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Impact of the Puritan Setting Upon the Characters in The Scarlet Letter and The Minister's Black Veil
This essay will examine the thematic relevance to the Puritan setting and its impact upon the characters and their development in both "The Scarlet Letter" and the short story, "The Minister's Black Veil." These two texts detail an accurate portrayal of what I assume the Puritan community to represent. This is partly because of the Puritan background within the works, but also considering that the main characters of these are deeply rooted within the Puritan faith and are, in different ways, in the public eye and are under separate scrutiny as a result of such. Mr. Hooper, being a minister, is considered a beacon and an exemplar of faith and righteousness in his community. One bright Sunday morning, Reverend Hooper dons a black veil to his congregation and lectures on sin and its appearance, or lack thereof. His congregation is outraged but intrigued by his use of the symbolic sheath. Since his sermon focuses on the "secret sin" of his parishoners and the entire community, they are drawn to assume that Mr. Hooper, himself, carries with his a "secret sin" which he is hiding from underneath his veil.
Now Hawthorne titles this short story as a parable which leads one to conclude that the veil is used a not only a symbol of "secret sin" but a paradox. His congregation is so concerned and obsessed with his personal sins that they forget about their own; this was the intent of Mr. Hooper's veil: to cause them to reflect upon their own spiritual status and to confess their sins. But the Puritans, notorious for their pride within practice and fallacy within faith, ignore this allegorical costume and sensationalize his message. Because, after all, Mr. Hooper must be hiding SOMETHING underneath that veil of his... The second character under scrutiny by their community and this English major is Hester Prynne, a young woman forced to don a scarlet letter "A" to signify to herself and to her community that she is a marked sinner. The letter, much like the veil, is an exterior symbol of appearance which is a popular device of Hawthorne; the outward appearance is an important aspect of the Puritan faith in that it reflects upon the interior climate. Interestingly, these symbols and their stewards are instituted for the benefit of the community.
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The Puritan faith believes that some members have been ordained as elect and saved and that others have not and just have to suffer through this life. God has chosen his people and the community makes it very clear as to who is saved and who is not. I guess one could call it very ELITIST. No better place to put someone on display for alleged wrongdoing. People are so consumed with others lives and "spirituality" that they completely ignore their own. This is because the actions of individuals are put in the spotlight for public scrutiny. The veil and letter are successful devices because of the shallowness of the Puritan community, especially those portrayed within these two works. The outsiders miss the point completely, the allegory is lost, but we see a positive result in "The Scarlet Letter." Found in the conclusion is a description of Hester's growth as a result of the letter. Being able to withdraw herself from her mundane surroundings and ideals, she is able to gain perspective and see the reactions of her community for what they really are. She is sought out by women in the community for advice because of her experience and the resulting wisdom she has gained. The true righteousness and genious within these works lie within the two put on display for their community; inflicted with seemingly dark and wicked symbols, they are able to stand on the other side of the madness and judge themselves and judge for themselves.
Hester and Hooper definately have the advantage within these two scenarios because they embody the true, pure faith and are tainted by trite and petty symbols. These symbols are misinterpreted and sensationalized by their communities, thereby proving that pride and unrighteousness are pervasive within them. These poor people just missed the point and Hester and Hooper are gaining wisdom, insight and just laughing to hell at them.