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Hawthorne, of course, did not have to wait for Max Weber to recognize that the normality prescribed by these puritans exemplified a protestant work. Of the Election Day procession he writes, Then, too, the people were countenanced, if not encouraged, in relaxing the severe and close application to their various modes of rugged industry, which, at all other times, seemed of the same piece and material with their religion 1: It is these nascent middle-class puritans who would, in Hawthornes imagination, denounce him as an idler i: But Hawthorne also identified with his stern puritan ancestors, whose administrative careers exemplified the persecuting spirit.

And yet, let them scorn me as they will, he acknowledges, strong traits of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine 1: Neither cast ye your pearls before swine, we are advised in Matthew It may be that Hawthorne, like the defiant and adulterous mother of Pearl, on one level identifies with his rebellious dragons-teeth progeny.

The Scarlet Letter - Michael Cisco - Google книги

As Sarah Hale noted in Floras Interpreter, the hawthorne bush bears flowers scarlet. Nevertheless, an angel of judgment,whose mission was to punish the sins of the rising generation is certainly not Sigourneys shrinking middle-class angel in the house. This probably made Hawthorne uneasy.

Yet Hawthorne does succeed in reprogramming her and perhaps his own writing in the same way.

BMCI the Scarlet Letter

Hawthorne converts Pearl as he did the surviving dragons-teeth warriors: he domesticates her in the most theatrical of circumstances. The scene is the scaffold with the scarlet trio on stage: Rev. Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl. Dimmesdale, to the approbation of his daughter, appears to acknowledge his paternity in full view of his flock: Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her fathers cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it.

Now she can be daddys little girl, if only for a moment, for daddyin what seems to be a parody of midnineteenth-century sentimental fatherhoodis about to perform a death scene.

Harriet Beecher Stowe put Topsy, the naughty slave girl, through a similarly theatrical ideological conversion in Uncle Toms Cabin , which Stowe began publishing in serial form only one year after the appearance of The Scarlet Letter. Topsy, who inherits Pearls naughtiness without her politics, creates domestic havoc and is in need of reformation.

Since it grieves Eva, the white angel of the house, that Topsy is so naughty, Stowes little evaporating evangelist takes it upon herself, enacting the role of the middleclass mother, to subdue Topsy with sentiment and guilt I shant live a great while Stowe has Topsy respond to Evas entreaty with a torrential downpour of tears. Stowes language of redemption reveals its debt to an ethnocentric discourse of dark continent colonization: Yes, in that moment, a ray of real belief, a ray of heavenly love, had penetrated the darkness of her heathen soul!

Ostensibly both Pearl and Topsy are humanized, but more particularly they are tamed through the act of crying. Rebellious little Pearl, it can be argued, gets a bum rap from this humanizing sleight of hand. Pearls tears, we are told, should be read as her pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow and, moreover, that she would not forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it.

To qualify as a woman is to pledge to refrain from battle with the world. Hawthorne was not consistently disaffected with male revolutionaries who did battle with the world. Perseus, wielding Medusas head, carries out a revolution by petrifying the evil King Polydectes and his court and then trots home to mother.

Jason, in pursuit of the golden fleece, is also seen in a glowing light as an avenging revolutionary who seeks to punish the wicked Pelias for wronging his dear father, and to cast him down from the throne, and seat himself there instead 7: Nonetheless it is Medea whose powerful magic puts the dragon to sleep so that Jason can pull its teeth. Her power automatically makes her an object of suspicion: These enchantresses, you must know, are never to be depended upon 7: Perseus and Jason who would be stumped without the aid of Medusa and Medea respectively are lionized as heroic social actors, while Pearl is sketched as an imaginative brat, a little girl all in disorder 1: Let us return to the scaffold and ask: does Pearls tearful union with her family humanize her no longer a dragons-teeth child more predatory than human or feminize her in the manner prescribed by so many writers on domesticity?

