Theme Of Individualism In The Scarlet Letter Essay

Nathaniel Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter in 1850. Hawthorne engenders a protestant society holding community values to be the standards, leaving Hester Prynne in a difficult situation. According to community values she’s a sinner, a wrongdoer, an atrocious person, conversely , looking at her own morals she could be a hero, a role model, an overall admirable person. Hester’s burdened to wear the scarlet letter which stands for the deadly crime of adultery, but eventually denotes ambiguity.

Leading to the conclusion that An individual’s morality is not solely judged by what society considers moral, but instead an individual’s own moral code. Written in 1850 ,The Scarlet Letter, takes place during the age of transcendentalism. Transcendentalism was a reaction against rationalism. Emphasizing the romantic aspects of mysticism, idealism, and individualism. Religiously god was viewed not as a distant and harsh authority but as an essential aspect of the individual and the natural world.

Individualism the actions or attitudes of a person who does things without being concerned about what other people will think: “In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.

It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what parliament allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony (Hawthorne 13). ” At this ceremony at the beginning of the book she faces the crowd of people seemly confident and unaffected by the crowds foul words of her.

However, throughout the book she struggles to come to terms with being a misfit within society and whether she is a moral person. I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am! (Hawthorne)” She puts on a smile to subside how she really feels in the beginning. Although seemingly confident their hatred does hurt her deeper than led on. By the end of the book she’s moved on living by her own code. “She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom (Hawthorne). ” She didn’t realize how much the Scarlet Letter had held her back in life until set free from the symbol.

Hester’s attitude is part of idealism defined as the attitude of a person who believes that it is possible to live according to very high standards of behavior and honesty. “What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead? ” Cried another female, the ugliest as well as the most pitiless of these self-constituted judges. “This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book.

Then let the magistrates, who have made it of no effect, thank themselves if their own wives and daughters go astray! (Hawthorne 10). ” In this scene Hawthorne continues to give insight into the society as a whole. Proving them to be very judgmental and hold high standards when considering who is moral. Most believe all should abide by the rules of the bible. However choose the rules they feel matter taking no attention to the unique situations that may come forth. However when comparing the two eras, then and now, Hester’s situation may have been very different.

In the 1850’s the protestant societies aimed to create a perfect community. Perfect in terms of all abiding by the rules and having complete protestant values. During this time Anne Hutchinson, a puritan spiritual adviser, had asserted knowledge of the holy spirit leading to salvation. This time period was also during the time period when women held less valuable than men. Leading to men holding higher positions of authority. Such as in Scarlet Letter when looking at who holds positions of power within the society. However today’s society varies in many ways.

While most of America remains Christian the society tends to be much more open to individual religious beliefs. While some do still abide by the bible we are a lot more aware of the variation of situations. In 1920 women gained the right to vote. Now gaining the right to high positions of authority. While some women believe valued unequally this is debatable things have definitely changed. Hester Prynne is the main antagonist in The Scarlet Letter. While married to Roger Chillingworth she moved to Amsterdam, however her husband did not follow until 2 years later.

After having waited two years she came to the assumption that her husband had died at sea. She then unknowingly committed adultery with reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. After becoming pregnant she is forced to admit to her crimes in front of the town. Her major punishment being that she must wear the scarlet letter as a symbol of her crimes. While the main event is Hester’s suffering under the burden of her symbol of shame, after the marriage of her daughter Pearl and the death of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, Hester becomes an accepted member of the community.

Instead of the scarlet letter symbolizing scorn, Hester, and the letter A, according to the narrator, “became something sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too( Hawthorne). ” The people even come to Hester for comfort and counsel in times of trouble and sorrow because of their trust her. Thus Hester becomes an important figure in the balance and stability of the community. Although the scarlet letter itself is symbol, there is many more throughout the book. Such as the first chapter’s rose-bush. Although seemly just a detail, Hawthorne uses it to stand for the historical figure Anne Hutchinson.

Or the character of Arthur Dimmesdale who through years of constant suffering reveals the power of honesty. Hawthorne uses the setting almost entirely to symbolize the novel and time period. A “Black” Forest lies outside the town standing for the moral absence and evil. The use of colors is also very prevalent. While the forest is black the town is gray along with the townspeople. Described to “never have known a youthful era (Hawthorne). ” Hawthorne possibly uses this to bring attention to the dullness of the world at this point in time.

As for criticism although having a few negative reviews most were very captivating and positive. “Whipple wrote that the novel had “utterly undermined the whole philosophy on which the French novels rest, by seeing further and deeper into the essence both of conventional and moral laws(Quirk 12). ” The Scarlet Letter illustrates a positive insight into morality against the French lack of such insight. The novel has also been a positive subject of criticism by feminist readers. “Hester and her behavior are the ideals of passion, self-expression, freedom, and individualism against ideals of order, authority, and restraint.

Nothing in the plot shows Hester attempting to evade responsibility for her actions (Bamn 15). ” In fact most of the novel is her taking responsibility. She never calls herself unequal or feels she is not deserving of her punishment. The Puritan society they built seems to forget the wisdom of Puritan poet John Milton, author of Paradise Lost. Hawthorne repeatedly quotes Paradise Lost to suggest its vision of mankind as “fallen”. Fallen they gain the potential for redemption. So Hester, let out of prison, “with the world before her,” seems to have a better chance of redemption than her hypocritical neighbors.

To conclude Hester’s point of view must be taken into consideration when determining her morality. She continues to be a moral person even after all others assume she’s not. “The world’s law was no law for her mind. It was an age in which the human intellect, newly emancipated, had taken a more active and a wider range than for many centuries before…. Hester Prynne imbibed this spirit. She assumed freedom of speculation, than common enough on the other side of the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known of it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the scarlet letter (Hawthorne 1:164). ”