Hawthorne’s Religious Bias and The Scarlet Letter

Introduction

As a male 19th century writer, Hawthorne’s works are often assessed on how they treat womanhood and interact with a feminist conversation. When looking at his short work “Mrs. Hutchinson,” there is a clear picture of the dangers of female agency, especially on spiritual matters. From this, a reader could draw conclusions about Hawthorne’s bias towards passive women; however, Hester Prynne’s dissent complicates this view of Hawthorne’s bias. The Scarlet Letter leaves readers to question: is Hester empowered? Is Hawthorne making a statement about gender roles? Or is he using female characters to illustrate a larger point about dissent?

By looking at Hawthorne’s religious background and his views of women in history, this essay seeks to make sense of Hester’s challenges to the Puritan system and Hawthorne’s contribution to a conversation on the relationship between spirituality and religion. This essay will look closely at the religious language and actions attached to Hester in particular. It requires that we assess the religious culture existing both within and outside of the text from a feminist literary perspective; however, in order to glean the full scope of Hester’s heroism, we must acknowledge that Hawthorne uses Hester to express spiritual power despite her gender. This essay will assess the ways that Hawthorne establishes Hester not as a “scribbling woman,” but as an emblem of spiritual freedom in a society defines by stringent, patriarchal, religious values.

We will find that Hester’s moral rebellion is more than a crime of passion and does not end with her act of adultery. Her moral rebellion is instead an act of agency that allows her to be not only a damning example of adulterous pain, but an empowering example of spiritual female agency. Newton Arvin, a nineteenth century biographer and scholar often noted for his orthodox reading of Hawthorne, provides, a popular reading of The Scarlet Letter in which Hester and Dimmesdale’s fates are largely a Godly punishment for their sins. To see Hester only as a sufferer and victim of her own sins, does not do justice to the spiritual contemplations a resulting agency that Hester achieves throughout the text. To call Hester a victim and a sinner ignores the complexities that Hawthorne provided his female character despite his biases. She continues to rebel socially, symbolically, and, above all, spiritually. Hester acts out against the patriarchy with the only weapon that her community cannot rob her of: her spirituality.

Like Hutchinson, Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter begins to challenge the religious doctrine she was taught. Scholar Nina Baym portrays Hester as a powerful heroine in a society that does not allow women much power. She argues that throughout The Scarlet Letter, Hester becomes more and more of a social radical. Yet, in contrast to Anne Hutchinson, she focuses more on individuals rather than a greater social goal. In contrast to Baym’s “Passion and Authority in The Scarlet Letter,” this text maintains Baym’s claim while also taking into account Hester’s socially radical ending and illustrating the extent of her power specifically through a religious and spiritual lens.

Historical and Biographical Context

 In order to thoroughly assess Hester’s spiritual situation, I will create a historical context for the religious and gender-related conflicts in The Scarlet Letter. When contemplating Hawthorne’s views on women and spirituality, historical Puritan values are significant, but only to the extent that they were understood by Hawthorne and his contemporaries. How were women spiritually understood in Puritan New England? Why is this significant to Hawthorne? There is an extent to which Hawthorne’s understanding of the Puritans references his understanding of the events of his present.

The New England Puritans based their political and social structure on the value of unity for the sake of survival. In Hubbard’s 1815 historical account of New England he assertes:

That which our Saviour once affirmed concerning a kingdom, is as true of the smallest colony, or puny state, or at least society of mankind, that if it be divided against itself cannot stand; and how can divisions be avoided where all sorts of people are to be at their liberty, whether in things civil or sacred, to do all that doeth, and nothing but what doeth seem good in their own eyes (61).

Although the Puritans left England as outsiders in search of freedom, survival requires that their societies could not include personal freedom. Instead, Puritans are satisfied with freedom that is earned on a communal level. As a result, religious freedom to the Puritans is not defined by the freedom for their citizens to follow their own spiritual practices and beliefs. Religious freedom to the Puritans is the ability for the community to uphold a single set of beliefs, morals, values, and practices.

