【Key words】Acceptance Doubt The Scarlet Letter 【Abstract】 Nathaniel Hawthorne, a well - known American writer in 19th century, was deeply influenced by puritan thoughts. Because of the complication of Puritanism itself, Hawthorne’s attitude towards it was also complicated. Acceptance and doubt was co - existence. On one hand, the author admitted puritan thoughts and its values; on the other hand, he criticized the effect of Puritanical ethic morality on human spirits. His masterpiece, The scarlet Letter, shows his acceptance and doubt toward Puritan ethic morality. ⅠIntroduction Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was written in 18th century. The setting of The Scarlet Letter is the 17th century in Boston, America. Before proceeding to the analysis of Hawthorne’s attitude toward Puritanism in the novel, some fundamental definitions need to be established. Who were the Puritans? What is their ideology and lifestyle? What is the author’s family background? ⅡPuritans To understand the origins of Puritanism and its position with regard to other Christian religions, let us look at a simple diagram:
We see from this that the Puritans are classified in the larger sense as Christian, in a narrower sense as Protestant, and in a still more specialized sense as Calvinist. They regarded Catholics as their chief opponents. Ⅲ Puritans’ ideology and lifestyle Puritan is the name given in the 16th century to the more extreme Protestants within the Church of England. These Protestants thought the English Reformation had not gone far enough in reforming the doctrines and structure of the church. They wanted to purify their church. In the 17th century many Puritans immigrated to the New World, where they sought to found a holy Commonwealth in New England. “The Puritans did not allow religious dissent (holding different religious belief).They insisted that high position, and achievements were signs of ‘eternal grace’, that is, favor of God, and they wanted to force God’s will on the rest of mankind. Puritan tradition also involved a respect for learning which led to the establishment of schools and the spread of literacy.” Puritanism remains the dominant cultural force in that area into the 19th century. It should be pointed out that Puritans were a group of serious, religious people, advocating highly religious and moral principles. They believe that the church should be restored to complete “purity”, they accepted the doctrine of predestination, original sin and total depravity, and limited atonement through a special infusion of grace from God. Puritans’ lives were extremely disciplined and hard. Ⅳ Hawthorne’s family background Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem, his hometown, has ever been the place where Puritanism forces are rampant and several generations of his ancestors are fanatic Puritans. His family was of Puritan belief for generations and had been prominent in the area since colonial times. Therefore, the rich Puritanism thought from his family has deep-rooted effect on Hawthorne. Hawthorne knew Bible very well and went to church frequently. However, things like the witch trials, where innocent people had to die, could happen in his Puritan hometown of Salem, which led him to the opinion that the fusion of religious dogma and political authority was the worst evil. He was also shocked by the Puritan injustice, and was convinced that there was both good and evil in Puritanism. On one hand, he assails Puritan criminal behaviors such as religious fanaticism and impermissibility to heresy; on the other hand, he takes the religious basic creed as the criterion to cognition and judgment. The contradictive mentality is typically and deeply represented in his masterpiece “The Scarlet Letter”. Ⅴ The summary of the story The novel, The Scarlet Letter, is about the struggle three people face while trying to live their lives in a Puritan society. In the early 1640s, Hester has come to the small town of Boston, Massachusetts, from Great Britain, while her husband, Chillingworth has left to deal with something .But after then, there is no news about him and nobody know whether he is alive or not for two years. Then she falls in love with Dimmesdale, a young handsome clergyman and then has a baby, Pearl. When her “adultery” is discovered, she is punished to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her chest all her life. Her husband, Roger, tries his best to torment Dismmesdale. And Dimmesdale, suffering from both physical and spirit torment, announces his “sin” at last, he dies an honest man. Roger, withers at last. Prynne, restructures her life and wins people’s respect. Pearl, leaves for Europe, marries a noble family, leading a happy life. Ⅵ Character list A) Hester