LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
Dark Romanticism in Hawthorne’s novels:
- Themes: human guilt, ancestral sin, retribution, and evil;
- His novels are set in New England and are centered around moral metaphors with anti-Puritan inspiration;
- The novels combine: historical romance, symbolism and psychological themes.
- Complex female characters;
- Hawthorne’s take on dark romanticism is anti-transcendental, as he refuses their optimism regarding human nature and concentrates on the dark aspects of the human conscience;
- There is no romantic escape in his novels;
- In his novels, he performs a scrutiny of psychological and moral facts.
THE SCARLET LETTER (published 1850)
- Genre: romance, historical novel
- Boston, the 17th century, before the American independence.
- As part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Boston was ruled by Puritans (individuals who left England as they were dissatisfied with the Anglican Church).
- Central values for Puritans:
- The setting reflects the power of tradition and government as opposed to the freedom of nature.
Main theme: Sin and the human condition. The lover’s sin (Hester commits adultery in her relationship with Dimmesdale) reflects the original sin of Adam and Eve. The sin results in expulsion and suffering (Hester is forced to wear the scarlet letter of adulterers and is banished from the community, while Dimmesdale is tormented by his sin). It also results in knowledge and understanding of the human condition.
- The nature of evil
- Female independence
- Nature vs society (an opposition characteristic to romanticism)
In a very strict Puritan community, a woman has an extra-marital affair and gives birth to a baby girl in prison. She refuses to disclose the identity of the child’s father and is ostracized by the community and forced to wear a dress with a scarlet letter A. Her husband confronts her but makes her swear not to reveal his identity (he arrives from England after her). He vows to find out who the father is. He suspects that it is a young minister, Dimmesdale, whom he starts tormenting. The minister’s condition worsens. A few years later, he decides to flee to Europe with his lover and their daughter, but dies right before that, after confessing that he is the father. Hester and the girl leave for Europe, but many years later Hester returns. She is buried next to Dimmesdale.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Hester Prynne – the protagonist of the novel. She is forced to wear the scarlet letter in the title, as a reminder of her adultery. She is a strong, passionate woman, who can endure years of shame and scorn for a mistake she never really regrets. She is as intelligent and thoughtful as both her husband and her lover. From her position as an outcast, she can make observations about her community and its treatment of women.
- Roger Chillingworth – Hester’s husband in disguise. He is much older than she is and arrives in Boston after she has given birth to the illegitimate child. He is intelligent and quickly discovers the identity of his wife’s lover. He is also cruel because he torments Dimmesdale and makes him sick.
- Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale – an intelligent theologian who emigrates to America and becomes Hester’s lover. He feels so guilty for his sins, that he torments himself physically and psychologically until he develops a heart condition. He is intelligent and emotional and is entirely committed to his congregation.
POINT OF VIEW
- Third-person point of view.
- Omniscient perspective, the narrator describes the thoughts of the main character, as well as the general atmosphere of the town.
- The narrator often adds commentary about characters and their actions.
- The narrator is ironic towards society and sympathetic towards the protagonist.
- Skeptical tone; the narrator questions events and suggests that the underlying themes are more significant than the story.
Ornate and subtle style;
Long, intricate sentences;
The meaning of the sentences changes in the middle, suggesting that things (and characters) are not what they appear;
Figurative language used to show the reader what is happening below the surface of the characters’ reserved behavior
Example: “No, my little Pearl!” said her mother. “Thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee!” (the sunshine is a metaphor of Pearl’s happiness, which she must learn to find on her own),
Example: “A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its wreathed involutions in open sight.” (the first encounter between Hester and her husband and a foreshadowing of the character’s cruelty)