Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is, at times, a piece that seems intended to drive one beyond any hope of reasoning. Its occasionally overpowering allegorical symbolism or its seemingly eclectic mythology can certainly seem like a purist allegory designed to imbue in one the fear of eternal sin. However, when one takes the time to read beyond the simple story and to realize the true nature of Hawthorne's verbal artistry, it becomes clear that the piece is, as stated by Richard Chase, “a novel with beautifully assimilated allegorical elements” (149). With regards to Hawthorne's mythology, Chase's assertion is, perhaps, less accurate but no less reasonable. Throughout the novel one finds a rich mythology supplemented with allegorical aspects of both characters and settings that indeed encompasses all that Chase presents even as it extends beyond his ideas into a deeper, more meaningful work of art.

Beginning at the heart of Hawthorne's novel, one might first notice the complex mythology about which Hawthorne has draped his tale of adultery, vengeance and redemption. In Chase's essay, he first quotes one Mrs. Leavis saying that Hawthorne's mythology is “'based on the ritual celebration... of the English folk with its Catholic and ultimately pagan roots'” (149). He then goes on to refute this idea, as he suggests that Mrs. Leavis “might have seen that there is no central unifying cultural 'myth' in Hawthorne – only a clear perception of historical facts and an ability to endow these with beauty and significance” (149). While both of these views are, to a point, correct, neither one entirely manages to encompass Hawthorne's foundation. Chase states that Hawthorne's “myth” is nothing more than beautified history. While this i...

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... history. It is instead a portrayal of a New England folk-lore that went beyond Puritanical and old English beliefs. Chase is redeemed in his portrayal of the novel's allegorical elements. He expresses a lack of concrete form and a wealth of detail that is clearly seen in both the characters and the settings of the novel. This painting of allegory upon the canvas of a new mythos creates a fascinatingly rich picture of the depths of human tendency and the New England vista in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Works Cited

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim's Progress. New York: Washington Square Press, 1957. Print.

Chase, Richard. “The Ambiguity of The Scarlet Letter.” Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed.

Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996. 145-152. Print.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc.,1850. Print.
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