ENG 334 Blog Post #5

ENG 334 Blog Post #5

Post blog entry #5: Open Topic

My initial thoughts while reading The Scarlet Letter were focused on the concept of Puritanism that is prevalent throughout the entire novel. Last semester I took an American Lit course called “Captivity Narratives” and read a lot of stories that took place in Puritan New England. A common theme at the time, and throughout the couple of centuries following (and today, perhaps?? but I digress), is, of course, the oppression of women. I guess my mind seems to wander in that direction naturally, but beyond the oppression of women is the suppression of self-identity. Aside from the fact that the act of adultery is a sin, I believe it’s worth asking if Hester was so harshly shunned by her society based on the fact that she had deviated from the norm. I thought it was interesting when we discussed in class the relationship between social rank and clothing at the time.

Murfin mentions Richard Millington, a critic who “sees [The Scarlet Letter] as promoting a complex and balanced view of cultural constraint and individual freedom. For instance, he argues that, by the story’s end, the inescapable public punishment outwardly imposed on Hester has conferred on her enough inner freedom to become a critic of the Puritan community” (289). This perspective resonates with me for some reason, maybe because through my Captivity Narratives course I had myself become a critic of Puritanism. There’s no denying that, while I may not be in the right to criticize it completely (I don’t want to step on any religious toes), it was wildly oppressive. Critic George Bailey Loring mentions a similar sentiment on page 274 by stating that Hawthorne’s novel “‘properly exposed the inhumanity of Puritanism, which repressed the sensuous element in human nature’”. One potent illustration of this repression is from the scene in the forest in chapter 18, when Hester finally feels comfortable letting down her hair and regaining some of her old spontaneous spunk. Of course, that freedom is short-lived because Pearl feels too uncomfortable to approach her mother until she dons her oppressive layers once more of hairpin and scarlet letter. I understand that I’ve been rambling, and I’ll go further off the rails for a moment to inquire about Pearl’s discomfort at seeing her real mother instead of the socially conditioned one. What could this mean? We often associate children with being the closest to nature because they have yet to be marred by societal conditions, but this clearly isn’t the case. Is there sufficient evidence to blame Puritanism for superseding the course of nature as early as infancy?

One thought on “ENG 334 Blog Post #5

  1. I think the question you raise, “Aside from the fact that the act of adultery is a sin, I believe it’s worth asking if Hester was so harshly shunned by her society based on the fact that she had deviated from the norm” is especially interesting because it emphasizes the notion that women are not only expected to live according to a specific role, but are also shunned when they stray from that role. There are ideas about adultry and sexuality which have long been established (so to speak) in the different cultures, but there is also a reoccurring pattern of not just women, but any minority (or sub-dominant) person, starying from any cultural norms being persectured in some way. Literature often illustrates these deviations in novels and essays such as The Scarlet Letter, whereby a devaition from the normal, the expected, has negative effects. It almost serves as a warning to the readers. This also reminds me of reading the Hannah Duston narrartives in the captivity narratives class last semester. I believe that it was Hawthornes interpretation/version (although, it may have been that of Mathers-I can’t rememeber exactly) of the narrative which was so obviously anti-women that we began to associate him with a sort of anti-feminist movement. Both in Duston’s tale and in The Scarlet Letter, the focus strays from the primary female character and becomes associated with another male character, further diminishing the role of the woman. Even if the actions of these male characters is not favorable, or praised, the whole of the story becomes patriarchal in nature.

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