prynne now felt in every gesture, every word and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere. In addition to the similarity Hawthorne and Prynne had in their isolated lifestyles, there is another correspondence in their devotion to their crafts. Hawthorne was dedicated to his craft of writing. He read all that he could and wrote in journals and for publications. Prynne was so dutiful to her craft that she offered up a real sacrifice of enjoyment in devoting so many hours to such rude handiwork” just as Hawthorne did with his writing. It was described that she had a taste for the gorgeously beautiful, which, save in the exquisite productions of her needle, found nothing else in all the possibilities of her life to exercise itself upon. These examples show how Hawthornes experiences as a man contributed to his novel, The Scarlet Letter.
Hawthornes philosophized that the Puritan obsession with sin undermined instead of proliferated virtue, which can be seen when reading The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne had a discrepancy with the moral decay of Puritanism. He held strong opinions on sin and had a firm moral sense. Hawthorne also theorized that man should seek the highest truth in all parts of his life. In his novel The Scarlet Letter Hawthornes philosophies can easily be perceived. Hawthornes commentary in his book that the outward guise of purity was but a lie, and that, if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom besides Hester Prynnes was in fact his view of the Puritan church. Hawthorne believed that Puritanism focused entirely too much on visible saints, who from what human eyes could see were perfectly sinless. These supposedly sinless people were automatically accepted into the church. In his novel, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was the most tremendous visible saint of all, and had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office with the townspeople. However, he was the most hypocritical having been Hester Prynnes partner in adultery. The rigidity of Puritanism and its emphasis on original sin is what Hawthorne felt undermined morality. It is this same harshness that kept Dimmesdale silent for many years fearful of the consequences of confessing his sin publicly because he fears the penaltydeath. He longed to speak out from his own pulpit at the full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was. Yet, this could not happen in the Puritan society. This iron hand the church held over communities of the time is what Hawthorne resented. It only led people to bury their sins deeper in their hearts, just as Dimmesdale did in The Scarlet Letter.
Hawthorne, a Romantic writer, used his technical skills of allegory and light/dark imagery in The Scarlet Letter to enlighten his readers with truths. He was very allegorical, using characters and plot together to portray a moral lesson. Pearl is used in this novel as an allegory for truth. Throughout the work Pearl acts in ways that are untypical of someone of her infancy. Yet, Hawthorne uses it to bestow upon the reader a lesson. Pearl says that the reason her mother wears the scarlet letter is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart. In reality a truth such as this would not be know to a seven-year-old. Hawthorne uses Pearl to show that regardless of how deeply hidden sins are, like Dimmesdales is, the truth will be revealed. Roger Chillingworth is also an allegory, for revenge. His character has no other part in the plot other than to seek cold-blooded retaliation on Dimmesdale. As time went on there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed, and which grew still more obvious to the sight, the oftener they looked upon him. This description of Chillingworth is like revenge itself, growing more and more hideous as time goes on until it totally consumes a person. Hawthorne also manipulates the atmosphere of his novel to enlighten his readers with a moral lesson. The light/dark imagery he uses represents the Puritans hiding of their sins. In The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale only stands on the scaffold with Prynne and Pearl at midnight. In the dark, when no one is looking he is willing to show the world his part in Prynnes adultery. As Pearl, the allegory for truth says to Dimmesdale, Thou wast not bold! thou wast not true! Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand, and Mothers hand, tomorrow noontide! Pearl also communicates truths to her mother through the same light/dark imagery. Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. Another follows this example, when Prynne attempts to reach out and touch a bit of sunshine, which is pouring trough an opening in the leaves and as she attempted to do so the sunshine vanished. Examples such as these show Hawthornes use of allegory and light/dark imagery to jockey his characters and setting to elevate good and to illuminate the horrors of evil.
the scarlet letter