Prynne A young woman sent to the colonies by her husband, who plans to join her later but is presumed lost at sea. She is a symbol of the acknowledged sinner; one whose transgression has been identified and who makes appropriate, socio-religious atonement. B) Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale Dimmesdale is the unmarried pastor of Hester's congregation; he is also the father of Hester's daughter, Pearl. He is a symbol of the secret sinner; one who recognizes his transgression but keeps it hidden and secret, even to his own downfall. C) Pearl Pearl is the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. She is the living manifestation of Hester's sin and a symbol of the product of the act of adultery and of an act of passion and love. D) Roger Chillingworth The pseudonym assumed by Hester Prynne's aged scholar-husband. He is a symbol of evil, of the “devil’s handyman,” of one consumed with revenge and devoid of compassion. Ⅶ Hawthorne’s attitude toward Puritanism in The Scarlet Letter We can find out the author’s ambivalent feelings about Puritanism by analyzing the four main characters in the novel. A) Acceptance Hawthorne chooses to use God’s criteria to decide whether or not a person is sinful. And he believes that every sin must be punished. First, we should know what God’s criteria is. God’s criteria is chiefly The Ten Commandments and The Seven Deadly Sins. The Ten Commandments:
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride; Lechery; Envy; Wrath; Sloth; Glutton
1 Hester Prynne Obviously, according to these criteria, Hester Prynne is quite sinful. She is sinful because she disobeys God by committing adultery. When Chillingworth --- Hester Prynne’s husband sent her to the New World, although there was no love at all between the couple, she shouldn’t forget that she had already got married. She had a husband, who was just missing at that time. However, she could not control her vicious desire and had a love affair with the minister --- Dimmesdale. That’s insult to God. That’s betrayal! In such a situation, Hester Prynne forgot God’s instruction and was completely degenerated. So from the very day of her crime, Hester Prynne has to bear all the sufferings that follow. She would be looked down upon by others. Then the two lovers has ever decided to flee to Europe, where they can live with their daughter Pearl as a family .They feel a sense of release there. However, their plan fails. Every sin must be punished. 2 Dimmesdale Dimmesdale represents the consequences of dishonesty. Dimmesdale is a hypocrite in that he preaches and urges people to be honest and godly when he himself is hidden in his sin. From the time Dimmesdale hides his sin of the "scarlet letter" on his chest, it develops and its affects are not stopped until he confesses his sin. Dimmesdale is isolated from the community because of the sin that he has hidden within him. He is unable to be his real self within the community because he knows that he is not what he seems to the public. His sin keeps him from being true to himself and interacting with his community.His situation illustrates what happens when one buries one's sins and does not atone for them. From Dimmesdale's character, readers are supposed to learn that sooner or later, they will be faced with the consequences of their sin, regardless of their attempts to avoid them. 3 Chillingworth Chillingworth is completely unable to forgive or pardon. At first, he was a victim; at last, he entirely became a ruthless devil. He seems to forgive Hester, but actually transfer his rage onto Dimmesdale, whom he pursues relentlessly. Chillingworth, in his way, has sold his own soul to the devil, essentially disowning it, in the hopes of appropriating Dimmesdale’s vitality. Chillingworth is self-absorbed and both physically and psychologically monstrous. His single-minded pursuit of retribution reveals him to be the most malevolent character in the novel. However, his sinister acts toward the end of the novel are ameliorated somewhat by his choice to leave his estate to Pearl. B) Doubt Is Hester's initial crime a sin? Did Chillingworth’s selfishness in marrying Hester force her to the “evil” she committed in Dimmesdale’s arms? Is Hester and Dimmesdale’s deed responsible for Chillingworth’s transformation into a malevolent being? These are all questions Hawthorne brought to us. 1 Hester Prynne Hester betrayed her husband and went against the principle of honesty according to Puritanism, so she must accept the penalty in the puritan society. She has to serve time in prison, stand on the scaffold for three hours and wear a scarlet "A" for the rest of her life. Hester was also hurt by the way the people treated her socially after her punishment on the scaffold. She