Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) “The Scarlet Letter”
Hawthorne’s Life • Was one of two great novelists of the mid-ninteenth century (the other being Melville) • Born in Salem, Mass., where his family had lived for six generations. Earliest ancestors were Puritans. • John Hathorne, one of his ancestors, was a presiding judge at the Salem Witchcraft Trials • Felt guilty because of his ancestors’ behavior • Added (w) to his last name • Wrote The Scarlet Letter
Father was a sea captain who was lost at sea when he was four; mother became a grieving recluse. • Went to Bowdoin College, where he graduated in 1825. Famous classmates: • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow • Franklin Pierce (14th president (1853-1857)) • Publisher Horatio Bridge • For twelve years after college, secluded himself to become a better writer
1837 – Twice-Told Tales, a collection of short stories, was published. • Engaged to Sophia Peabody; married 5 years later. • Gained fame and popularity with the publication of The Scarlet Letter • Themes of sin/guilt and the problem of evil and isolation also prevalent in The House of Seven Gables, published in 1851. • Became increasingly gloomy • Money worries • Civil War • Writer’s block
Hawthorne as a Writer • Dark Romantic, careful craftsman, symbolic writer • Elements and themes: • 1. Belief in Order: part of this is the proper relationship between men and women • 2. Love: central reality of life; woman is the redemptive agent in fighting evil • 3. The Heart is Superior to the Head: if you use only your head, you become either a fool or a fiend. Many of H’s works include an intellectual villain (cool, calculating scientist)
4. Alienation and Isolation: either self-caused or societal or both • 5. Initiation: an alienated character attempts to rid himself of isolation • 6. Guilt: enforced by Puritanical society or heritage… also guilt v. innocence • 7. Pride: Hawthorne treats pride as evil, “Pride cometh before a fall.” • 8. Allegory: Didastic and Moralistic
Famous Works: • The Minister’s Black Veil • Rappaccini’s Daughter • The Birthmark • Young Goodman Brown • The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter • Setting • 17th century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts • 1642-1649 • Themes • Sin • Puritan legalism (rules and beliefs)
The Minister’s Black Veil • First published in the 1836 edition of The Token and Atlantic Souvenir. • Later republished in Twice-Told Tales in 1837 • Hawthorne may have been inspired by a true event. A clergyman named Joseph Moody of York, Maine, nicknamed "Handkerchief Moody," accidentally killed a friend when he was a young man and wore a black veil from the man's funeral until his own death.
Main characters: Reverend Hooper, Elizabeth • Point of view: 3rd person, omniscient • Conflict: • Man v. Himself (guilt) • Man v. Man (the congregation/world at large) • Themes: • Hidden Nature of Guilt • Communion of Sinners • Morality • Setting: 18th century town in Puritan New England
Climax: final question upon deathbed of whether or not he will remove the veil. • Resolution: no clear resolution, as the meaning behind the veil is never revealed, but rather left to reader interpretation and estimation. • Reverend Hooper challenges everyone to recognize the black veil and hidden sin in their own lives.
Hawthorne’s present elements: • Love • Alienation/Isolation • Guilt • Pride (spiritual)