Because of Puritan rhetoric, spirituality, even if only in private contemplations, requires a rebellion from a much-feared image of the Puritan God. Johnathan Edwards[JG6] , in his sermon Sinners in the Hands on an Angry God, asserts that “wickedness” of any kind could convince God to cast a soul to damnation with ease and ambivalence. He states:

So that thus it is, that natural men are held in the hand of God over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold ’em up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them and swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out; …In short they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God. (Edwards, 10-11)

Through vivid imagery, this passage implants a deep fear of hellfire within the listener. It is this fear that is intended to keep the members of the congregation on a perscriptive spiritual track or else risk the punishment not only of a harsh community, but of a wrathful, unsympathetic God. To break from these spiritual beliefs, as this paper will argue Hester does throughout the Scarlet Letter, is both radical and dangerous.

Puritan marriage customs play a large role in illustrating the authoritarian hierarchy in New England society. In some ways, Puritan marriages are more equal that one might expect. English Puritan Thomas Gataker explains that a wife is a “yoke fellow” (21) to her husband. This implies that the labor of the household should be shared equally between husband and wife. Despite this moment of equality however, women are still called by God to be submissive to their husbands. Gataker goes on to explain that,

Then Man is the womans head; and Christ the mans head; and God Christs head. As Christ therefore is subiect to God, and the man vnto Christ, so the woman to the man… And the husband to rule the wife as the head or soule doth the body. And as it is against the order of nature that the body should rule the head: so is it no lesse against the course of all good order, that rthe woman should vsurpe authoritie to her selfe ouer her husband, her head (9).

By comparing submission of a wife to her husband to the submission of Christ to God, Gataker claims that this is not only a social norm that must be followed, but a religious requirement for the Puritan community. Despite the perceived moments of equality in Puritan texts, their structured society is ultimately patriarchal. Women who challenge the spiritual beliefs of the time are not just attacking religion, they are challenging a patriarchal system.

Throughout his life, Hawthorne struggles to reconcile his Puritan heritage with his own religious beliefs; ultimately, he found himself in a spiritually ambiguous position. By Hawthorne’s generation, a moment od religious turmoil in Salem, the church had developed into six separate churches. Throughout his childhood, each institution took on varying degrees of liberalism and orthodoxy as well as differing views on trinitarian philosophy. Growing up in Salem, Hawthorne was subjected to a large amount of religious turmoil. Historian Margaret Moore claims, “that the people of Salem in the nineteenth century took church membership or lack thereof more seriously than most do today. Signing a covenant with others of like mind usually showed a commitment to certain principles, not just family loyalty or a feeling that it was the right thing to do” (105). Hawthorne grew up amongst spirited conversations, each side claiming to have some possession of truth, thus influencing his spiritual and religious contributions from The Scarlet Letter.

            Moore also indicates Hawthorne’s tendency to engage in religious ambiguity, perhaps in response to the popularity of camp meetings or “revivals” during his lifetime. The revivalists pushed an emotional approach to religion and encouraged masses to a prescriptive approach to religion and spirituality. Throughout his life, Hawthorne was outspokenly critical of these practices (116). Instead, Hawthorne went through life as a religious “wanderer.” Moore explains that:

What seems to me to be clear is that in the Salem he knew he inhaled a great many doctrines, but found little meaning in such precise formulations. In this he agreed with Job, who finally admitted that he was finite and had uttered things ‘too wonderful for me’ (42:3). But Hawthorne also absorbed the conviction that religion was significant. Secular Hawthorne’s writings are not; they exude an ‘instinct of faith’ that may be fractured, but that retains a vitality reacting to or drawn from the very air of Salem (122).

There is an extent that Hawthorne rejects the religious structures he was raised around, yet there is also an extent which he embraces them. In looking for and presenting in his writing an “instinct of faith,” Hawthorne searches for spiritual meaning in his life rather than distinct religious meaning.

Understanding Hester’s Religion and Spiritually

It is important to distinguish the difference between Hester’s religion and spirituality. This is a conversation that Hawthorne engages with throughout his life, so it is not surprising that Hester is caught in between the two concepts. Spirituality is defined as “The quality or condition of being spiritual; attachment to or regard for things of the spirit as opposed to material or worldly interests” (“Spirituality” 3.a). While being religious requires submission to a community’s moral code, spirituality can be an individual pursuit. It can be characterized by a character’s contemplations and personal beliefs in the beyond rather than solely through a person’s interactions with an already established system. In the case of The Scarlet Letter, Hester and the other characters are deeply intertwined with the religious structure, but greater attention is given to Hester’s contemplations on what is divine and mystical. Hester does not act on her contemplations, but in a community where the all-seeing eyes of God are constant, Hester’s mere contemplations are radical. Although Hester’s character does not always fit into the mold of modern feminist thought, Hawthorne structures her contemplations in a way that allows her to take ownership of her spirituality.

