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The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Analysis of The Scarlet Letter related to whatever literary theory I can find

James Collette

on 15 January 2013

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Transcript of The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne

By Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter Plot Summary To Whom the Book Would Appeal The Scarlet Letter would appeal to anyone who has ever been judged or felt excluded by others at a given time. Most people have these feelings, and so the book has a potentially large audience because readers can identify with Hester and sympathize with her plight. A deterrent to reading of the novel is the fact that it is written in 17th century English and therefore can be a difficult read for some. Author's Style Summary of my AP Response A Feminist Criticism Marxist Approach Investigation of the Novel Author Background Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 at Salem, Massachusetts and graduated from Bowdoin College. After graduating, Hawthorne found a job at the Custom House (a building where people monitored and documented goods for import and export). He was fired from this position in 1849 and shortly thereafter, his mother passed away. Hawthorne then decided to write a book that contained raw emotions inspired by his surroundings and their history. Thus, The Scarlet Letter was written and went on to be his greatest work. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/b/bf/Nathaniel_Hawthorne_by_Brady,_1860-65.jpg/220px-Nathaniel_Hawthorne_by_Brady,_1860-65.jpg The Scarlet Letter is inspired by the 17th century Puritan colonies in Massachusetts. The Puritan lifestyle was intimately connected with Christianity, to the point where law was drawn from the Bible. It was essentially, a theocracy. Having grown up in Salem, Hawthorne knew of the infamous history of the area and set out to include it in his novel. The Scarlet Letter was meant to be critical of the Puritan society and how they were hypocrites for not allowing the religious lenience they supposedly gained from leaving Europe. Hawthorne highlighted the negative aspects of the society in areas such as justice, religion, and witchcraft. Reception The reception of the novel by other literary icons was mostly positive, but many religious figures within Christianity were highly opposed to the subject matter of the novel, and felt the novel encouraged the corruption of morals. The Scarlet Letter follows the public shaming and punishment of a young woman named Hester Prynne. When Hester becomes pregnant, everyone believes her to be guilty of adultery since her husband's whereabouts are unknown. The Governor and ministers order her to wear a scarlet letter "A" on the breast of all her clothes so that everyone can know of her adultery. The novel progresses over seven years and follows Hester and her child, Pearl, within the community. Hester has become a charity worker and is a seamstress for the colony. Hester has never revealed the identity of her lover, but eventually it is revealed to the reader that it is Reverend Dimmesdale. Hester’s husband returns, but takes on the identity of Roger Chillingworth, a doctor, to seek revenge on the soul who slept with his wife. He soon becomes the caretaker and friend of Dimmesdale, who has become ill with grief over his sin. Hester arranges a meeting with Dimmesdale to discuss their situation, to reveal Chillingworth's true identity, and propose an escape to Europe. Later, Hester finds out that Chillingworth will be on the ship they are to take, and in the same day, Dimmesdale gives his last sermon, for his guilt and Roger's care have taken their final toll. He dies holding onto Hester and Pearl just after confessing his part in adultery to the entire town of Boston. Hawthorne’s style in The Scarlet Letter is characterized by the speech of 17th century New England and long, lengthy sentences that contain many commas and semi-colons in order to give the impression the words of the novel are the strings of thought of the characters. Literary Merit The merit in the book comes from the actions of the characters. Hester is an honorable character. Though she committed adultery, she accepts her punishment graciously and never chooses to cower from the rest of the community and never does she try and hide her letter upon her chest. Though she is rejected by society, she chooses to help and applies her skills to craft marvelous clothes for various occasions, but yet she chooses to dress humbly. She treats Pearl in the best ways possible and blames herself for the town's perception of her daughter as a demon child. Also she chooses not to disclose the name of her partner because she knows that his life would fall apart, therefore she takes all the blame, sacrificing herself in front of the community for the sake of her lover. Another character whose actions add to the literary merit of the author is Arthur Dimmesdale, though towards the end of the novel. After letting Hester take all the blame of their sin for seven years, he finally admits to his part in front of the whole town (though upon his death) upon the same pillory on which Hester has been forced to display herself for those past seven years. He also recognizes Pearl as his daughter in the same moment, giving the child the love and closure she had always been longing for. The main arguments behind the feminist criticism of The Scarlet Letter are that Hester breaks from the patriarchal society and that Hawthorne writes so that the reader can sympathize with the female perspective. Hester first shows a break from the patriarchal mold by consciously committing adultery with someone she does in fact love, which sets her apart from the rest of the women at the time. Hawthorne writes in a way that makes the reader sympathize with the female characters such as Hester and others like the "50 year old dame", who at the beginning is struck down for her sympathy towards Hester and her cruel punishment. Hester's portrayal in the story is contrary to her situation. She is fair and beautiful, though cast down by society. She walks proudly, never covering the embroidered letter upon her chest, lending her valuable skills as a seamstress to people who do not believe, because of her sin, that she is valuable. A Marxist reading of The Scarlet Letter highlights the importance of the fact that the Puritan community at hand is made up of levels of social structure. The community is, indeed, the state that results from what Marx's theory deems the state apparatus, which instills a mode of thinking and culture that perpetuates the status quo. An example of this is the decision of the magistrates on the punishment of Hester that filters down to others in to the community, causing everyone to support it because of a religious, ideological superstructure which implants in people that accusations without evidence can still be accepted without hesitation. The plight of Hester can be seen from the Marxist view as a parallel to that of the proletariat experience of imprisonment, humiliation, and low existence in society, showing that Hester is a product of the judgemental Puritan society she lives in. "A symbol is an object, action, or event that represents something or that creates a range of associations beyond itself. In literary works a symbol can express an idea, clarify meaning, or enlarge literal meaning. Select a novel or play and, focusing on one symbol, write an essay analyzing how that symbol functions in the work and what it reveals about the characters or themes of the work as a whole."
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