Change in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Change in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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Change in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter In life, one may see that there are not many guarantees. However, the closest one may come to a guarantee is that almost anything in life can change. I believe that change can come in many forms. For instance, change can be a very easy and smooth transition that in the end is a positive thing. Then again there is change that can be tough, and quite difficult to deal with which often is labeled as a negative thing. However, the most significant type of change is one that makes an immediate impact on one¡¦s existence and, in the end, shapes the way things are done now and well into the future.

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In the case of Nathaniel Hawthorne¡¦s The Scarlet Letter, transformations can be seen in several parts of the novel. Specifically, Hawthorne changes the typical way Puritans are portrayed. The Puritan people and their beliefs were used in several texts throughout the history of American Literature. The changes that Hawthorne incorporated into his novel whether labeled as good or bad are the reason why I believe The Scarlet Letter fits into a renaissance period in American Literature.
Puritanism has its roots in the 16th and 17th century as a movement for reform in the Church of England. It had an insightful sway on the social, political, and ethical ideas in England and, subsequently, in America. The Puritan people had many beliefs that were depicted to the fullest in early American Literature. Puritans first believed in the concept of original sin in which all humans were born sinful. Puritans also adhered to the theory of unconditional election or predestination, which was the belief that God saves those he wishes and that few are selected for salvation. Another important aspect to Puritan beliefs was that everything was done as a united community. They stressed the importance of the group rather than the individual. This belief applied to everything from their possessions to their well beings. Puritans felt as long as they had God¡¦s love than that was all they ever needed. Most importantly, however, was the goal of the early Puritans, such as Thomas Cartwright, was to purify the church not to separate from it. Early American Literature writers such as William Bradford and Anne Bradstreet used all of these beliefs to portray Puritans in their works.
The primary function of Puritan writing such as that of William Bradford was to transform God from being such a mysterious being. The Puritans felt God was separate from their world and they didn¡¦t really know Him. Bradford also wrote to make God more relevant to the universe and to glorify him to the readers. In Bradford¡¦s Puritan writing, he consistently portrayed two common themes. These themes were political and religious idealism and pragmatism. In Bradford¡¦s Of Plymouth Plantation, the Puritan people are illustrated with all of their beliefs. The Puritans were generous people who followed the laws of God but not in a strict and punishing way. While Bradford and his followers were trying to settle into their land, they were on many occasions confronted by adversity from others as well as by troubling conditions brought on by their environment. However, Bradford¡¦s followers as written were shown to stand together as a community. They used their Puritan belief that as long as they stood united that God would take care of them according to his divine plan. While enduring these troubling times, Bradford¡¦s Puritans remained peaceful and holy not causing any uproars or dilemmas.
Like William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet also portrayed the basic ¡§everyday¡¨ examples of Puritans in her poems. In her poem Here Follows Some Verses Upon the Burning of Our House, Bradstreet describes how she dealt with her house burning down according to Puritan standards. In the poem it states, ¡§And to my God my heart did cry to strengthen me in my distress and not to leave me succorless. Then, coming out, beheld a space the flame consume my dwelling place. And when I could no longer look, I blest his name that gave and took, that laid my goods now in the dust.¡¨ In this example, Bradstreet portrays the Puritan belief that individual possessions mean very little and that her belief in predestination and God¡¦s original plan for salvation will ease her pain in this troubling time. In the poem it also states, ¡§Yet by his gift is made thine own; there¡¦s wealth enough, I need no more, farewell, my pelf, farewell my store. The world no longer let me love, my hope and treasure lies above.¡¨ Again, Bradstreet is sticking to the original portrayal of Puritans in that they are calm, gentle people and work toward bettering themselves in the eyes of God.
However, Nathaniel Hawthorne takes a very different approach to portraying Puritans in his novel The Scarlet Letter. In his novel, he moves away from the traditional ¡§nice guy¡¨ type of disposition that most Puritans were previously shown as possessing in earlier writings. Hawthorne shies away from the Puritan Theory that they want to purify the church and not separate from it. He exhibits this by showing the town of Salem¡¦s actions toward Hester when she is found to have committed adultery. Instead of trying to purify Hester, they treat her very severely with strict punishments, the most of harsh of which was wearing the scarlet letter ¡§A¡¨ on her breast. They also ostracize her from the rest of community by making her an outcast and making her feel unwanted. Also, they treat Hester as if she has committed the most heinous of sins and that there is no way she can rightly justify her actions. Originally, Puritans held strong to the belief that everyone was born into sin. Therefore, when a sin was committed, though it wasn¡¦t condoned as the right thing to do, it was almost expected from people. The difference between former Puritan portrayals and how Hawthorne depicts them is that Hester was treated as if she was not born with the stigma of original sin. Therefore, when she did commit her sin of adultery, the community reacted as if her action was completely spontaneous and unexpected in nature. It was if every other person in Salem was completely pure and had never committed a transgression against God¡¦s rules. Finally, Hawthorne takes away the portrayal that the Puritan people were a benevolent, gentle, and peaceful community. The beginning of Hawthorne¡¦s novel has Hester on a platform being ridiculed by the whole town of Salem. The townspeople, her fellow Puritans, are yelling at and disparaging Hester because of her sins. They¡¦re very cruel with their words, stares and actions. The basic beliefs that helped shaped how Puritans were portrayed in American Literature were completely altered by Hawthorne into what had now become a ¡§new¡¨ style of Puritans.
Nathaniel Hawthorne¡¦s drastic change in the way he portrayed the Puritan people in his novel The Scarlet Letter can easily show what role Hawthorne and his novel play in American Literature. If one does enough research, they can observe that one of Hawthorne¡¦s main objectives in his writing was to change old ideas and develop a new style, one that Hawthorne could call his own. If it is not obvious enough in his writing, then one must simply take a look at Hawthorne¡¦s life in general. Hawthorne was originally born Nathaniel Hathorne. As an adult he took it upon himself to change his last name by adding the ¡§w¡¨, thus making his name seem more romantic. This is clear evidence that as a writer Hawthorne was looking for his own style. To do so, he would have to change American Literature from what was seen as the ¡§norm¡¨ into his own elaborate and creative, but yet awkward, style. The way Hawthorne changed the portrayal of the Puritan people is just one example of how he attempted to shake up the current status quo of American Literature. With this idea of change, I would place Hawthorne¡¦s writing into a time period of American Renaissance. When one thinks of a renaissance, the first thing that will come to mind is ¡§rebirth¡¨, the literal meaning of renaissance. In the ancient renaissance period, there were drastic changes being made to every aspect of life. Literature, architecture, music, science and theology were all beginning to take on new forms. Although Hawthorne¡¦s writing was not part of this original renaissance, the basic idea of change associated with the renaissance is seen within his writing. In addition, it should be noted that The Scarlet Letter setting is the renaissance period. I believe Hawthorne wanted to change the way American Literature would be written and read throughout the years. The change or ¡§rebirth¡¨ that Hawthorne applied to his writing, especially with the portrayal of the Puritan people, clearly proves that one could call his writing a renaissance or reshaping of literature.
In conclusion, whether Hawthorne¡¦s change in literature was viewed as positive or negative it definitely had an immediate impact on American Literature. The ways Hawthorne took Bradford and Bradstreet¡¦s general portrayal of Puritans and completely reversed them 180„a I believe was significant in the placing of his work into the period of time. I believe that Hawthorne created his own ¡§renaissance¡¨ in American Literature with all of his ideas of change and that the period of time where his literature is best suited is the renaissance period.
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