In contrast, religion is defined as, “Belief in or acknowledgement of some superhuman power or powers (esp. a god or gods) which is typically manifested in obedience, reverence, and worship; such a belief as part of a system defining a code of living, esp. as a means of achieving spiritual or material improvement” (“Religion” 5.a). Within The Scarlet Letter, religion is the strict set of practices and moral and spiritual beliefs set up by the larger community. Hester’s punishment, since it comes from a strict set of moral values, is an act of religion rather than spiritual belief.

In response to Hawthorne’s own Puritan background, the general premise of the novel involves a discussion of religion and the dangers of the prescriptive moral standards that come with it. Hester is punished by the community for adultery: a moral offense rather than a physical one. She commits a crime not on her own spiritual nature (which can only be determined by her own contemplations), but against “the congregation’s” religious beliefs. The first exposure the reader gets of the community’s outrage is through the women of the community. An unnamed woman says, “People say… that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to heart that such a scandal should have come upon have come upon this congregation” (37). Focusing on the pastor, Hawthorne draws attention to the religious institution rather than a personal spiritual affront. This is further reinforced by discussing the suffering of “the congregation”’ rather than the individual. Her public shame is a result of the doctrines that have been absorbed by a theocracy.

Hester’s External Rebellion

Hawthorne confronts his Puritan past, by attacking its core values through the worthy Heroine of Hester. Although Hester is a part of the religious community, she spends more time throughout the novel being confronted by and challenging religious systems than participating in them. Hester acknowledges that she behaved immorally within the boundaries of Salem. She admits this when confronted by her husband, he tells him, “I have greatly wronged thee” (51). At no point in the novel does Hester claim to be innocent for her crime. Despite these moments of acknowledgement, Hester does not pursue unyielding loyalty towards her husband as a repentance for her sins; instead she chooses her own spiritual wellness in favor of a defined system of sin and punishment. While Hester endures her punishment, she does not seek to remain faithful to Roger Chillingworth, the twisted identity that represents her husband. Hester’s spiritual beliefs are revealed in the way she prioritizes love and personal happiness over her community’s religious values. Chillingworth is described as, “a striking evidence of a man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only, for a reasonable space of time, undertake a devil’s office” (104). Because of Chillingworth’s torture of Dimmesdale, he becomes a figurative embodiment of devil. At this point, Hester is not choosing between staying faithful to her husband or her lover, she is choosing between being faithful to “a devil” and her freedom. She chooses between a what the unified Puritan system would encourage for the sake of survival, and her own spiritual welfare.

Despite Hester’s acknowledgement of her sin, she also indicates a divine power that has been bestowed upon her. She displays this power symbolically in her presentation of the letter. The letter is described as “so fantastically embroidered and illuminated on her bosom” (39). This draws criticism from the crowd of gossiping women below, concerned that such a punishment should be simply rendered. When we are introduced to Hester as an embroiderer, the narrator explains that the letter:

“Here indeed, in the sable simplicity that generally characterized the Puritan’s mode of dress, there might be an infrequent call for the finer productions of her handiwork… public ceremonies… and all that could give majesty to the forms which all new government manifested itself to the people, were, as a matter of policy, marked by stately and well conducted ceremonial, and a somber, but yet a studied magnificence. (54)

Those in positions of power employed use of intricate embroidery to provide a sense “majesty,” otherwise embroidery like that of Hester’s letter was against “Puritanic modes of dress” (54).   Although “majesty” is often used to describe royal power, the middle English term referred to the greatness of God. At the point that Hawthorne is writing, especially in such a religious context as this, “majesty” was often used according to the middle English definition. (“Majesty,” def. I.1.a). Hester embroiders her letter with intricacy in order to claim the majesty she feels is justified to herself as a spiritual entity.

