The Scarlet Letter and Hawthorn’s Theory of Romance

The Scarlet Letter and Hawthorn’s Theory of Romance

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The Scarlet Letter and Hawthorn’s Theory of Romance



             Nathaniel Hawthorn started writing The Scarlet Letter in 1847

and it was published in 1850. The Scarlet Letter is recognize by many

"critics as being one of the greatest of American novels."1 Hawthorn

created his own individual style of "romance," a style of writing. His own

individual style of writing is now called "Hawthorn's Theory of Romance".

His "theory of Romance" is  emphasized in The Scarlet Letter in many

different ways. The techniques Hawthorn used in  The Scarlet Letter are

basically from his "theory of Romance." Hawthorn uses his "theory of

Romance" in many different ways in The Scarlet Letter.



           Hawthorn being a Romantic writer incorporates many

characteristics of Romanticism and also includes his "theory of Romance" in

the novel. Some romanticism ideas he incorporates are those of heroic

characters which would include Hester Prynne "It had the effect of a spell,

taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her

in a sphere by herself."2 A heroic character is "bigger than those found in

ordinary life" and also is strong, brave, noble, risky and powerful.

Another characteristic he includes is the writing of mysterious events such

as the adultery of Hester, the birth of Pearl and the return of her husband

Roger Chllingworth.



          The uses of the "theory of Romance" by Hawthorn follows an order.

The order is initiated by Hawthorn looking for to write on a serious topic.

The topic is the adultery of Hester, Pearls birth, the revenge by

Chillingworth and the hypocrisy of Dimmesdale. Then he chooses the setting

of his characters "On the outskirst of town, within the verge of the

peninsula, but not in close vicinity to any other habitation, there was a

small thatched cottage."3 The small cottage is Hester's home which is

isolated from society. This is a characteristic of a heroic character which

is Hester.



            His next step is to choose characters who have lived in real

life and to associate them with fictitious characters. The fictitious

characters being Hester Prynne, Roger Chllingworth, Reverend Dimmesdale and

Pearl. The real life character being Governor Bellingham. "Here, to witness

the scene which we are describing, sat Governor Bellingham himself, with

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four seargents about his chair."4 Richard Bellingham was Governor of the

Massachusetts Colony in 1641,1654,1665-1672. Another real life character

was that of Reverend John Wilson. "The voice which had called her attention

was that of the reverend and famous John Wilson, the eldest clergyman of

Boston."5 John Wilson was one of the first settlers in 1630 and became a

leading Puritan minister. Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, Pearl,

Reverend Wilson, and Governor Wilson all associate with one another, two of

them being real life characters and four of them fictitious characters.



          After having chosen his characters and settings, now he must

describe them as being a "strange mixture of the real and the unreal."

Hawthorn starts out by describing the main character which is Hester. "The

young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale."6

His describing her with having a perfect figure. Hawthorn then describes

Chillingworth "..., at the first instant of perceiving that thin visage,

and the slight deformity of the figure, ... ."7 He describes Chillingworth

with a deformity on his shoulder. Chillingworth has special characteristic

that makes him unreal. That characteristic are his eyes "..., he felt her

pulse, looked into her eyes, -a gaze that made her heart shrink and

shudder."8 Chillingworth's power is with his eyes.



             Hawthorn follows his descriptions of Reverend Dimmesdale. "...,

half frightened look,- as of a being who felt himself quite astray and at a

loss in the pathway of human existence."9 Dimmesdale also has an unreal

side to his character and real side too. That unreal side is that of

Dimmesdale's voice. "The young pastor's voice was tremulously sweet, rich,

deep, and broken."10 His voice was so powerful that when he spoke before

the crowd in Hester's trial everyone thought that Hester would confess the

guilty name. "So powerful seemed the minister's appeal that the people

could not believe but that Hester Prynne would speak out the guilty

name."11 The description of Pearl is the next description that Hawthorn

describes. Pearl has no friends and is very evil to her mother and mostly

to everyone "She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, the

flightiness of her temper, and even some  of the very cloud-shapes of

gloom."12 The characteristic that makes her unreal is her wilderness and

the tendancy not to obey what Hester tells her to do "..., that Hester

could not help questioning, at such moments, whether Pearl were a human




            Hawthorn's final step in his "theory of Romance" is what he

calls "atmospherical medium." "Atmospherical medium" is the ability to

manupulize the light in the scenery to illuminate the shadows in the

scenery. An example of this is when Hester is let out of jail for her trial.

"Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man,

woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave  apparel, from this

time till an hour past meridian."14 The quote is saying that after an hour

past noon the crowd will be able to see Hester. During noon the light is

very bright and Hester is seen by everybody. Another example is the stories

people would tell about her "..., tinged in an earthly dye-pot but was red-

hot with infernal fire, and could be seen glowing all night, whenever

Hester Prynne walked abroad in the night-time."15 The quote is saying that

whenever Hester would walk at night the scarlet letter would be bright red

and it would be the focus of everyone.



              In conclusion, Hawthorn uses his "theory of Romance" in many

ways. His theory follows an order. First to write on something serious,

then to write about the scenery and to choose real life characters and

fictitious characters. The theory then follows Hawthorn describing the

characters being real and unreal. And finally his most important technique

of his theory. That technique is his "atmospherical medium" which is the

ability to manipulate the light in the scenery to illuminate the shadows in

the scenery. His theory is what makes him such an important figure in

literature in the whole world. "It is because of his mastery of that form

of fiction known as the "romance" ..."16

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