The Scarlet Letter is a novel that brings out quite important questions concerning how history and literature relates to one another. This novel was written in the year 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne who lived from the year 1804 up until the year 1864 when he died. This novel is set in New England during the seventeenth century. This novel gives out the interpretation by the author of the true meaning and heritage of the Puritan way of life that defined the area. In this novel, Hawthorn just like many other American writers of his time looked to the America’s colonial history as a cause of subject matter in a nation that he had cried over (Gabler-Hover and Sattelmeyer [a], 1)
In the evaluation of the past, Hawthorne identified an opportunity to examine how the American culture and character of his current time had been shaped by that past that he evaluated. In the process of examining the past, he also put in to consideration other issues of importance during that time such as the women’s position in the culture of America, how the codes and principles of the society impacted on people within the same society and the relationship that existed between the individual and the society and also tried to consider the complicated place of the artist in any society be it in the past or the present time (Gabler-Hover & Sattelmeyer [b] 1).
The Role of Women in the Scarlet Letter
According to Gabler-Hover & Sattelmeyer [b] (13), the world in which Hester Prynne, the main female character in the Hawthorne’s novel “The Scarlet Letter” lives, a woman has only two roles to play in the society. The first role is to be a wife and the second is to be a mother. Each of these roles is accompanied by obligations and duties that are defined by culture in the society. The woman only gets a definition through her association with man and her duty to bear children. Anonymous (The Scarlet Letter 1), also echoes on this issue. Women were thought to be below men and were not to be heard in any way. Even before the time of Hawthorne, woman were under greater oppression giving an impression that the habit of seeing women as of no much value in the society was common place. Women had to wear the simplest clothes possible and had stay at their husband’s side in great respect and submission. However, the author of the scarlet letter was a person who believed strongly that such a trend should not persist in the society and woman could express themselves since they had inner strengths that even men were not aware of. Hawthorne used Hester as a character to portray such a power that women possessed. The women of those days were regarded as weak objects and not even subjects that could escape or be able get over the difficulties they could encounter in their lives. The work of women was to give birth to children and bring them up. Happiness and following one’s heart were regarded as big sins by the Puritan beliefs. In the novel, Hester commits adultery with Dimmesdale a priest and gets to be known by the people in the public. Even after she is accused she does not reveal the man with whom they have engaged in adultery. She knows she has offended the husband but when interviewed she confesses that she did not love him when she married him. According to her, love and law bear the same power and it was the strain between the two that strengthened her opposition towards what the law and “the scarlet letter” required of her (the Scarlet Letter was letter “A” attached on her representing adultery).
Hester was a woman who was able to go over a situation a man could not manage to. She managed to be fair and honest to herself and even to the world while the man she engaged in adultery with was not honest to himself and even the society (Anonymous, The Scarlet Letter 3). This man portrayed fundamental lack of strength and inability to bring himself to the public. He could not stand and carry his inequities in front of the public while the woman, Hester bore the sin daily for the two of them (Shroud Magazine Book Reviews, 5). In this novel, Hawthorne tried to communicate to women through the presentation of his main character, Hester, by showing the women how powerful they can become if they put to use the inner power each and every one of them has (Anonymous, The Scarlet Letter 3).
The man, who was expected to be strong and great and dominating over women and to be in charge of everything, started wasting away and he seemed to be completely destroyed. The inner force within this man became as weak as that of a child as his guilt kept on eating him up from within. But on the other hand, Hester as a woman who was seen not to do right and expected to have hid herself from shame was able to acquire strength even though the scarlet letter was exposed on her chest. She was even able to perform many activities that the society appreciated. This caused many people in her society not to consider the meaning of the scarlet letter “A” as standing for “Adultery” but regarded it as standing for “Able” (Anonymous, The Scarlet Letter 4).
According to Butler (1), Hawthorne is one among the writers who were very important during the 1800s. His work done at the time the civil war had not come, at the time of the war and even after the war was greatly focused on issues concerning moral troubles of sin, humankind, and social identity. Butler goes further to explain that people who well-liked Hawthorne’s work associated it not just with the nineteenth century alone but the American history as well (Butler 1). The work of Hawthorne concerns itself in a broad way with the Purism’s ethical effects and clashes on colonial England.
In “The Scarlet Letter” the outstanding artistic skills of Hawthorne are shown together with his strong mental insight that he uses to critically look at guilt and restlessness in the human heart. Even if “the Scarlet Letter” was written during the nineteenth century but those harms that occurred in the past have an effect on the future, as seen by the individual blame that Hawthorn being of the Puritan legacy brings out about his history. The nineteenth century literature of America is concentrated precisely on the issue the scarlet letter tries to single out. The issue is that society is sailing in the direction of a new lifestyle but the important thing is that any person should not take out his or her mind what or where he or she originated from. We also have other nineteenth century writers, though few in number, who just like Hawthorne, have a deep working knowledge and understanding of the American history. As a novelist, this author writes his novel, “the scarlet letter” and his other novels as a reply to the surroundings and ever transforming, debauched life of the nineteenth century in both the society he belonged and Salem’s legacy (Butler 1).