A Criticism of Puritan Beliefs in The Scarlet Letter, Literary Essay Sample for Students

Published: 2019-10-10
A Criticism of Puritan Beliefs in The Scarlet Letter, Literary Essay Sample for Students
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter Romantic literature
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1227 words
11 min read

The Scarlet Letter, according to Jane Richardson, is bent on criticizing the Puritans and their beliefs. To her, the novel is not just a mere observation of what is happening in Puritan society. In most cases, every writer has a message to put across when coming up with a literary work. Richardsons assumption that the Scarlet Letter was used by the author to criticize the Puritans beliefs and practices seem farfetched and shallow. The Puritans had zero tolerance for sinful behaviors as they lived under strict Christian codes. Women in this society had a lesser role; they were deemed inferior to the men. Their role was confined to child bearing and Manning household chores, never to pursue their own interests and realize their full potential. Women committing such sinful acts as adultery in this society were in itself a daring and dangerous act, given their status. They would be subjected to unimaginable shame and ridicule by the society. The men bore less blame if they were caught in adulterous affairs and their sentences would only be light and easily forgotten with time. The woman, on the other hand, would carry the badge of dishonor to the end of her days.

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There is no evidence to suggest that Hawthorne in the Scarlet Letter was criticizing the Puritans way of life. The impression created from the Scarlet Letter deals with the expression of guilt, vengeance, and resilience. It is less concerned with criticizing the way of life as hinted by Richardson. The author interprets Esthers happy and jovial mood as she emerges from the hospital as a show of defiance. She takes this to mean that she is less concerned about what the society will think of her adulterous affair, that she ought to have shown some level of remorse and displayed less of the exuberance and joy with the coming of the baby. This show, according to the author is labeled as criticizing the Puritan societal prejudices formed against adulterous women. But what is really expected of a woman who has just delivered her first child? Joy, happiness, and exuberance is the natural thing anyone would expect of a mother who has just had her first child. It does not matter whether it is an illegitimate child or not, but the joy felt cannot be withheld. Esther had eagerly awaited for the coming of her daughter Pearl that she had delicately and fancifully embroidered a fitting decoration of a scarlet emblazoned with the letter A across her bosom. After such apparent waiting and anticipation, it would only make perfect sense for Esther to be happy that she finally would finally have the chance of holding her daughter. She might have been remorseful of her adulterous action, but her resilience would not hold her down in ensuring that her daughter was well treated and properly integrated into the society, just like any other child. Interpreting this act of boldness and resilience as a ridicule of the puritanical hypocrisy would be missing the point.

In the Puritan society, men would get away with most of the sinful acts that they commit. They were superior and had the upper hand in all aspects of the society. They were beyond reproach and though murmurs would crop up from different quarters when a man would commit a sinful act, they would fade off within no time and life would revert to normal with little consequences to the man in question. In the article, the writer hints that had the adulterous affair of Reverend Dimmesdale been made public, the punishment he would have received would most likely have been lesser than that of Esther. According to her, the revelation that a Reverend had committed adultery would not have caused many ripples to his life. She contends that Dimmesdales retraction into a secret closet of guilt and remorse is a contradiction of what is expected of a puritan man; macho and egoistic. Dimmesdale suffers in silence as the guilt of his past actions haunts him. I find this line of thought out of touch with human emotions and expectations. A man of Dimmesdales reputation is expected to be morally above reproach; after all, he is a man of the cloth. He, however, betrays this responsibility by committing adultery with Esther. What was possibly expected of a man who had vowed to serve Gods flock who ends up devouring his own sheep? The society might have expected him to brush it off, after all, he was a man and the whole blame would be shifted to the woman. But this man is not on the same moral platform as the rest of the men; he is in fact supposed to act as the moral compass for the rest in the society. He suffers in silence because he is afraid and scared of how the society would react when it is found that he has not been loyal to his own flock and above all, God. He is scared of his reputation being tarnished, but he is confronted with the suffering and humiliation of Hester and her daughter Pearl are going through, and is overcome with guilt. On one end, he is scared of confessing his misgivings because of a judgmental society; on the other hand, he cannot stand the suffering his act has brought to Hester and Pearl. It is under this conflicting emotional dilemma that the Reverend finds silent suffering as the only safe spot. The Reverends silent suffering is therefore not because of a deviation of puritanical societys expectation of their men as hinted by the author but is purely based on a guilty conscience of a man bestowed with the responsibility of demonstrating moral uprightness.

The writer in the article further creates the impression that women could take up leadership roles in a puritan society, a role which is largely regarded as belonging to the men. The men were supposed to lead their families in the ways of God, but we see Hester taking charge of her affairs, even leading the way for Reverend Dimmesdale and giving him a shoulder when he was overcome with guilt. This step of boldness and initiative by Hester is construed by the author to validate women in taking up leadership responsibilities in their households. To the author, women were highly capable of leading just as the men. The author, however, fails to appreciate that Hesters leadership comes about as a result of unprecedented circumstances. It was not leadership initiated as challenge to mens leadership role as bestowed on them by the society. Hester simply took charge of her affairs because she did not have anyone else to fend for her as her legitimate husband; Chillingworth was plotting revenge on the man who had committed adultery with his wife. He showed no intention of supporting Hester and Pearl. Reverend Dimmesdale, on the other hand, was shy of offering any support to the family because of fear that the secret might finally come to light. Hester, therefore, had to emerge from the confusion and take charge for the future of her daughter as the men who were supposed to could not. This was just a woman who wanted the best for her daughter and would do anything to make this a reality. It was not to challenge mans responsibility as the household leader as depicted by the author.

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