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Morality in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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Morality in The Scarlet Letter

"...pain is in itself an evil; and indeed, without exception, the only evil; or else the words good and evil have no meaning." (Chase 127) In the novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne presents a very clear view of his stand on morality, which he carefully cultivates through the course of the story. The moral, which is "Be true!" applies equally well to all of the characters in the novel. Though his view does seem to stand as true through the length of the story, it does not, unfortunately, transfer as smoothly to our lives today. In essence it is a hedonistic view to take, which requires a slight stretch as to his interpretation as to how evil, and important, an individual's pain is unto itself. By looking at each of the main characters in turn, it may be determined exactly what his view was on this subject, and how it may be applied to life in our society today.

Because his moral is more explicitly defined as "Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, some trait by which your worst may be inferred!" Hester Prynne is a sound example, for she did exactly that. She could not, and did not, hide her sin, and as a result wore it clearly at all times on her breast, hiding nothing. While at first it may seem as though she was punished more than any other character, because she was so physically punished, Hawthorne makes it clear that she was the most satisfied character in the novel, eventually finding peace with herself because she had no pressing secrets to gnaw at her conscience. Physically, however, the Puritan imposition of punishment was harsh, and unyielding. It brought her below many of the men and women of the town, and had the psychologic...

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.... 47-49). San Diego: Greenhaven.

Canby, Henry S. (1996). "A Skeptic Incompatible with His Time and His Past." Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne (pp. 55- 63). San Diego: Greenhaven.

Chase, Richard (1996). "The Ambiguity of the Scarlet Letter." Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne (pp. 145-152). San Diego: Greenhaven.

Gartner, Matthew. "The Scarlet Letter and the Book of Esther: Scriptural Letter and Narrative Life." Studies in American Fiction (1995): 131-144.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: St. Martins, 1991.

Loring, G. B. (1850). "The Scarlet Letter and Transcendentalism." Massachusetts Quarterly Review [On-line], pp. 1-6. Available: http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/loring.html

Scharnhorst, Gary. The Critical Response to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. New York: Greenwood, 1992.
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