I would argue for the latter, that Hawthornes ideological pearl of wisdom for his middle-class female readers is that you cannot rebel. We know, for instance, that Hesters isolation has been a radicalizing process, enabling her to roam beyond the premises policed by the puritan fathers: She assumed a freedom of speculation, then common enough on the other side of the Atlantic, but which our forefathers, had they known it, would have held it to be a deadlier crime than that stigmatized by the scarlet letter 1: Yet Hawthorne never divulges the deadlier contents of this scarlet speculation.

Of course, Hesters manifestly radical accomplishment is the fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy shown in the embroidery of her letter, which went greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony 1: One of the merciless female spectators of Hester on the scaffold is correct to recognize in her embroidery a refusal to obey to the letter. Hester is aware that her ideological function is to serve as a living stereotype not simply of sinfulness or adultery but of womans frailty and sinful passion 1: By taking liberties with her letter, by showing skill, intelligence, creativity, and pride rather than shame, she is engaged in a semiotic battle with a puritan patriarchy that seeks to regulate biological and ideological reproduction.

In Governor Bellinghams mansion Hester views herself in the breastplate of standing armor, a convex mirror which exaggerates the size of her letter so as to render it the most prominent feature of her appearance and to obscure her behind it 1: The mirror is reminiscent of Aylmers daguerreotype of Georgiana, which, like the alchemists fixating imagination, reproduces only the hand where her cheek should have been Bellinghams mirror can be read as a symbol of the way the puritan fathers would like Hester to view herself and her transgression.

Hesters voluptuous art, if anything, functions to parody this convex puritan vision. It is significant that it is the dragons-teeth child who directs Hester to gaze into the mirror. Hawthorne represents this as another sign of Pearls impishness and naughtiness; yet Pearls action signals to her mother exactly how the puritan fathers will try to contort her vision of herself in the interview which is to follow. Hester does well as a cultural critic, given the fact that her author, that ambivalent descendant of puritan administrators, granted her merely one letter of the alphabet to work with.

Only one letter makes it difficult for Hester to lead what Margaret Fuller aspired to and achieved, a life of. Her embroidery distinguishes those dignified by rank or wealth from the plebian 1: 82 and thus helps legitimize the authority of the new government 1: 82 that censured her. When we first see the scarlet woman she is like a Lady of Shalott or a magnificent Medusa before being transformed into a gorgon: She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam 1: On the scaffold this woman of vision exhibited a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed 1: Hester confines her rich and luxuriant hair 1: in a cap and increasingly entertains radical thoughts.

It is difficult not to think of the way Hawthorne may have perceived his recently deceased friend, Margaret Fuller, when he writes of Hester: All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered up by this red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away, leaving a bare and harsh outline, which might have been repulsive, had she possessed friends and companions to be repelled by it 1: Hawthorne explains that her marble coldness Then we learn of her egregious freedom of speculation.

All that sexy hair stuffed under her cap makes Hester not only think too much, but lose her femininity her humanity : She who has once been a woman, and ceased to be so, might at any moment become a woman again if there were only the magic touch to effect the transfiguration 1: If Hester, when free to speculate, has perforce ceased to be a woman, then what is she? Hawthornes sleight of hand his own crafty magic touch is here installing ideological criteria for what qualifies a female to be a woman.

Hester deviates from Hawthornes discursive construction of woman. Hawthorne constructs motherhood as Hesters redemption. This conventional middle-class faith in the saving grace of Motherhood can also be seen in Horace Greeleys quip about Margaret Fuller who had been one of his most successful columnists : A good husband and two or three bouncing babies would have emancipated her from a great deal of cant and. If not for Pearl, he assures us, the scarlet mother might have come down to us in history, hand in hand with Anne Hutchinson, as the foundress of a religious sect.

