The Curse of Puritanism Exhibited in "The Scarlet Letter"

Essay by smartslacker94High School, 11th gradeA+, June 2007

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Nathanael Hawthorne was known to be very critical of Puritans, who were intolerant of lifestyles or ideas that went against their beliefs and intolerant of those who interfered with their predestined salvation. This curse of Puritanism is depicted in The Scarlet Letter through Hawthorne’s use of imagery, setting, and characterization. Hawthorne uses literary devices such as diction and imagery to convey the curse of Puritanism. In the beginning, for example, Hawthorne uses dark and dull words to set the tone of the story: “A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods… was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.” (33). This quote exemplifies the culture and attitude of the Puritans -- they are very plain and do not dress elaborately because they believe that fanciness would hinder their chance for predestined salvation.

The heaviness of the door is also symbolic of the persecution and intolerance that Puritans have towards sin.

The curse of Puritanism continues to be evident in the setting of Hawthorne’s novel. The Scarlet Letter takes place in Boston during the 17th century, which was a time when the Puritan population flourished. The events of the novel take place either in the forest or the town. The law and order of the town and the lawlessness and wilderness of the forest resembles the rigidity of Puritan society. The town is most of the events that are acceptable to Puritan society happen, such as the persecution of Hester Prynne. The forest is where most of the events that are unacceptable to Puritan society happen, such as the meeting between Hester Prynne and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. The forest is also known to be where the...