Hi y’all! Co-op is over and now I finally have time to write on this blog. Well, co-op is almost over. I have a Literature exam today. 😬I thought I would share with you an essay I wrote about The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. If you haven’t read this book, I would highly recommend it.
Hawthorne and His Stained Puritans
Hester enters the Governor’s hall with her daughter and a piece of merchandise: a pair of embroidered gloves for his lordship. He is the highest ranking official in Salem, a representative of Puritan law and society; he has fought in many wars, defeated many foes and his ancestors did the same, but perhaps for a nobler cause. As Hester waits in his hall, her daughter calls her over to a suit of armor. And there, in the reflection of a steel breastplate, Hester sees herself. Nay, she sees only a great scarlet “A”. It covers her, hides her. It is more than a symbol, it is her essence. With this scene, Nathaniel Hawthorne strikes at the heart of his book, The Scarlet Letter. He shows us why the Puritans, and Robert Chillingworth, are the antagonists; and why Hester Prynne the adulteress is his heroine.
When Hester’s reflection is covered by the letter, which is a symbol of her adultery, it is more than just a happenstance; it is a picture of how the Puritans view Hester. They see only her sin, only the horrific implications of her passion, only her rebellion against God. She is an outcast of their Utopian society because she shows the Puritans that man can fall and he needs God’s forgiveness.
Roger Chillingworth shows this attitude when he replies to Hester’s concerns that she may have bound her soul to ruin,“Not thy soul,” he answered, with another smile. “No, not thine” (Hawthorne). The implication is that she has already lost her soul to the Devil, there is no chance to be saved. Thus, both Chillingworth and the Puritans deny Hester their forgiveness and God’s.
G.K. Chesterton once said, “The more I see of existence…the more I am convinced…that all evil began with some attempt at superiority” (Chesterton). He could have been describing the Puritans in The Scarlet Letter. It takes great pride to deny forgiveness, or the possibility of it from God. True, it is a very unpleasant thing for one’s ego to believe that a sinner can be forgiven. We would much rather declare them utterly evil in the hopes that somehow their black sins can make ours look whiter. But the problem is that God alone can make our souls white and pure, not man.
And so Hawthorne brings us to the crux of his tale: how does one respond to sin and its implications? The Puritans, while acknowledging one sin, commit another. They deny God’s mercy and forgiveness for others—and consequentially themselves—in an attempt to make their Utopian society more pure. With this in mind, we cannot blame them for constantly looking sad and wearing drab clothes. Life in a Utopia must be very souring. When man measures morality by his standard it is quite difficult to find happiness, because it goes hand in hand with God. The world is gloomy when we leave no place for God’s love and mercy and deny His saving grace.
Hester has a different response from the Puritans. Hawthorne shows us that she acknowledges her sin, and its implications yet she does not turn away from God. She teaches her child about God diligently, perhaps recognizing that He alone can stop pure passion. In her later years, she becomes a symbol of virtue and servitude, one could go so far as to say that she becomes a picture of Christ to those she helps.
It is very easy to stray off the narrow path. We grasp truth in one hand and forget who gave it to us. We are rather like a blind man, who knowing that 1+1=2 , believes he can see. If there was more reliance on God and less on ourselves, the world would not be so complex and gloomy. We would not constantly look and act like we are sucking lemons. We would start to wonder at the glory of our Creator, and take joy in every moment. We would believe in hope.
We will face sin in life, we will see scarlet letters of varying shapes, branded on our chests. But we must remember that the first step is to recognize sin. The second is to realize that God’s forgiveness can turn our scarlet stained letters white like snow.
Well, I’m off to go calm my nerves with some tea.