Ridged Puritan Society in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Ridged Puritan Society in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter:  Ridged Puritan Society

 

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, life is centered around a rigid Puritan society in which one is unable to divulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Every human being needs the opportunity to express how he or she truly feels; otherwise the emotions are bottled up until they become volatile. Unfortunately, society did not permit this kind of expression; thus characters had to seek alternate means to relieve their personal needs and desires. Luckily, at least for the four main characters, Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a kind of "shelter" for members of society in need of a refuge from daily Puritan life.

In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the pivotal characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest track leads away from the settlement out into the wilderness where all signs of civilization vanish. This is precisely the escape route from strict mandates of law and religion, to a refuge where men, as well as women, can open up and be themselves. It is here that Dimmesdale openly acknowledges Hester and his undying love for her. It is also here that Hester can do the same for Dimmesdale. Finally, it is here that the two of them can openly engage in conversation without being preoccupied with the constraints that Puritan society places on them.

Truly, Hester takes advantage of this, when Arthur Dimmesdale appears. She openly talks with Dimmesdale about subjects which would never be mentioned in any place other than the forest. "What we did..." she reminds him, "had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said to each other!" This statement shocks Dimmesdale and he tells Hester to hush, but he eventually realizes that he is in an environment where he can openly express his emotions. The thought of Hester and Dimmesdale having an intimate conversation in the confines of the society in which they live is incomprehensible. Yet here, in the forest, they can throw away all reluctance and finally be themselves under the umbrella of security, which exists.

In Puritan society, self-reliance is stressed among many other things. However, self-reliance is more than stressed- it is assumed. It is assumed that you need only yourself, and therefore should have no emotional necessity for a "shoulder to cry on".

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Once again, for people in the stations of life which Hester and Dimmesdale hold, it would be unthinkable for them to comfort each other. Yet, in the forest, these cares are tossed away. "Be thou strong for me," Dimmesdale pleads. "Advise me what to do." (p. 187) This is a cry for help from Dimmesdale, finally admitting he cannot go through this ordeal by himself. With this plea comes an interesting sort of role-reversal. When Dimmesdale asks for help, he is no longer sustaining the belief that he is above Hester. He is finally admitting that she is an equal, or even that she is above him. This is possibly one of the reasons that Puritans won't accept these emotional displays- because the society is so socially oriented. Hester, assuming a new position of power, gives a heartfelt, moving speech. The eloquence of her words cannot be overemphasized, and a more powerful statement had yet to be made in the book. Hester's speech turns out to bear a remarkable resemblance to one of Dimmesdale's sermons. "Begin all anew! ... Preach! Write! Act!"(p. 188) The questions she asks are also like the articulate questions which Dimmesdale would pose during his sermons. The answer is obvious, yet upon closer examination they seem to give unexpected results. "Whither leads yonder forest-track? Backward to the settlement, thou sayest! Yea; but onward, too! Deeper it goes, and deeper into the wilderness... until, some few miles hence, the yellow leave will show no vestige of the white man's tread." (p. 187) If one looks at the title of this chapter, the meaning becomes much clearer. "The Pastor and His Parishioner" reveals that the roles are now reversed.

Finally, the forest brings out the natural appearance and natural personality of the people who use it correctly. When Hester takes off her cap and loosens her hair, we see a new person. We see the real Hester, who has been hidden this whole time under a shield of shame. Her eyes grow radiant and a flush comes to her cheek. We recognize her as the Hester from Chapter 1. The beautiful, attractive person who is not afraid to show her hair and not afraid to display her beauty. The sunlight, which previously shunned Hester, now seeks her out, and the forest seems to glow. Dimmesdale has also come back to life, if only for a short time, and he is now hopeful and energetic. We have not seen this from Dimmesdale for a long time, and most likely will not see it ever again.

Puritan society can be harsh and crippling to one's inner self. Hawthorne created the forest to give the characters a place to escape and express their true thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. It was here that thoughts and ideas flowed as endlessly as the babbling brook, and emotion was as wild as the forest itself. There are no restraints in the natural world, because it is just that, natural. No intrusion from people means no disturbance in the natural order, and therefore serves to bring its inhabitants away from their world, and into this older one. I believe Michel Eyquem de Montaigne stated it most emphatically when he said "Let us permit nature to have her way: she understands her business better than we do".

 

1.      Underline titles of novels.

2.      Be careful using the brackets.  Most of the time commas will serve the purpose.  When you are explaining what you mean, go ahead and use your explanation instead of both.  For example, your sentence “It is here [the forest] that Dimmesdale” could correctly either be written “It is here, the forest, that Dimmesdale” or “It is in the forest that Dimmesdale.”  Also on the fourth page, the sentence “They [the readers] see the real Hester” could correctly be written either “They, the readers, see the real Hester” or “The readers see the real Hester.”

3.      When quoting, exclamation marks count as the punctuation.  So instead of punctuating the quote twice, “Preach! Write! Act!” (Hawthorne 188). The correct punctuation would be “Preach! Write! Act” (Hawthorne 188)!

4.      Also when quoting, […] is not needed to begin or end the quote.  So “… it” would correctly be written “it.” 

5.      You make good use of your quotes, giving proof to your arguments.

 
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