Hester continues to assert a Godly power when she asserts motherhood over Pearl. She must prove to Governor Bellingham that she is worthy of keeping her child. She says:

“God gave me the child!” cried she. “He gave her in requital of all things else which ye had taken from me. She is my happiness! She is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me, too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a millionfold the power of retribution for my sin? Ye shall not take her! I will die first! (72)

She mentions that Pearl is her punishment, but it is Dimmesdale who develops that claim for the governor. In contrast, Hester focuses largely on her spiritual duty and fulfillment she finds in Pearl. Dimmesdale affirms Hester’s Godly role in Pearls life: “God gave her the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its nature and requirements, —both seemingly so peculiar, which no other mortal being can possess” (73). Despite her role in the community as a sinner and an outcast, Hester takes ownership over her spiritual power as a mother.

Hester takes her Godly role as a mother and perverts the Puritan expectation by making Pearl into a mystified symbol. By naming her daughter after a precious object, she attaches a symbolic significance to her daughter at birth. The text states that, “She named the infant ‘Pearl,’ as being of a great price, purchased with all she had, her mother’s only treasure!” (58) Her daughter is not a gift from God, nor a product of her motherly duties. Instead, she is purchased from God at the price of Hester’s sin; Pearl is not a gift but rather a punishment. By creating a parallel between Pearl’s name and Matthew 13.45-46[1] Hawthorne establishes that Pearl is Hester’s “kingdom of heaven.” The act of replacing God with her daughter in the face of her sin is not an act of repentance, but an act of spiritual restructuring.

Hawthorne strengthens the contrast between the Puritan image of God with Hester’s contemplation of God by describing Pearl with religiously ambiguous language.  Pearl is described as a “spirit messenger” sent by “Providence” (109). The term “spirit messenger” could fit in the Christian vocabulary, but it more accurately reflects the mystical tone used to discuss Pearl throughout the novel. Pearl is a messenger of the “spirit,” and while this leaves room for “the spirit” of the Puritan God, the term is not exclusive to one understanding of God’s power. Similarly, the term “Providence” could refer to God’s providence, but it is not limited to the idea. It only establishes that Pearl is a provision provided to Hester; it does not determine the source of that provision. Hawthorne’s description of God’s role in Pearl’s birth is ambiguous, thus showing Hester’s willingness to consider the concept of divine intervention outside of rigid Puritan beliefs.

In a society that focuses on unity for the sake of survival, Hester’s removal of the wealthy Pearl from the New England Puritan landscape places independence above the survival of the community. The conclusion of The Scarlet Letter makes a point to mention that, “had the mother and child remained here, little Pearl at a marriageable period of life, might have mingled her wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan among them all” (153). Because Hester used her maternal power to give Pearl the opportunity to live an independent life, she denied the opportunity to wash the “wildness” out of her lineage through the Puritan community. Pearl is not creating new citizens of Salem, and therefore she denies the community both her contributions to repopulation and the opportunity to purify her lineage.

Although Hester is outcasted by her community, she still is able to consider the divine on a personal level, thus breaking from the religious structure using her spirituality. For example, Hester finds rebellion by contemplating Pearl’s purpose beyond punishment, but by using Pearl as a structure for redefining the nature of God’s wrath. In Hester’s temptation to confide in her daughter and share the true meaning of the scarlet letter, she contemplates the God’s true purpose for Pearl, “Hester had often fancied that Providence had a design of justice and retribution, in endowing the child with this marked propensity; but never, until now, had she bethought herself to ask, whether, linked with that design, there might not likewise be a purpose of mercy and beneficence” (110). Not only does this passage assert Hester’s shift in the perception of her daughter, it asserts of God’s role in Pearl’s purpose which makes Hester question the nature of God’s grace. The Puritan God described by the community surrounding her is wrathful and seeks to punish those who sin. This is the reason that Hester is allowed to keep Pearl after she is released from jail, but is this the reality of Pearl’s role in her life? If Pearl has been bestowed upon Hester as an aid in trying times, then the divine authority who sent her breaks Puritan expectations of wrath and punishment. This contemplation reveals to Hester the possibility of a graceful God; this is a strong contrast from the God who is presented to her throughout her punishment.

