The Scarlet Letter Transcendentalism

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic novel, The Scarlet Letter, is not only a blunt critique of Puritan society but also something of a transcendentalist manifesto. An avid proponent of the American transcendentalist movement during the 1800’s, Hawthorne used his writing to disseminate this ideology to the general public. Transcendentalism was an artistic and philosophic ideology that placed emphasis on the individual and was critical of social conformity. As a result, transcendentalists denounced organized and institutionalized religion because they thought individuals ought to create and follow their own moral compass rather than submitting themselves to others’ interpretations of the divine. Owing to this aspect of the philosophy most transcendentalists…show more content…
The church and state were closely married and all sinful behavior was severely punished. Hawthorne uses his novel to critique every aspect of Puritan society; one of the most powerful tools of social critique that Hawthorne uses is the juxtaposition of Pearl and her father, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The contrast of Pearl’s lawless yet objectively more moral life to that of her father, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, is a powerful ironic tool- the two represent transcendentalism and Puritanism, respectively. As the product of adultery, Pearl personifies what Puritan society views as sin, yet she is favored by Nature and thus God. Transcendentalist ideals of freedom and harmony with nature materialize in Pearl. Born an outcast, Pearl has never been beholden to society, which is actually a positive as far as Hawthorne is concerned. This ostracization empowers Pearl in the same way it empowers her mother, by freeing them to pursue thoughts too radical for Puritan disciples. Consider the following excerpt: “[t]he scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong…” (128). Although…show more content…
One of the most compelling scenes that contrasts Pearl and Dimmesdale occurs when Dimmesdale and Chillingworth watch from a window as Hester and Pearl walk across the church graveyard. “[Pearl] now skipped irreverently from one grave to another; until, coming to the broad, flat, armorial tomb-stone of a departed worthy,- perhaps of Isaac Johnson himself,-she began to dance upon it.” (89) This incident epitomizes Pearl’s complete disregard of social norms and expectations. She literally dances on the grave of one of the founders of the Massachusetts colony and thus every value her current society was built on, it borders on sacrilegious. Dimmesdale views her with “nervous dread”, a strange dynamic between adult and child (89). She, his progeny, is far more liberated and powerful than he. Her total indifference for convention frightens Dimmesdale but perhaps also inspires awe. This dynamic continues throughout the novel. When Dimmesdale kisses Pearl’s cheek during their interaction in the forest she, “stooped over [the brook], and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcomed kiss was quite washed off…” (136). This vehement rejection is precipitated by his oft repeated response to her oft repeated question of if he will embrace his sin and stand with them in public, to
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