Exceptionalism In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hawthorne’s more secular view of exceptionalism defies the religious exceptionalist standards introduced in John Winthrop’s sermon “A Model of Christian Charity”. While Winthrop expresses the importance of piety and family in an exceptionalist Puritan society, Hawthorne’s Puritan community in The Scarlet Letter does not emulate these qualities in the way Winthrop intended, demonstrating Hawthorne’s desire to condemn Winthrop’s exceptionalist ideals. Winthrop’s “recipe” for exceptionalism is firmly rooted in the importance of religion and strong family values. Winthrop states that it’s the citizens’ duty to “improve our lives to do more service to the Lord; the comfort and increase of the body of…show more content…
Similarly to Winthrop, Hawthorne’s writing contains a lot of references to Christianity, but they run contrary to the character’s supposed natures. Hester, a sinner, looks like the Virgin Mary. On the other hand, someone who should never sin - the Reverend Dimmesdale - has sinned and is connected to the devil. Pearl, notices that Dimmesdale’s sin has poisoned his body and yells “‘Come away, or yonder old Black Man will catch you! He hath got hold of the minister already!’” (Hawthorne 118). Because even the most holy man in the community succumbs to sin, Hawthorne clearly condemns Winthrop's standard of a sinless society, deciding that ultimately no community can achieve that exceptional standard. Hawthorne also writes about family, but deviates from Winthrop’s ideal as Pearl does not have a father who provides for her. Hester, a woman, has to “supply food for her thriving infant and herself” (Hawthorne 74), which she does by selling her needlework. By openly breaking Winthrop’s trope of the father as the provider, Hawthorne again rebels against Winthrop’s view of exceptionalism, and demonstrates that Puritan exceptionalism is unattainable. However, Hawthorne invites the reader to consider a different model of exceptionalism where a community is less reliant on religion, people have more nuanced appearances and actions, and where families still work hard but the
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