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New Birth From Adversity - Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

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New Birth From Adversity Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter offers an extraordinary insight into the norms and behavior of the 17th century American Puritan society. He uses this setting to shape the demeanor of his main characters. Hawthorne uses Puritanism especially its moral and social code to symbolize a wedge in the behavior and personalities of his major characters, such as Hester Prynne. His characters are split between the need to conform to Puritan societal demands and the yearning to express their own personal desires, and by doing this, Nathaniel Hawthorne creates an all-encompassing conflict that exists between the characters that uphold the laws of the moral Puritan society and those who defend and live their lives through the ungoverned emotions of the human heart. Hester Prynne however does not fit into either one of these extremes. Hawthorne instead creates a bizarre equilibrium where on the surface we see both visually and ethically, that Hester tends to lean towards restriction and orthodoxy but at the same time internally she continues to believe in the expression and recognition of the desires, needs and powers of one's personal self. Nathaniel Hawthorne depicts Hester Pyrnne as a sinner and a recluse in the Puritan society and uses her sin and reclusion to show her abidance to the Puritan moral and social code and her tendency towards restriction and orthodoxy in the external aspects of her life. ...read more.


and finally says that "she who has once been woman, ceased to be so" (112). Where the Puritan people are symbols for society's law and moral code, Hawthorne by depicting Hester conforming visually to such standards, brings out clearly her acceptance and compliance to the Puritanical society, a society that emphasizes both restriction and orthodoxy. Hester in the beginning of the novel we see was almost a misfit in the Puritan society, differing much in her appearance from the other townspeople. But in a few short years, Hawthorne shows how she is transformed and has lost almost all the qualities that made her unique. She now has become just another conventional member of society. Although Nathaniel Hawthorne openly condemns Hester Prynne as a sinner and an immoral member of Puritan society, he at the same time has glorified Hester's idealism, independence, and her courage to freely express herself. Even though he has used Hester's sin to illustrate her submission to the laws of behavior fundamental to a moral society, he also uses it to show the exact opposite - the ungoverned, natural basic emotions of the human heart. In stark contrast to the orthodox life of restriction that the scarlet letter symbolizes, Hawthorne now calls it "her [Hester's] passport into regions where other women dared not tread" (136). He also ingeniously illustrates how the scarlet letter, while serving as an omnipotent symbol of shame and sin is also a window into the human condition and this allows Hester to "speculate"(113) ...read more.


Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart" (38). The young mother in contrast to the matron and the rosebush conflicting with the prison doors are all representations of Hester versus society. Hester is essentially guilty of sin, of unrestricted emotion and is punished accordingly by the restrictive nature of the Puritan society. The conflict between personal identity and societal demands are revealed explicitly in The Scarlet Letter, especially when Nathaniel Hawthorne elaborates on the behaviors of major character in the novel. With Puritanism playing such a pivotal role there is no doubt that conflicts between societal good and the individual play a major part in developing the themes of The Scarlet Letter. Hester Pyrnne was not blindly rebellious against society but instead tried to live according to the restriction placed upon her by the orthodox society. At the same time she goes past the moral law of society to a higher law of the individual where she wanted to become "the prophetess" of a more liberal morality, which accepts independence, unrestricted emotions and freedom of expression. Nathaniel Hawthorne by combining society and individualism in such a brilliant manner in the character of Hester Prynne, has accomplished to create an individual that is the very embodiment of all what The Scarlet Letter stands for and therefore very obviously suggests a reconciliation of the two forces: one wanting to conform to society's demands and the other the desire to satisfy their personal impulses. 1 ...read more.

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