She might, in one of her phases, have been a prophetess 1: Just as sewing clothing may well have diverted Hester from unambiguously sowing broadcast the dragons teeth in other forms, so does child rearing, which gave the mothers enthusiasm of thought Yet it seems as if Pearl, from birth, has fired up her mothers radical enthusiasm of thought. Her fierce reactions to the little Puritans who scorn them had a kind of value, and even comfort, for her mother; because there was at least an intelligible earnestness in the mood, instead of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in the childs manifestations 1: Pearls fitful caprice, by contrast, often operates to thwart her mothers enthusiasm of thought.

This would seem to present us with an enigma. If Pearls only discoverable principle of being is, as Hester tells Dimmesdale, the freedom of a broken law 1: , and if she takes the lead in repelling little Puritans who torment the wearer of the scarlet letter, why then does Pearl demand that her mother refasten the scarlet badge of puritan authority to her bosom in the forest, and kiss it when Hester gives in?


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I shall suggest later that this perverse tormenting of her mother and this expression of allegiance to a symbol of puritan authority be read as the Dimmesdale side of Pearl. Hawthorne, despite what appears to be conflicting evidence about the effect of Pearl on Hester, wants his readers to regard sewing and motherhood as fulfilling the cultural function later attributed by Oliver Wendell Holmes to the piano. In Elsie Venner Holmes profiles women as naturally secretive, resentful, and dangerousready to combust. They possess, for some unprobed reason, a stormy inner life that demands free utterance in words or song.

He gratefully concludes: What would our civilization be without the piano? Hawthornes more fundamental question underlying this one is: what would our middle-class civilization be without feminized women? By our civilization both Holmes and Hawthorne mean a civilization based on the unquestionable primacy of patriarchal authority our. Defeminized behavior, more than sexual transgression per se, is what Hawthorne sees as the deadlier 1: threat to the puritan patriarchs as well as to the middle-class civilization of his own day.

Although Hawthorne chooses.

The Scarlet Letter - Summary & Analysis - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Then, the very nature of the opposite sex in its long hereditary habit, which has become like nature, is to be essentially modified, before women can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position The phrasing does not specify what authority will at long last allow women to take up what seems a fair and suitable position emphasis mine ; nor does it spell out this new position. Nevertheless, the radicalism here is in Hawthornes suggestion that there is a vital connection between sex roles and specific forms of society. If sex roles change, everything changes, for these roles legitimize, enforce, and symbolize the larger system, however unfree and contradictory this system of society may be.

Hawthornes perception of a link between gender reform and social change is, as we have seen, also overt in Coverdales paranoid representation of Zenobias catastrophic feminism oversetting all human institutions. Defeminization leads not only to unlearning assumptions about gender but to dismantling assumptions undergirding patriarchal bourgeois constructs of civilization and humanity. In this respect Hawthorne may well have made a connection between the dragons mouth and a powerful force issuing from it that did indeed menace civilization as he knew it and wanted it to be.

Here Hawthorne is thinking expansively about why our civilization, which implies a particular power structure, relies on the binary classification of opposite sexes. Scott on the ways in which sexual difference becomes one of the recurrent references by which political power has been conceived, legitimated, and criticized. What is at issue in Hawthornes novel and his culture is not solely the control of womens bodies, behavior, and thinking, but in a more encompassing sense the consolidation of middle-class power and identity: in Scotts words, The binary opposition and the social process of gender relationships both become part of the meaning of power itself; to question or alter any aspect threatens the entire system.

Once sexual difference seems sure and fixed, outside of human construction, it can be used ideologically to naturalize and therefore legitimize other social relations, such as class divisions and the unequal distribution of wealth and power.

This is what Melville was thinking about five years later in The Tartarus of Maids, when he hinted that nature and feminized women workers were being transformed into signs intended to advertise the presence of the factory as a wholesome American institution. On the cutting edge of Hawthornes middle-class consciousness was some awareness that, as Scott maintains, the concept of class in the nineteenth century relied on gender for its articulation.

