Transcendental Themes within The Scarlet Letter

In 1 850 Is a story of adulterated love and revenge, set in sass’s Boston, in a small Puritan community. Nathaniel Hawthorne evokes transcendentalism and romanticism in a variety of ways throughout the novel, focusing on youthful innocence, truths of the human hearts, the pureness of the natural world, worth and freedom of the individual, and the ubiquitous Idea that the artificial nature of society corrupts. Because of the time in which Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, he was greatly Influenced by the Ideas of transcendentalism, and romanticism.

A huge Inspiration that led Hawthorne to incorporate these ideas into his writing were the people in which he was involved with on a personal level. At the age of 33, Hawthorne had just published his first book titled, “Twice- Told Tales” and luckily for him it was very popular with a woman named Elizabeth Peabody. Elizabeth Peabody was one of three daughters from an old New England family who was a distant descendent from the family whom the renowned Peabody Museums at Harvard and Yale were named after.

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Through her lifetime, Elizabeth managed to acquaint herself with many leading thinkers of her mime, such as Ralph Wald Emerson and Broncos Alcott. This led her to publish her own book in French and German that was considered the “first book-length exposition of transcendentalist ideas”. Later in time, however, Hawthorne married Elizabethan younger sister, Sophia, but still had a great reverence for Elizabethan ideas, works, and person.

Due to Hawthorn’s association with the entire Peabody family he was compelled to write The Scarlet Letter with much Influence from them, their connections with transcendental and romantic supporters, and society as a whole. Throughout the entire plot, nature and everything that goes along with it is portrayed as a pure and happy source of bliss, guidance, and sympathy. At the beginning of the book it is given in the first chapter an example of nature working to be kind while also being surrounded by a far less pure and virtuous environment.

Hawthorn’s narrator In this example, Is describing a rosebush enveloped within the depraved atmosphere of the village prison: “But, on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate mess, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him,” (46).

This description epitomizes the sympathetic propensity of nature to be kind, empathetic, and It’s ability to brighten an otherwise corrupt environment. Another example of Hawthorne including the purity and joy of nature into his writing is when Hester and Dimmest are in the woods, Hester tosses the scarlet letter that had lay upon her erase off to the side, and seemingly by chance it lands stone’s throw away from a babbling brook.

Upon removing the scarlet letter imposed by society, “All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the gold, and gleaming down the solemn trunks of the gray trees,” (183). The purity of nature allows the natural world to cast light upon things that were once in despair turning them into things of elation and transforming them into things of beauty and joy, “Such was the sympathy of Nature- that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never objurgated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth- with the bliss of these two spirits,” (183).

This description, however, touches less upon the purity and Joyous temperament of nature and more upon Nature’s immunity from being corrupted by the societal norms and laws This quotations shows this by stating that the pureness of nature will never be illumined or subjugated by human law or higher truth signifying that nature is a incorruptible and individual source if kindness, forgiving means, and elated contentment. Another element of this story that is based off the runners of nature is when Hester is deciding where she and her child will reside.

She chooses an abandoned cottage, on the outskirts of town, surrounded by the forest. Transcendentalism teaches, that the purity of nature should be embraced and that nature was a far more beneficial environment because of the fact that the artificial nature of civilization horribly corrupted society. The corruption of society as a whole is the most influential element of transcendental ideas Hawthorne incorporated in The Scarlet Letter.

Puritans believed in a strict form of government, elisions customs, and laws that-if broken-were often responded to with harsh punishments and an overall feeling of displacement in society. An instance of this would be when Hester is forced to wear the scarlet letter pinned to her clothing and stand upon the scaffold with her infant child for hours. In this case not only is she punished by the tangible letter and stated consequence, but also by the perception by which others in the community view not only herself, but little Pearl as well.

Hawthorn’s narrator describes the aftermath of Hester punishment and how the irrupt laws in society have led to her feeling of being ostracizes and euthanized: “In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence with those in whom she came in contact, implied and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhibited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind,” (78).

This narration speaks to the severity of the punishment not necessarily thought about reliability, but how it affects a person psychologically and emotionally over time. This quote also refers back to how corrupt society is because society will not only treat her as an outsider but also not acknowledge her existence as a quintessential piece of society. Another example of Hawthorne creating corrupt society is when the powerful people in the village decide that Hester is a bad example for her child.

Because they believe she cannot possibly be a good role model they come to the conclusion that taking Pearl away from her mother would be the best thing to do. The belief among many in the village was that, “If the child, on the other hand, were really capable of moral and religious growth, and possessed the elements of ultimate salvation, then, surely, it would enjoy all the fairer prospects of these advantages by being transferred to a wiser and better guardianship than Hester Prune’s,” (91).

This was, of course greatly supported by Governor Bellingham, one of the most influential place in society, she develops an opinion about the leaders in society and the human foundations that seemed corrupt. The reason that Hester is able to develop a seasonable and minimal appreciation for the society of which she is marginally a part, is solely because of the fact that she is detached from it.

Upon Hester realizing her self-worth and purpose in life Hawthorne compares her view point of society to that of an Indian’s appreciation for societal convention: “For years past she looked from this estranged point of view at human institutions, and whatever priests or legislators have established; criticizing all with hardly more reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical band, the Judicial robe, the pillory, the gallows, the reside, or the church,” (180).

