The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Nathaniel Hawthorne’s background influenced him to write the bold novel “The Scarlet Letter.” One important influence on the story is money. Hawthorne had never made much money as an author and the birth of his first daughter added to the financial burden (biographical note VII). He received a job at the Salem Custom House only to lose it three years later and be forced to write again to support his family (IX). Consequently “The Scarlet Letter” was published one year later. It was only intended to be a lengthly short story, however the extra money a novel would bring in was needed (Introduction XVI). In addition to financial worries, another influence on the story is Hawthorne’s rejection of his ancestors. His forefathers were strict Puritans, and John Hathorne, his great-great-grandfather, was a judge presiding during the Salem witch trials (Biographical note VII). Hawthorne did not condone their acts and actually spent a great deal of his life renouncing the Puritans in general. Similarly, “The Scarlet Letter” was a literal “soapbox” on which to stand and tell the world that the majority of Puritans were cold and unfeeling. For example, before Hester emerges from the prison she is being scorned by a group of women who feel that she deserves a larger punishment. Instead of only being made to stand on the scaffold and wear the scarlet letter on her chest, they suggest that she have it branded on her forehead or that she be put to death (51). Perhaps the most important influence on the story is the author’s interest in “the dark side” (Introduction VIII). Unlike the transcendentalists of the era, Hawthorne “confronted reality, rather than evading it” (VII... ... middle of paper ... ...ength” (167). In closing, one of the most important reasons that “The Scarlet Letter” is so well received is the way Hawthorne leaves the novel open to be interpreted several different ways by his abundant use of symbolism. His background, together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and important literary devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne to develop the theme of the heart as a prison. Hawthorn describes the purpose of the novel when he says, “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worse, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” (272). The theme is beneficial because it can be put into terms in today’s society. “The Scarlet Letter” is a book that will be timeless, because it deals with alienation, sin, punishment, and guilt, emotions that will continue to effect every generation to come.
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