Hester’s Internal Rebellion

As a dissenting woman in Puritan society, Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter is often compared to Hawthorne’s portrayal of Anne Hutchinson. Amongst idealistic visions of early America as a frontier of liberation and romantic thought, in his short work, Mrs. Hutchinson, Hawthorne draws light to a less anticipated sect of Puritan values: uniformity for the sake of survival. Providing context for Hutchinson’s trial, Hawthorne states, “Unity of faith was the star that guided these people over the deep, and a diversity of sects would either have scattered them from the land to which they had as yet so few attachments, or perhaps have excited a diminutive civil war among those who had come so far to worship together” (161). Anne Hutchinson was thrown out of her Puritan community for testing the boundaries of Christianity, asserting a doctrine that claimed heaven was attainable through methods rather than predestination. Although she still subscribes to many of the same beliefs as her opposition, her rebellion from the spiritual norm was perceived as a threat to the wellbeing of a community that survived according to the doctrines of unity.

In portraying Anne Hutchinson’s trial, he presents a religious battle that is distinctly gendered thus showing both an admiration and fear of the spiritual power of a female leader in both Puritan society and Hawthorne’s bias. Hutchinson is often referred to throughout the text as “the woman,” thus reminding the reader that he is not only discussing the dangers of religious dissent, but the “strange and dangerous opinions” (160) from “the gentle sex” (159). This fear is articulated at the beginning of the text when Hawthorne states regarding the women of his time, “But there are portentous indications, changes gradually taking place in the habits and feelings of the gentle sex which seem to threaten our posterity with many of those public women, whereof one was a burthen too grievous for our fathers” (159). By referring to “our” posterity, Hawthorne initially draws battle lines between dissenting women and society in general; however, he edits these lines when he refers to the Puritan society attacked by Hutchinson’s views as “fathers.” Hawthorne asserts that in attacking a patriarchal system, dissenting women pose a threat to a unified society in general.

However, when introducing The Scarlet Letter into the conversation, the balance between Hawthorne’s commentary of gender roles and religion becomes complicated. Hester may engage with the patriarchal system in certain ways, but ultimately, her spirituality does not align with the spiritual nature of the Puritan expectations, thus drawing similarities between Hester and Hutchinson. Both women are rebels against the Puritan system, yet Hawthorne paints each woman in a very different light. Hutchinson is a dangerous woman and a threat to the well-being of society. Meanwhile, Hester is a victim of a society that doesn’t acknowledge moral relativism. The reader is left to question why Hawthorne draws a distinction between the two women in similar situations. How is Hester’s spiritual rebellion and more palatable to the 19th century man than Hutchinson’s similar dissent?

Lang claims that Hester is a literal translation of Hutchinson’s actions. She committed adultery in the same way that Hutchinson’s break from the religious unity of the community betrayed that community. According to Lang, the key difference between the two women is the “correction” that Hawthorne provides at the end of the text. She claims that Hester is the image of what Hutchinson rejected in insistence that she teach both men and women. Lang goes on to explain, “Winthrop articulated the orthodox position, based on Titus, that older women might teach younger ones ‘about their business, to love their husbands and not make them clash.’ Hester becomes the teacher Hutchinson should have been” (189). By understanding The Scarlet Letter with a Gender Studies lens, this view understands Hester by assessing the extent of her agency as a woman, but does it assess the power of her character as a whole? By looking at Hester not as Hawthorne’s epitome of an ideal woman, but as his epitome of an ideal spiritual life, readers get a larger view of Hester’s true agency.

Hester complicates her own perception of her spiritual change by aligning herself with the false prophetess Jezebel in the conclusion of the novel. Lang identifies Hester as an “American Jezebel” based on her behavior throughout the novel. Hester’s potential awareness of her status as a “Jezebel” comes to light in the conclusion of the novel. Revelations describes Jezebel and her crimes:

But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. (Revelation 2:20-24)

At the end of the novel, the narrator explains, “Earlier in life, Hester had vainly imagined that she herself might be the destined prophetess, but had long since recognized the impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman stained with sin, bowed down with shame, or even burdened with lifelong sorrow” (155). Despite Hester’s spiritual rebellion, Hester rejects her role as an active leader in her society. Because of Hester’s “seduction” of the previously pious Dimmesdale and her empowerment throughout the early stages of her punishment, Hester already reminds readers of the false prophetess Jezebel. By indicating her desire to be a “prophetess,” Hester further asserts this parallel because Jezebel too claimed to be a prophetess according to Revelation 2:20.