For it may have been a theoretical abstraction of criticisms launched by the members of female reform and benevolent associations. Hester is herself a one-woman benevolent association in Salem, aiding the poor, ministering to the sick, and counseling abused and confused women. Concomitantly she is, all wrapped into one, exactly the kind of woman whom mid-century benevolent associations sought to assist: a seamstress, a fallen woman, and, at the outset, a prisoner.

Barbara Berg has advanced the thesis that in these associations, which flourished between and the s, one can locate important origins of American feminism.


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  • The women who volunteered for these associations were middle-class and upper-class, and one lesson they learned perhaps like Hester as they moved out of their conventional spheres was that middleclass motherhood had indeed privatized them. Many a woman is lost to society once she becomes a mother, concluded one reformer in Coming face to face with exploited seamstresses, starving widows, and prostitutes, these reformers began not only to develop a sense of sisterhood with such women but to criticize specific structural contradictions that accounted for their plight.

    In , the year Hawthorne began work as a weigher and gauger of coal and salt at the Boston Custom House, one woman, a member of the Boston Seamans Aid Society, wrote about the socioeconomic predicament of seamstresses. Her vision of the relationship between gender and exploitation is more focused than the revolutionary vision that Hawthorne attributes to Hester.

    The irresistible influence of the Government, by its agents, is brought to operate directly to beat down the price of wages on the only kind of labor which a considerable class of females in every large city can perform. The year before, another member of the society observed in their publication: The only means of earning money for those who cannot go out to labor in families, nor take in washing, is by needlework. They blamed not only government, and employers, but men for allowing this to happen: it is, charged another member, a shame and disgrace for any one, who writes himself a man, to make a fortune out of the handy-work of poor females!

    In this sketch he describes a crowd of pale-cheeked, slender girls, who disturb the ear with their multiplicity of short dry coughs They are seamstresses who suffer under the rule of master-tailors and close-fisted contractors But what these reformers grasped, perhaps more firmly than Hawthorne, was that the feminization that had prevented them in their middle-class homes from being aware of such laboring-class realities was also the feminization that, by prohibiting women from being trained in and taking up a range of employments, created an ever-present female underclass, a well-stocked labor pool of easily exploited and, due to socialization, often docile wage slaves.

    A New York reformer, well aware of the economic reasons why some women often became prostitutes, wrote in the Advocate of Moral Reform : Women are thus limited to a few employments, hence these are overstocked with laborers. Another woman, writing for the same periodical in , acknowledged that men speak in extravagant terms on the excellence of women, but for her this now evoked the economic ramifications of such pedestal elevation and incited her to rock the belle-tower by demanding: How is her labor requited?

    Does the delicate mother fear that I would make her.

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    Does she mean by masculinethoughtful, judicious, wise, learned, independent, self, respectingI plead guilty. These women of letters were discovering not that they could, in spite of censure from the clergy and elsewhere, retain their humanity even if they engaged in public reform, but that this process was enabling them to redefine humanity and to appropriate it for themselves and for the women they aided, perhaps for the first time.

    For some reformers this meant that their notion of humanizing would have to clash with the bourgeois notion of humanizing that had been part of their socialization as middle-class feminine women. Like Hester, many of these women had learned these lessons by helping deviant women and recognizing their sisterhood with them. But unlike Hawthorne, many of these women reformers were able to give their readers detailed reports of how gender socialization helps to produce and legitimize certain economic conditions inimical to laboring women and why, therefore, certain ideological and economic systems in a class stratified society should indeed in Hawthornes words be torn down, and built up anew.

    Hawthornes resistance to Hesters rather abstract vision of structural social change is not only political but emotional: the delicate femininity truest life he reveres must evaporate in the change. The process of feminine evolution that produces Priscilla and other true women would be reversed, perhaps leaving us with the likes of the man-like Queen Elizabeth and Anne Hutchinson.