Romanticism In The Scarlet Letter

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During the Romantic Period in American literature, Nathaniel Hawthorne looked back at the behavior of the Puritans in American history and, in The Scarlet Letter, offered a scathing view of their strict religious standards and harsh attempts to control people’s behavior. By Hawthorne’s time in the mid-1800s, society had relaxed its strict religious standards, advocating that people follow their individual consciences rather than adhering to a morality dictated by society. It was with this focus on a person’s right to pursue that which he deems valuable and right that Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter. His sympathetic and at times admiring tone in writing about the village adulterer, Hester, demonstrates that he believes the town is wrongly…show more content…
However, although Hawthorne criticized the Puritans’ rigidity, he did not take the directly opposite view and embrace a life with no moral guide at all. According to critics Joyce Moss and George Wilson, Hawthorne was at least part of the transcendentalist movement, which pushed for individual freedoms and independence of thought from religious traditions (357). He believed there are no exact rules that are correct for everyone to follow in order to guarantee a solidly moral life. In fact, following someone else’s rules, Hawthorne felt, was the surest way to live a misguided life. Critic Mark Van Doren adds that Hawthorne did not believe there is no such thing as sin, but he did believe that to sin is a violation more against oneself than against God. Hester’s punishment is not the business of the townspeople because it is impossible for them to determine how she should make her soul right with…show more content…
He makes a general observation that any one of the townspeople would be worthy of criticism when he notes, “If truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom. . .” (78). Hawthorne continues this tone of disapproval in his derogatory description of the town beadle as being like “ a black shadow emerging into the sunshine, the grim and grisly presence. . . . This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law” (34). By describing the public official of the beadle in such a way, Hawthorne makes clear his negative opinion of the Puritan community. Critic David Sorrells writes that the beadle is a symbol of “moral evil” because he measures out punishments that are “hypocritical” but which the Puritan people sanction. Hawthorne describes the judges who sentence Hester in a similarly derogatory way: “They were, doubtless, good men, just, and sage. But, out of the whole human family, it would not have been easy to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons who should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring woman’s heart” (70). Again, by singling out the most respected members of the community for such harsh criticism, Hawthorne demonstrates that his opinion of the Puritan moral code is negative. Likewise, the Puritan children are described as “somber little
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