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Romanticism, Reason, and Puritanism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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Romanticism, Reason, and Puritanism in The Scarlet Letter



The novel, The Scarlet Letter, is about the struggle three people face while trying to live their lives and find happiness 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, ties up all of the loose ends back in Great Britain.  Hester and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the town's priest, engage in the act of adultery and produce a baby girl named Pearl; though, only Hester knows that Dimmesdale is the father.  She has promised Dimmesdale not to reveal his identity.  Hester is put on display in front of the entire town to punish her, and to also serve as an example in hopes that it will deter others from sinning.  She is then put in jail with her young child for a few months and is forever made to wear a scarlet letter "A," which stands for "Adultery."  Hester's husband, Roger Chillingworth, who had been captured by native American Indians on his way to New England and held in captivity for two years, escapes and enters the town of Boston.  After learning of what Hester had done, Chillingworth poses as a doctor and vows to discover the identity of Hester's partner in sin.  Hester agrees to keep his true identity a secret, too. 


Each character in the novel represents one or more philosophies including Romanticism, Reason, and Puritanism that one could adhere to in life. Romanticism focuses on the individual and preaches finding truth, Reason, involves the belief that one can use logic to solve anything and a perfect society will create perfect men, and Puritanism, where all t...

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...d the sinful act of adultery with his wife.  His logic and reason guide him to his answer but his drive to know eventually weakens and kills him.  Reverend Dimmesdale strayed from his Puritan beliefs when he committed adultery.  His struggle is not with Reason or Romanticism but with his steadfast adherence to the Puritan beliefs.  Dimmesdale does not find reason within himself for his relationship with Hester nor does he reveal the truth about his sinful relationship until he realizes he is dying.  Nevertheless, this last attempt to clear his conscience results in his death.


True happiness escapes all three characters except one and that is Hester.  Hester blended the philosophies of Reason, Romanticism, and Puritanism and was able to live life comfortably.  Philosophies, a person can't have just one.


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