Despite Hester’s self-identification as Jezebel, she does not necessarily redact her spiritual rebellion on a personal level, but it does indicate the internal nature of her rebellion in contrast to Hutchinson’s vocal dissent. Hester still has her rebellion: but she does not seek to be a prophet. She only seeks internal validation in her own suffering and to guide other women with her wisdom. Unlike Hutchinson, Hester does not seek to create a religion. Hutchinson teaches specific beliefs and practices, seeking to become a religious leader in the community. Hester on the other hand is not a preacher, but a counselor. She resumes her position as a “living sermon” and allows people to interpret her story and her sin according to their spiritual needs and connection to a vague divine being rather than an established religious structure.

Although Lang identifies Hester as the internal dissenter in contrast to Hutchinson’s verbal dissent, Hester’s willingness to accept women into her home to share her wisdom indicates a slight social aspect to the rebellion at hand. The narrator describes these visits by saying:

Women…came to Hester’s cottage, demanding why they were so wretched, and what the remedy! Hester confronted and counseled them, too, of her firm belief, that, at some bright period…in Heaven’s own time, a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness (155).

Hester expresses that there is a “truth,” but, in contrast to both Hutchinson and her prosecutors, she does not try to define that truth. By referring to “Heaven’s own time,” She remains rooted in the vague spiritual language that is consistent throughout the text. Hester denies the Puritan idea of being a “city on a hill” she does not seek to evangelize and lead, she seeks to counsel and comfort other women through spiritual and moral unrest. If we understand Hester as only an internal dissenter, we assume that Hawthorne prefers women who are quietly independent rather than outspoken and opinionated. However, Hester’s small act of vocal dissent, in allowing other women to enter her home for counsel, complicates this idea.

The assumption that Hawthorne prefers women who dissent internally is also complicated by his own religious upbringing. Lang claim that Hester’s internal rebellion, compared with his rejection of Anne Hutchinson in Mrs. Hutchinson, is largely internal, thus proving Hawthorne’s bias towards subdued women. When considering Hawthorne’s religious background however, Hester Prynne become more than a depiction of ideal womanhood. She is a picture of ideal spirituality. Anne Hutchinson is criticized for spreading dangerous ideas and asserting a truth claim. Hester on the other hand is redeemed for providing counsel and giving women space to decide their own spiritual paths.

Conclusion

            Hester is not a victim to her own sin, nor is she a victim of her over-zealous community. Hester combats injustices towards through a spiritual rebellion. This rebellion consists largely of external actions, but since this rebellion is based in spiritual agency, much of it is internal as well, revealing Hester’s desire to respect religious freedom rather than advocating for a prescriptive truth. It is Hester’s internal rebellion that ultimately reflects Hawthorns bias, not against women, but towards a unhindered spiritual life.

As much as gender plays a role in literary texts, gender bias is not the only factor that influences the author’s decisions. Hester Prynne’s womanhood does provide a context for understanding Hawthorne’s biases, but she is more than just a depiction of her gender. Hester also provides insight into spiritual and religious states of being, thus providing a complex insight into Hawthorne’s approach to public religion and spiritual growth. To minimize a female character’s actions–or lack thereof–to the authors intent to establish a certain gender dynamic undermines the complexity of that female character. It negates the possibility that she is present in the text to represent more than an image of women as a whole, thus restricting her character even further due to her gender.

 

Works Cited

Arvin, Newton. “The House of Pride” Hawthorne. Russell & Russell: New York. 1929.

Baym, Nina. “Passion and Authority in The Scarlet Letter.” The New England Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 2, 1970, pp. 209–230. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/363242.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Leland S. Person. The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism. 2nd ed., W W Norton & Company, 2017.

Hubbard, William. A general history of New England, from the discovery to MDCLXXX. Hillard & Metcalf, 1815.

Edwards, Jonathan, excerpt from “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” Digital Public Library of America, http://dp.la/item/a775e6a7496dff85ea1a636439e40c59.

Gataker, Thomas. Marriage Duties Briefely Couched Togither out of Colossians, 3. 18, 19. Early English Books Online, 1620, quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo/A01541.0001.001?rgn=main;view.

“majesty, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/112614. Accessed 1 May 2019.

Moore, Margaret B. The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne, University of Missouri Press, 1998.

Lang, Amy Schrager. “An American Jezebel: Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter,Prophetic Women: Anne Hutchinson and the problem of dissent in the literature of New England. University of California Press, 1987.

“religion, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/161944.

“spirituality, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/186904. Accessed 1 May 2019.


[1] “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls; Who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”


 

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