Ap Lang and Comp
Scarlet letter Analysis
December 19, 2013
Nature or Society?
The Scarlet letter is a novel by Nathanial Hawthorne about a young woman who committed adultery in the strict religious and conservative society of puritan Massachusetts. The author Nathaniel Hawthorn agreed with the transcendentalist views and ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson and depicted his agreement in the form of his famous novel The Scarlet Letter. Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical movement that enforced the idea that society and its institutions corrupted the purity of the individual and led to a life of misery and depression. Ralph Waldo Emerson was at the forefront of the transcendentalism movement and was seen as a champion of individualism. In his famous essay Self Reliance, Emerson promotes the importance of individualism and disapproves of societal conformity. Similarly, in the Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne promotes the transcendentalist idea of the importance of individuality and shows this through Hester Prynne’s misfortune due to societal laws about adultery and her good fortune through natural laws; her needle working.
According to Emerson, following one’s conscience leads to success and happiness in life. In his essay, Self-Reliance, Emerson writes, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Great men have always done so…Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist” (364). In this quote Emerson claims that to be a great man you have to trust yourself and do what you believe is right. He says that to be of true worth or “a man” you should follow your own path instead of trailing behind the rest of society like a sheep. Similarly, in the Scarlet Letter Hawthorne uses Hester’s example to claim that following one’s own conscience leads to a prosperous and joyful life. He writes, “She bore on her breast, in the curiously embroidered letter, a specimen of her delicate and imaginative skill…..her handiwork became what would now be termed the fashion” (94-95). In other words, Hester followed her own path of needlework and that led her to a prosperous business and popularity among the citizens of Massachusetts. By giving prosperity and popularity to Hester through the use of her own skill in needle work, Hawthorne proves true the transcendentalist idea of attaining happiness by following one’s own conscience. Therefore, this passage and the novel as a whole promotes the idea that following your conscience leads to prosperity and happiness in life.
Since Hawthorne promotes the idea of individuality it would be logical for him to condemn the idea of conformity. In his renown essay Self Reliance Emerson writes, “The terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word because the eyes of others” (366). In other words, Emerson is saying that people are afraid to move on or try to be themselves because of the image they have created of themselves in the past and this leads them to fear the society criticizing them. Because of which they choose to follow the societal law and seem to lead a life of belonging when in reality their hearts are discontent and full of misery. In