Shame and Guilt in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay

Shame and Guilt in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay

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External Shame vs. Internal Guilt
The author of The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing clearly reflects his historical and religious background. Hawthorne was born in Salem during the early 1800s. During the infamous Witch trials of the 1600s, his ancestor, John Hathorne, presided as a judge. This connection with the Witch trials surely influenced Hawthorne’s view of shame and guilt. Puritans of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter attempted to embody an idealistic, pure society. The view they held regarding infidelity was that it was atrocious (D’Emilio). Puritan’s would order public confessions to make an example of those that defied the laws of church and state. (Fessenden). The Scarlet Letter exemplifies the intrepid view of morality held by the writer. Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter allegorizes that shame is advantageous for freedom while buried guilt only leads to demise.
The history and religious background of Hawthorne’s life exemplifies his penchant for the topic of morality. In Melvin Askew’s article, the author proposes that Hawthorne was specifically concerned with consequences in a life. In Askew’s article, he provides a summation with an insightful statement of Hawthorne’s intention, “…the profound, psychological complex of experience and knowledge that leads to maturity of mind and heart” (Askew). The historical and religious framework must be considered when analyzing Hawthorne’s works.
The theme of The Scarlet Letter exemplifies allegorical purpose. The protagonist, Hester, is faced with external shame which ultimately leads to her freedom. In contrast, Dimmesdale’s hidden guilt leads to his demise. These characters embody the contrasting psychological result of both shame and guilt. Askew defines maturity ...


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... Myths and Legends of Our Own Land: 1896. Vol. 2. S. L.: Kessinger, 2008. Print.

V. “shame." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011.
--"guilt." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2011.
Web. 14 April 2014.


6. Askew, Melvin W. "Hawthorne, the Fall, and the Psychology of Maturity." Critical Insights: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Lynch Jack. Salem Press, 2010. Salem Literature Web. 21 Apr. 2014.
7. Georgieva, Margarita. "The Burden of Secret Sin: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Fiction." Critical Insights: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Lynch Jack. Salem Press, 2010. Salem Literature Web. 21 Apr. 2014.
8. Johnson, Claudia D. "Hawthorne and Nineteenth-Century Perfectionism." Critical Insights: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Lynch Jack. Salem Press, 2010. Salem Literature Web. 21 Apr. 2014.
9. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Scarlet Letter.”

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