Hawthorne Critiques Puritan Society in His Works, Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter

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Nathaniel Hawthorne Critiques Puritan Society in His Works, Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter

Many American writers have scrutinized religion through their works of literature, however none had the enthusiasm of Nathaniel Hawthorne. A handful of Hawthorne's works are clear critiques of seventeenth century Puritan society in New England. Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter illustrate his assessment by showing internal battles within characters, hypocrisy in religious figures, atypical punishment for crimes, and accenting women's roles in Puritan society. Firstly, Hawthorne's literature often stresses internal battles in main characters. In both Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter, these battles are between morals and sin (both past and future). In Young Goodman Brown, Brown goes into the woods and meets Satan. Satan, in the form of Brown's deceased grandfather, asks the weary Brown to take his staff. The staff "bore the likeness of a great black snake... almost be seen to twist and wriggle... like a living serpent" (Hawthorne 1237). The comparison of the strangers' staff as a snake is very reminiscent of the Bible's story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God made" (Genesis 3:1) and as we know Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree and succumbed to the serpent's temptation. However, unlike Eve, Brown did not take the serpent-like staff because he knew he was being tested. Goodman Brown was also ethically confronted when he sees his wife, Faith, among a group of high standing community and church members in a circle of religious converts who plan to switch to Satanism. Seeing his adored wife ready to worshi...

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...en upstanding, moral individuals, yet it appears that Hawthorne wants to show us examples of those who were not unblemished.

Works Cited

Angell, Robert. Free Society and Moral Crisis. The University of Michigan Press, 1965.

Hall, Lawrence. Hawthorne: Critic of Society. Gloucester: Yale University Press, 1966.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Scarlet Letter." The Norton Anthology of American

Literature. Julia Reidhead. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1998.

1331-1447.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." The Norton Anthology of American

Literature. Julia Reidhead. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1998.

1236-1245.

Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.

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Reis, Elizabeth. DAMNED WOMEN: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England.

New York: Cornell University Press, 1997.

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