Another example of Hawthorne incorporating transcendental themes into his writing is when he describes Damselfly’s return to town from the meeting with Hester and Pearl in the woods. The reader is informed that, “the same minister returned not from the forest” because his demeanor and everything about him has changed due to the affair and the way society has handled the act and the inevitable punishment. The sordidness of society in this village does not only create corrupt the laws, assign harsh punishments, and corrupt adults, but also negatively influences children.

Children growing up in this society are led by the examples by those around them. They are taught to treat Hester and Pearl in a certain way because of her sin and how the rest of society treats them. While walking through the village with Pearl Hester overhears some children, “Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, of truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running at her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them! ” (93). This statement, spoken by a young schoolboy, signifies the effect corrupt society has on children who know no different from how they were raised.

It also speaks to the cruelness that Hester and Pearl were forced to endure because of corrupt society punishments, and contradicts the transcendental ideals of youthful purity and innocence. Youthful innocence was an ideal in transcendentalism that Hawthorne emphasized in The Scarlet Letter. Throughout the novel Hawthorn’s presents his ideal of society. He stresses the importance of youthful innocence to such an extreme that being virtuous, innocent, and pure was more natural than being educated. An example of youthful innocence having precedence over education is when

Dimmest is walking through town and see a young woman, who possesses the innocence and religious purity that are the most valuable qualities for a young lady to possesses. He compares her purity and fairness to that of paradise: “She was fair and pure as a lily that bloomed in Paradise. The minister knew well that he was himself enshrined with the stainless sanctity of her heart, which hung it’s snowy curtains about his image, imparting to religion the warmth of love, and to love a religious purity,” (197).

This illustrates the especially large impact that youthful innocence has over things while also tying in religion and purity. Another way that Hawthorne evokes the theme of youthful innocence over education is the fact that Dimmest is a very educated, eloquent man, but is still a sinner. While talking to Hester, Chlorinating reflects upon himself, “But all my life had been made up of earnest, studious, thoughtful, quiet years, bestowed faithfully for the increase of the other,- faithfully for the advance of human welfare,” (156).

This quotation proves Hawthorn’s transcendental belief that youthful innocence does surpass education. Chlorinating did not seem to comprehend the fact that education means nothing unless you are a pure and innocent soul. The reason why this matters is because Chlorinating thought that his education should make him inept to the bad things that he’s done, but he was not due to his hidden infamy and forbidden sin. In The Scarlet Letter the feeling of youthful innocence over education is often evident after an appearance of a young mother or young woman.

In the beginning of the book, on the first morning of Hester punishment, through the mesh of voices a young mother mess intent on opposing the corrupt, cruel and harsh views of society with a lighter more virtuous and sympathetic opinion. The wives and women of this town are confused by Hester punishment concluding that her punishment for this sin should be more severe, such as branding an “A” on her forehead or even killing her. Upon hearing this a young woman interposes with “Ah, but, let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will always be in her heart,” (49).

This piece if dialogue really illustrates the regard that Hawthorne has for youthful innocence and the pure outlook it gives to not only the problems in life, but also the solutions. Lingering pain is something Hawthorne also talks about when touching upon truths of the human heart. Throughout The Scarlet Letter there are many descriptions pertaining to the foundations of human heartache, love, sin, and life. Hawthorne expertly places these statements throughout his work to make each lesson learned distinct and specific to the situation in which it was found.

Hawthorne believed that the lingering pain on feels was always there, but because of our natural inclination to make it through cost anything our hearts and minds ignore the pain we feel until it is at level of manageability; until we can process and really feel the consequence of our sadness or, in this case, sin. “In our nature, however, there is a provision alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of what he endures by its present torture, but chiefly by the pang that rankles after it,” (52).

Hawthorne believed that in one’s the nature there is an adoption that makes our hearts capable of dealing with torture and misery or sadness without knowing to what degree it affects s. This quotation expresses the pain that Hester doesn’t feel the full effects of now, but will in the future. Another truth of the human heart that was revealed examines the dishonesty between Damselfly’s and the public and the outcome of that dishonesty.

Hawthorne informs the reader that one cannot portray a different side of oneself the public and a different one to one’s own without being unsure of which is not only the real one but also as to which was trying to be denied in the first place. Dimmest was the person whom Hawthorne focused on while describing this truth f not only him but also of the human heart, “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one may be the true,” (194).

This quotation, in context, expresses the torture Dimmest goes through in figuring out how to deal with the sin he committed and also how he contends with his imminent confession. It also describes the change in Damselfly’s character. How he is portraying himself as a feeble, reverend to the public, and a horrible sinner to himself eventually confuses During the course of The Scarlet Letter there is a focus on the dilapidating effects that guilt has one’s self.

The feeling of guilt is one of the more constant themes in this novel because everything seems to relate back to it affecting the characters’ lives, inner psychology, and the actual plot of this infamous novel. “And be the stern and sad truth spoken, that the breach which guilt has once made into the human soul is never, in this mortal state, repaired,” this quote speaks to the severe impact that guilt has on the human soul and heart and how impossible this can be to fix. Throughout

The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne incorporates elements of transcendentalism and romanticism through his narrator. His portrayal of the pureness of the natural world, the pervasive idea that society corrupts, youthful innocence, and the truths of the human heart are all found within each plot twist, every chapter, and in all of the ideas explicitly and implicitly revealed in this timeless novel. Hawthorne not only used these elements to write a novel that was widely regarded as a literary success in 1850, but also managed to write a novel that would still be a seminal work of American Fiction.

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