Hawthorne furthers his criticism of Puritan society by using the Governor’s garden as a metaphor in order to explain that the religion grew out of a cruel and harsh climate, similar to that experienced by the first colonizers from the Old World. Hawthorne characterizes the “English taste for ornamental gardening” and other luxuries as “hopeless” (107). The use of the word “ornamental” in the passage describes an unnecessary addition, but also has the implications of comfort. Therefore, Hawthorne depicts Puritan culture as one in which a pleasant life is not possible. Hawthorne furthers his negative depiction of living within Puritan society by distinguishing the environment of New England as set “in a hard soil and amid the close struggle for subsistence”, making Puritan life seem like an impossible task (107). He also implies that growth within the Puritan society is unattainable through the language he utilizes such as the “hard soil” and the unending “struggle” for survival. Furthermore, the “hard soil” that the society was built upon also entails a dryness that characterizes the society as undesirable and barren in its existence, with very little to offer those who reside within the confines of its doctrine. Therefore, Hawthorne uses the Governor’s garden as an analogy to represent the despondent future of the Puritan society, and the detriment that it causes its followers.
Finally, Hawthorne completes his criticism of the Puritan lifestyle by revealing their petty, childlike conviction of Hester Prynne through her experience within the mansion, as well as her child Pearl. Hawthorne uses a suit of armor in the Governor’s household in order to represent societies view of Hester. In this armor, Hester’s “scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions” making it the “most prominent feature of her appearance” (106). Through the armor, Hawthorne shows the Puritan society’s severe judgment of Hester Prynne for a single sin. This judgment is to such an extreme degree that her sin begins to define her in the eyes of the Puritans. Therefore, Hawthorne represents the Puritans as extremists in regards to both their actions and ideas by illustrating their excessive punishment of Hester. Furthermore, Hawthorne also characterizes the religion as juvenile in its inability to see beyond sin, and witness Hester’s true, charitable character. This portrayal of the immaturity of Puritanical behavior is improved as Hawthorne draws Pearl into the depiction of Hester’s societal image, characterizing her as having a “look of naughty merriment”, that when reflected, its “breadth and intensity of effect” was similarly exaggerated (106). This exaggerated “look of naughty merriment” upon Pearl’s face is often associated with naïve, yet cruel, childlike humor, which in this case is being used by Hawthorne to criticize the attitude of the New England society. Therefore, the author creates the reflective armor in order to show the naïve, childlike cruelty of the Puritan society, and its inability to see the true individual, due to its exaggeration of sin and its implications.
To conclude, Hawthorne creates the scene inside the Governor’s mansion for the purpose of expressing his condemnation of the Puritan society. Within the passage, he criticizes not only the hypocrisy of the Puritanical lifestyle, but also its harsh and dry roots, which gives its supporters no solace in their lives. Hawthorne then moves on to denounce the Puritan’s immaturity in their judgment of each other, seeing only the sin in their lives, and not the genuine soul of the individual. Therefore, the Governor’s mansion is an example of just one of the means by which Hawthorn expresses his vexation with the Puritan community, and their attempt at a “utopian” society.
Passage: The Governor’s Mansion
“So the mother and little Pearl were admitted into the hall of entrance. With many variations suggested by the nature of his building-materials, diversity of climate, and a different mode of social life, Governor Bellingham had planned his new habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native land. Here, then, was a wide and reasonably lofty hall, extending through the whole depth of the house and forming a medium of general communication, more or less directly, with all the other apartments. At one extremity, this spacious room was lighted by the windows of the two towers, which formed a small recess on either side of the portal. At the other end, though partly muffled by a curtain, it was more powerfully illuminated by one of those embowed hall windows which we read of in old books, and which was provided with a deep and cushioned seat. Here, on the cushion, lay a folio tome, probably of the Chronicles of England or other such substantial volumes on the center-table to be turned over by the casual guest. The furniture of the hall consisted of some ponderous chairs, the backs of which were elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers; and likewise a table in the same taste; the whole being of the Elizabethan age, or perhaps earlier, and heirlooms, transferred hither from the Governor’s paternal home. On the table—in token that the sentiment of old English hospitality had not been left behind—stood a large pewter tankard, at the bottom of which, had Hester or Pearl peeped into it, they might have seen the frothy remnant of a recent draught of ale.
On the wall hung a row of portraits, representing the forefathers of the Bellingham lineage, some with armor on their breasts, and others with stately ruffs and robes of peace. All were characterized by the sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably put on; as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men.
At about the center of the oaken panels that lined the hall was suspended a suit of mail, not, like the pictures, an ancestral relic, but of the most modern date; for it had been manufactured by a skilful armorer in London the same year in which Governor Bellingham came over to New England. There was a steel headpiece, a cuirass, a gorget, and greaves, with a pair of gauntlets and a sword hanging beneath; all, and especially the helmet and breastplate, so highly burnished as to glow with white radiance and scatter an illumination everywhere about upon the floor. This bright panoply was not meant for mere idle show, but had been worn by the Governor on many solemn muster and training filed, and had glittered, moreover, at the head of a regiment in the Pequod war. For, though bread a lawyer and accustomed to speak of Bacon, Coke, Noye, and Finch as his professional associates, the exigencies of this new country had transformed Governor Bellingham into a soldier, as well as a statesman and ruler.
Little Pearl—who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armor as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house—spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.
‘Mother,’ cried she, ‘I see you here. Look! Look!’
Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the headpiece, smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl’s shape.
‘Come along, Pearl,’ said she, drawing her away. ‘Come and look into this fair garden. It may be we shall see flower there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods.’
Pearl, accordingly, ran to the bow window at the further end of the hall and looked along the vista of a garden walk, carpeted with closely shaven grass and bordered with some rude and immature attempt at shrubbery. But the proprietor appeared already to have relinquished as hopeless the effort to perpetuate on this side of the Atlantic, in a hard soil and amid the close struggle for subsistence, the native English taste for ornamental gardening. Cabbages grew in plain sight; and a pumpkin vine, rooted at some distance, and run across the intervening space and deposited one of its gigantic products directly beneath the hall window; as if to warn the Governor that this great lump of vegetable gold was as rich an ornament as New England earth would offer him. There were a few rosebushes, however, and a number of apple trees probably the descendants of those planted by the Reverend Mr. Blackstone, the first settler of the peninsula, and half-mythological personage, who rides through our early annals seated on the back of a bull.
Pearl, seeing the rosebushes, began to cry for a red rose, and would not be pacified.
‘Hush, child, hush!’ said her mother, earnestly. ‘Do not cry, dear little Pearl! I hear voices in the garden. The Governor is coming, and gentlemen along with him’
In fact, adown the vistas of the garden avenue a number of persons were seen approaching towards the house. Pearl, in utter scorn of her mother’s attempt to quit her, gave an eldritch scream and then became silent; not from any notion of obedience, but because the quick and mobile curiosity of her disposition was excited by the appearance of these new personages.” (105-107)
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter (Signet Classics). New York: Signet Classics, 1959.