The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne resisted the idea that humanity had divine potential and acknowledged the reality of evil. Hawthorne believed that every society needed to have a jail and grave yard, “ The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison” (2331). He thought that people are naturally evil and sin so a jail was needed to keep evil people and influence away from society. Hawthorne’s beliefs are seen in The Scarlet Letter. The reoccurring theme of “the power of blackness” and the uneven balance of transcendental and puritan views are apparent throughout the novel.

“The power of blackness” brings out the sin and the worst in all of us including the people we least expect to be evil. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne and the minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, have secret meetings leading to an affair in the forest. As a result of their affair, a child is born. Since Hester is the mother, she cannot hide the fact that she is the mother of the child or that she has had an affair and is punished with jail time and a scarlet letter pinned to her bosom that she must wear for the rest of her life. However, the minister’s sin remains a secret. Although Hester and Dimmesdale’s love and passion are natural compared to the relationship of Hester and Chillingworth, an arranged marriage to a much older man, their love and affair is still a sin.

The sins of Hester and Dimmesdale bring out the darkness and evil in other people starting with Doctor Chillingworth. After Chillingworth learns about Hester’s affair with ...

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...y then did nature respond to her, “Such the sympathy of nature…filling the heart so full of radiance that it overflows upon the outward world” (2413). If Hawthorne were a transcendentalist, Hester would have only had to go into nature to reach God. There wouldn’t have had to go through that process.

The Scarlet Letter portrays many of Hawthorne’s anti-transcendentalist views and ideas. His characters, Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth represent the power of blackness and how everyone is naturally evil. These characters have brought the evil in each other. Hawthorne also shows an uneven balance between the views of a transcendentalist and the Puritan society.

Works Cited

Lauter, Paul, and Richard Yarborough. "The Scarlet Letter." The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. Vol. B. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 2331-444. Print.
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