had to a cottage on the outskirts of the town, totally isolated from the rest of the citizens. Even the children knew that Hester was shunned from society. The people punish Hester harshly and shun her socially. For the public, Hester’s punishment is reasonable. They don’t pay any pity on her, but take her punishment as one way of amusing themselves. Let us think about the situation. When Hester’s old ugly husband has left her alone for more than two years, and no one knows whether he is alive or not, Hester meets this elegant young man. It is quite nature for her to fall in love with Dimmesdale. Is she really deserve this hard punishment? Adultery is nothing but the original sin of human being. God’s punishment to Adam and Eve is just sending them forth from the Garden of Eden. But in The Scarlet Letter, Hester is tortured physically and mentally. Hester says to Dimmesdale in the forest later, “What we did had a consecration of its own, we felt so!” In essence, their sin is no worse than Adam and Eve’s. The punishment of puritan society is somehow too hard on a woman who is led by human instinct. In the whole story, Hester generally kept silent, accepted the insult from adults to children in the puritan society. In fact, she showed extreme strength and courage to resist the bias of the Puritanism by her good deeds. She was always the first one to help people in trouble; gradually she won people’s respect by her benevolence. She spent most of her time on embroidery and Pear, her fancy work was elegant and incomparable, which made people admire her ability. She didn’t only struggle for the right of her own but also for a new world where both men and women could possess the equal right to love. She was an Amazon against the Puritanism. 2 Pearl Pear is another evidence which shows Hawthorne’s doubt against Puritanical ethic morality. She was viewed almost as a ghost in the Puritans’ eyes. However, in little Pearl’s mind, the scarlet letter is the first thing she got used to. It was the token that her loving –tender-care mother ware quite opposite to the puritan’s outlook. She didn’t consider the scarlet letter on her mother’s breast as a sign of shame, but an undispatchable part of her mother. Her idea about “A” was a rebellion against the Puritan society. Pearl didn’t go with the society which she lives in. Like a brave warrior in the battle, she fights forcefully against the puritan. Fortunately, nature offers her warmth to Pearl, from the beginning to the end, the sunshine is always with her. At the end of the novel, Pearl left England to Europe, leading a happy life, which announced an affirmation from the author that Pearl would be unable to obtain happiness in the strict and severe Puritanism society. Ⅷ Reason for the dichotomies To some extent, Hawthorne was a Puritan because of his Puritan origin. It was Puritanism that has led to today’s American achievement oriented society. But Hawthorne described the Puritan society of the 17th century as narrow and relentless. What has made Hawthorne have ambivalent feelings about Puritanism? On one hand, the rich Puritanism thought from his family has deep-rooted effect on Hawthorne. He can feel an instinctual connection to it and, more importantly, a “sense of place” in Salem. Their blood remains in his veins. He knows a lot about Puritanism. On the other hand, Puritanism itself owns the complicated state that positivism and negativism are coexistent. Hawthorne is doubtful to some doctrines and dogmas. In his days, American capitalism was developing rapidly, and the social structure was changeable. He couldn’t understand this change, and tried to explain it. At this moment, he happens to know Transcendentalism, which rejects the Puritan religious attitudes and it opposes the strict ritualism and dogmatic theology of all religions. What attracted Hawthorne in Transcendentalism was its free inquiry, its radicalism, its contact with actual life. As a result, Hawthorne’s attitude towards Puritanism was split. There were things he was absolutely in favor of and things he condemned from the depth of his heart. Ⅸ Conclusion In conclusion, through The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorn highly praises the beauty of human nature and comprehends the Puritan thought and values which deeply influence the Americans. However, he also condemns the negative impact of Puritan society on people’s spirit. And at the same time helps people to realize the dark side of Puritan: harshness and persecutions. Ⅹ Bibliography [ 1 ] Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter [M ]. Beijing Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 1994. [ 2 ]陈冠商. 霍桑短篇小说集[M ]. 济南:山东人民出版社,1980. [ 3 ]常耀信. 美国文学简史[M ]. 天津: 南开大学出版社,1990. [ 4 ]王海珍. 霍桑的罗曼司小说模糊风