Self-imposed Isolation Essay

Self-imposed Isolation Essay

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Nathaniel Hawthorne was a prolific writer, weaving some of the best-known stories in American literature. While Hawthorne’s works tend to focus around the Puritan themes of sin, he was usually critical of Puritan ideals. Some of Hawthorne’s works (“Young Goodman Brown”, “The Minister’s Black Veil”, and The Scarlet Letter) have characters living life outside of their Puritan communities and can be classified as outsider narratives. Young Goodman Brown, Reverend Hooper, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Hester Prynne are all outsiders in their communities, but what makes the characters unique is that they chose to be outsiders.
The Scarlet Letter, perhaps Hawthorne’s most famous work, is also an excellent example of an outsider narrative: most major characters introduced in the book can be labeled as outsiders. The most obvious examples of outsiders in the book are Hester and Dimmesdale, though Dimmesdale’s isolation is subtler in the eyes of his community. Stromberg argues that Hawthorne uses these outsider figures as stand-ins for the Devil (275). While Hester and Dimmesdale are quite obviously outsiders, it seems odd to say that they are representative of the Devil since Chillingworth seems to transform into an unsavory character throughout the book. However, Stromberg does express the core reason why Hester and Dimmesdale can be considered outsiders in the eyes of the Puritan community:
The mark of the [Devil], which both Hester and Dimmesdale war in their different ways, is the sign of disassociation from community, the sin which they committed in violating the laws of their society, and which they commit again in the desire to make themselves happy at the expense of everyone around them. (275)
Happiness, a force that usually brings ...

... middle of paper ...

... coined. Though Hawthorne’s characters had a choice, they always took the choice that led them away from their community. However, it seems that Hawthorne did not see this as a terrible option: when his characters turn away from their society, their life becomes more enlightened. Enlightenment, it seems, is more importantly that belonging in Hawthorne’s opinion. For the two ministers, Dimmesdale and Hooper, the departure from society is quite effective in their professional careers as the new outlook on life makes them more powerful preachers. With Hester and Brown, though there is some doubt on how their lives benefitted from their exit from community. Still, if the characters are viewed through a philosophical lens, their egress is of great benefit to them. By exiting the community Hawthorne’s characters find what they have all been searching for: enlightenment.

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