Hidden Elements: Romanticism and Puritanism Dark. Light . Bland. Spontaneous. Restricted. Free. Puritanism. Romanticism. Those characteristics are comparing two major beliefs in the nineteenth century: Puritanism and Romanticism. Characteristics such as “dark, bland, restricted” describe the authoritarian principles of Puritanism. In contrast, “light, spontaneous, free” depict the more liberal beliefs of Romanticism.
As witnessed in his novel, Hawthorne’s root as a Puritan allowed him to comprehend Puritan’s strict teachings and successfully corporate that into his writing. For example, Puritans’ oppressive lifestyle prohibits an individual to turn to human intercourse for lust and enforces the fact that God is everything; one must obey God’s will and he is the universe of his followers. Nevertheless, even though his ancestors were Puritans, Hawthorne expresses his admiration balanced with concerns regarding their strict practice, through his novel, The Scarlet Letter.
Written in the nineteenth century, a period when Romanticism was at its acme, the novel possesses many Romantic and Puritanical natures. Through The Scarlet Letter’s syntax and diction and the portrayal of its characters, the novelist successfully incorporates Puritanism and Romanticism into his famous book. In the story, Hester Prynne and Pearl are the emblematic of Romanticism while the male protagonist, Arthur Dimmesdale, is the representation of Puritanism.
Syntax and diction have the ability to reflect the author’s belief; which in this case: Romanticism. From the very first words of the novel, “A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray steepled-crowded hats… ” (Hawthorne 45), Nathaniel Hawthorne already expresses his opinion toward Puritans as he depicts their clothing using negative connotation such as “sad-colored” and “gray”. These words reveal to the readers that Hawthorne viewed the Puritans as a sad and gloomy group in society.
To express Romanticism in his writing, however, Hawthorne uses many complex sentences. For instance, instead of writing “If there was a Papist, he would see her the image of Divine Martially”-short and simple like the way Puritans would write- he wrote ” Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, so picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of Divine Partiality, which so any illustrious painters have vied with one to another, represent, something which should remind him, by contrast, of that scared image of sinless motherhood, whose infant was to redeem the world” (Hawthorne 54) to show the complexity of Romantic writings. Nathaniel Hawthorne also uses flowery language such as “ His gestures, his gait, his grizzled beard, his slightest and most indifferent acts, the very fashion of his garments, were odious in the clergyman’s sight; a token implicitly to be relied than he was willing to acknowledge for himself to himself…
Mr. Dimmesdale, conscious that the poison of one morbid spot was infecting his heart’s entire substance…” (Hawthorne 136) to further elaborates the Romanticism in his writing. Simple defines Puritanism; on the other hand, complex defines Romanticism. Hawthorne’s writing let the characteristics of the two beliefs shine through his novel. Throughout the story, Hawthorne reflects Romantic philosophies through Hester and Pearl. Hester Prynne, in the eyes of the Puritans violated her religion’s principle: turning to sex for lust.
By doing so, she defies “Puritanic code of law” (Hawthorne 50); therefore, as a punishment, she must wear an embroiled scarlet letter “A” on her bosom to mark her sin. However, Hawthorne contrasts the Puritan beliefs by using Romantic philosophy. Hester is portrayed as a young and beautiful woman who committed adultery but eventually earns the respect of most villagers. Not only Hester, but also the supposedly shameful scarlet letter- from “Adultery” to “Able”- is described as a majestic symbol when Hester wears it.
A sinner is usually being viewed as a loathsome and ill-favored figure in society; however, Nathaniel Hawthorne contrasted the belief of Puritanism by showing how a sinner can earn back a place in society. Pearl, the child of sin is supposed to be ugly, evil, and shameful, but Hawthorne depicts her as a young, free-spirited child. Pearl’s gentler action “here [the forest] than in the grassy-margined streets of the settlement, or in her mother’s cottage” (Hawthorne 194) shows Romanticism; Puritanism believes everything in the forest is wicked.
In the “evil” forest, Hester is able to relax and escape her troublesome life. Hester and Pearl, even though both were Puritans, represent Romanticism through their actions and descriptions. Puritans invest everything in their trustworthy religious leader, Arthur Dimmesdale; however, upon committing the unpardonable sin, Dimmesdale lost all faith in him and started to inflict pains and starve himself “until his knees trembled beneath him” to cope with this guiltiness. To Dimmesdale, admitting one’s sin to the public is less painful than letting his own conscience eats him inside out.
Beginning a devoted Puritan, Dimmesdale followed Hester’s request of concealing the secret even though it was killing him, for he believes that is the will of God. He views his suffering as God’s punishments for committing adultery. He fears that his action has proven to God his insincerity for salvation; and in hope of it, he torments himself. But since these punishments were carried out in private, they do not satisfy Arthur Dimmesdale’s purpose. Dimmesdale is the perfect example of Puritanism for he strictly followed the rule and set God as the meaning of his life.
This protagonist is Hawthorne’s way of ridiculing the strictness of Puritanism; Dimmesdale is a bland person who follows Puritan’s ascetic rules but found no happiness until he betrays his own belief and confessed his sin. Through The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne provokes the strict teachings of Puritan using Romantic elements. His characters, Hester Prynne and Pearl, reflect the Romantic side of the novel when they withstand the isolation of their society and thrive through the hardship.
Dimmesdale, on the other hand, demonstrated the mores of Puritan when he stayed committed to his religion and use God as an explanation for the torments and obstacles in his life. Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter could be regarded as one of the best Romantic book ever written; however, Hawthorne’s writing style forces the reader to pay real close attention to the details to comprehend the complex meaning behind the book and learn how to embrace the complicated Romantic and Puritan ideas.