The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


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Nathaniel Hawthorne uses his novel, The Scarlet Letter to critique the Puritan faith. In developing his story of the adulteress Hester Prynne, he uses both religious and natural imagery to show his disdain for the Puritan religion. The Scarlet Letter is a vivid portrayal of his utter dislike for the Puritans and everything that they stand for. Hawthorne is in complete disagreement with them and makes it clear throughout the book.
Though it is shown throughout The Scarlet Letter that Nathaniel Hawthorne is completely against the Puritan faith, his views, other than those shown in the book, happen to be quite similar as well. He feels that the Puritans are but whole-hearted hypocrites in that the standards necessary to be a Puritan, are met by absolutely none of them. Part of being a Puritan is to be without sin. Being of sound mind, Hawthorne knows that everyone at some point in their life has sinned and therefore sees their hypocritical mentality. Nathaniel also feels that the Puritan faith conventions are unrealistic and are not at all what it means to be a Puritan. One of the Puritan faith conventions states that the Bible is an indispensable guide to life. Assuming that the Puritans followed their own faith conventions you would think that they read the Bible and based their life upon it. Hawthorne feels that this is not the case unless gossiping, lying, and putting yourself above others is part of the Bible. In addition he feels the Puritans are the complete opposite of what he considers as an acceptable religion and he wants nothing to do with them. The puritans gossip and exploit others sins, which just does not cut it for Hawthorne.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s feelings towards the Puritans, though already very clear, are portrayed vividly in his novel, The Scarlet Letter; particularly through his use of both religious and natural imagery. Hawthorne’s use of religious imagery is seen when Hester Prynne is at church. While she is there she is ridiculed because she committed the sin of adultery. Even though the other Puritans that ridiculed her had sinned themselves they still had the nerve to look down upon Hester as a sinner. Hawthorne shows in this scene how hypocritical the Puritans truly are. They scold Hester without even realizing that they too, are sinners. Religious imagery is used yet again when the women of the story don’t allow Hester, a seamstress, to make or even touch their wedding dresses.

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They feel that since Hester is a sinner and she is not loved by God, she will somehow put a curse upon whoever wears a dress made by her. Hawthorne shows here just how narrow-minded and ignorant he feels the Puritans are. They were making decisions based upon curses created form their imaginations rather than decisions based upon the fact that she is a talented seamstress. A third time religious imagery is seen is how the cemetery and the prison are so close together. The prison represent how everyone succumbs to sin, but the Puritans feel that they do not. The cemetery represents how everyone succumbs to death, which the Puritans feel is true except in their case, they die without sin. The prison and cemetery being close together represents how sin and death are so closely related; you cannot have one without the other. This is Hawthorne showing us how the Puritans think they are pure and completely different from everyone else when in fact that is not true. They are just like everyone else and succumb to sin and death. This scene brings about the irony, how they are called Puritans when in fact they are most impure.
Along with religious imagery, Hawthorne uses natural imagery to exemplify his true disgust with the Puritans. When Hester and Pearl are walking in one scene, you see an example of natural imagery. The sun shines on Pearl, but as Hester walks the sun keeps moving away from her. Hawthorne in this scene was showing how innocent Pearl really is, and that even though she was born from sin, God still loves her and she is not a sinner. The Puritans feel that Pearl is a sinner because she was born from sin and that God does not accept or love her. Hawthorne was also showing in this scene how Hester was a sinner, because the light was not on her, and how though she sinned, she still had the right to walk with and live amongst those who have not sinned, represented by Pearl walking in the light. The Puritans feels the complete opposite of this. They feel that since they are not sinners, which is untrue, that Hester is not good enough to live amongst them in society. Natural imagery is seen a second time in the novel through the use of the woods. In the woods, Hester and Pearl are accepted for who they are and can live their live as they wish; there is no one to pass judgement in the woods on anything that they do. Hawthorne was trying to show here that the Puritans, sinners themselves, have no right to pass judgement and cast away Hester and Pearl for being sinners when they are sinners as well. He was also showing how with God there should be no one but Him to pass judgement on you.
The final use of Natural imagery is with the rose bush. The rose bush represents how though there is a lot of evil in the world, represented by the thorns, you can still find good in it, represented by the flowers. Hawthorne feels you can still find good people, like Pearl, even in a world filled with evil, like the Puritans.
Nathaniel Hawthorne throughout his novel shows his true disagreement with the Puritan religion on a whole. He has been against the Puritan religion before the novel and in the novel makes it quite clear as well. With the use of both religious and natural imagery Hawthorne exploits the flaws in the Puritan religion and really shows the reader just how much is wrong with it.


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