Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
The Puritan Beliefs As Told Through The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne was not a Puritan. But Hawthrone’s forefathers were Puritans, so he had an understanding of their belief system and their basis behind it. He stated that he hoped the sins of his forefathers had been forgiven. Hoping to expose those ideas which he understood, yet despised, Hawthorne purposely presented many important Puritan beliefs as import aspects to the Scarlet Letter. In the Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne addresses three main Puritan beliefs: providence, predestination, and the strict code of ethics that the settlers of New Englanders lived by.
The first main Puritanical belief Hawthorne referred to was the belief in divine providence. The Puritans believed that God granted providence, the right to enter heaven upon one’s death, to people who were moral and performed meaningful deeds while on earth. The main example of God granting providence is in chapter 8 when Hester visits the governor concerning Pearl. “… The young minister’s argument…[that] the child had saved [Hester] from Satan’s snare” (100). Surly if God did not want Hester to enter His kingdom upon her passing, He certainly would’ve allowed Pearl to be taken and Hester to enter the forest with Mistress Gibbons. A second example of providence in the Scarlet Letter is when Dimmesdale is dying on the scaffold. He claims that the “burning torture upon his breast” (226) and the “dark and terrible old man” (226) sent by God had given him a “triumphant death before the people” (226). If God sent these tortures to give Dimmesdale a glorious death, Dimmesdale must’ve been granted God’s providence.
A second Puritan belief referred to in the Scarlet Letter is the idea of predestination. Predestination is the belief that God has a plan for all his people and no matter how hard one works to change that outcome, it will eventually be. The townspeople when Dimmesdale falls ill falsely believe it to ” come forth out of the conflict, transfigured with the … glory…” (110). And since this earthly minister was chosen as a battleground for the conflict between good and evil, he was predetermined to rise to a saintly post in the heavens. Upon his death, Dimmesdale states “… it is vain to hope that we could meet… in an everlasting and pure reunion. God knows…” (226). And if God is the ultimate judge of his fate and knows Dimmesdale’s fate, it seems logical that Dimmesdale’s fate is already predetermined.
The final belief of Puritan society mentioned by Hawthorne is the strict code of ethics. The Puritans believed that every sin should be meet with an earthly punishment and well as a spiritual punishment. The earthly punishment would often involve public humiliation. Harsher punishments would often involve extended public infamy. The scarlet letter is an excellent example. As Roger Chillingworth said : ” I can imagine a scheme of vengeance… so that this… burning shame may blaze upon thy bosom” (61). Along with Hester’s letter, was Roger Chillingworth for choosing to keep his identity a secret. He did not want ” the dishonor which besmirches the husband of a faithless women” (64), which itself, while not mandated by law, brings infamy he choose to live without. When Hester and Dimmesdale decided to run away together, they waited so that Dimmesdale can give his Election Day sermon and leave no duty unfulfilled. Finishing one’s job is an ethical thing to do.
Despite the fact that Hawthorne rejected Puritan ideas and resented the way in which his forefathers acted, he still understood Puritan beliefs. Hoping to expose those ideas, he gave them predominant parts in the Scarlet Letter. The three main ideas he addressed were: providence, predestination, and the strict code of ethics that the settlers of New Englanders lived by.