Puritan Moral Codes In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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John Winthrop, a previous governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, once said “For we must [...] be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world” (A Model of Christian Charity). Winthrop’s words exhibit the overwhelmingly theocratic and idyllic environment that fostered intolerance to dissidence of Puritan moral codes. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne examines this society under a Romantic lens. Contrasting these philosophies, Hawthorne condemns the intolerance of Puritanism throughout the novel; however, as the novel progresses, society …show more content…
Dimmesdale and Hester’s modes of redemption, Hawthorne examines how the expectation to conform with societal standards threatens the individual. Dimmesdale internally reserves his confession to “the day when all hidden things shall be revealed”, permitting the heart to “mak[e] itself guilty of such secrets” (88), underscoring his willingness to conform to theocratic standards to salvage his reputation at the expense of honesty. Hawthorne thereby questions the hypocrisy of a society that celebrates confession and simultaneously condemns all counts of sin. Depicting Dimmesdale’s fear of societal reproof, Hawthorne unveils Dimmesdale’s shift towards religious confession (Judgement Day). In “Hester versus Dimmesdale”, Loring indicates that Dimmesdale’s weakness “dr[ives him] into a life of cowardly and selfish meanness, that added tenfold disgrace and ignominy to his original crime” (cite secondary here). Hawthorne juxtaposes Dimmesdale’s conformation to societal standards with fellow sinner Hester. Honoring Hester’s individualism and strength, Hawthorne highlights Romantic values, stating that Hester, “outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to [Dimmesdale]. She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness ... [akin to] the untamed forest” (128). Hawthorne’s use of Romantic tone words, such as “untamed” and “wilderness”, emphasize how the freedom of wild nature allows for individualism rather than submission to what society deems acceptable. Drawing on the “latitude of speculation” Hester gains that is “altogether foreign to [Dimmesdale]”, Hawthorne insinuates that Dimmesdale’s resistance to publicly confess spurs from Puritan standards’ entrapment of him, indicating Dimmesdale’s lack of individuality. Since Hester’s confession and isolation frees her from the need to conform to “ rule or guidance”, she can focus on being true to herself—including the scarlet

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