The Scarlet Letter Passage Analysis

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Colin Wick                4/1/09

Period 2                IB English

Pure Puritanical Absurdity

Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes various mediums in order to criticize the hypocrisy and absurd notions presented in the Puritan religion.  In Hawthorn’s depiction of the governor’s mansion, in Chapter 7, “The Governor’s Hall”, he blends in traditional, lush English décor with the New World, Puritanical furnishings in order to prove that the Puritan religion is still connected with the English roots it attempted to leave behind.  He then contrasts this rich adornment of the mansion with the stern ideology that characterizes Puritanical culture in order show the hypocrisy of the society.  Hawthorne moves on, to demonstrate that the Puritan ideology was grown out of a brutal and unforgiving environment, through his description of the Governor’s garden.  The author finally criticizes Puritan society further by presenting its childlike criticism of Hester Prynne in order to illustrate the absurdness of the Puritan religion.  Therefore, Hawthorne created the Governor’s mansion as a means of criticizing the Puritan society.

By seamlessly including elements of the Old World in the Governor’s household, the author convinces the reader that although the Royal Crown condemned the Puritan religion, the ideology still holds on to Old English traditions.  The reader is first introduced to the household as designed after an “estate in [the Governor’s] native land” (105).  With this addition, the reader first begins to see the mansion as an architectural anomaly to the rest of the community, and develops the assumption that this native land is England.  This presumption is confirmed as Hawthorne begins to include elements produced in the Old World such as the “many substantial volumes on the center-table”, including presumably, the “Chronicles of England” along with the “heirlooms, transferred…from the Governor’s paternal home” (105).  Finally, the reader is then presented with the idea that the Puritans still exhibit “the sentiment of old English hospitality” (105).  In this way, Hawthorne portrays the Puritan society as a close relative to England.  This first introduces the reader to the hypocrisy of the Puritans, in that they maintain the extravagance of a culture that persecuted them.  But, despite the persecution from England, the author proves that the Puritans continue to identify themselves with the Old World.  Therefore, Hawthorne integrates Old World elements into the Puritanical dwelling of the New World in a natural manner, in order to prove that Puritan society is simply a continuation of the old English society rather than a departure from.  Hawthorne furthers his criticism of the hypocritical Puritan society by describing the Governor’s rich and affluent standard of living through his abode.  The mansion is described as having spacious rooms with “deep and cushioned” seats, “elaborately carved with wreaths of oaken flowers” (105).  This characterization of the mansion of being deep and spacious, filled with extravagant furniture, associates the governor with tremendous wealth, which he displays pompously.  But, this extravagant level of affluence is starkly contrasted with portraits hanging in the mansion “characterized by the sternness and severity” of their expressions (106).  These stern, unadorned expressions that the forefathers of the Puritan religion wear, sharply conflict with the current governor’s overly profligate life.  Therefore, by comparing the forefathers’ “harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men” (106), representative of basic Puritanical values, to the Governor’s richly adorned existence, the author exaggerates the difference between what the Puritan religion dictates and the actions of the Governor.  This augments the hypocrisy of the society by portraying the governor as an arrogant monarch, similar to what they had left in the Old World, but one who also does not follow his own religious doctrine.

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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 ...

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