The Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne's Ideology in The Scarlet Letter

In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne creates a division between the truth and a Puritan society tainted by hypocrisy. Such a division existed in Hawthorne’s life as well. Born into a historically Puritan family, Hawthorne developed an obsession with his Salemite ancestors as well as guilt for their role in the witch trials. As Hawthorne matured, he found solace in the doctrine of Transcendentalists. However, failure and disillusionment forced Hawthorne to ultimately accept his true identity—a theme that pervades The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne and Hester embark on twin journeys together, with Hester’s struggles and triumphs echoing those of Hawthorne.

Hawthorne feels a residual culpability for the judgments of his ancestors, and attempts to distance himself from the Puritan culture. Although research has shown that the earliest Hathorne (the original spelling) “came to Massachusetts Bay in 1630,” the true source of Hawthorne’s grief was Judge William Hathorne; the Judge “was a member of the Colonial Assembly during the period of the persecution” of the Salem witches and Quakers (Stearns). Hawthorne reflects upon this familial stigma in “The Custom-House.” The narrator of this introduction, who speaks partly if not entirely...

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