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Puritanism In The Scarlet Letter

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Abstract

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s representative work, is a classical novel in American literature in the 19th century. The novel displays Puritanism’s great impact on people's life and thought. This thesis will give a picture of puritans’ life and ideology through the analysis of the Puritan town Boston and some related characters, and introduce how the communities in the town are deeply influenced by Puritanism. Meanwhile, by analyzing the main character Hester, the thesis will present the harshness and the strict punishment in Puritan society. In Puritan communities, whoever commits a sin will be punished. The thesis also presents Hawthorne’s attitude towards Puritanism. On one hand, he appreciates the Puritan thought and value; on the other hand, he condemns the negative impact of Puritan society on people’s spirit.

Key Words: Puritanism, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, BostonпјЊHester

Chapter1

в... .Introduction

A. Puritans

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter was written in 18th century. The setting of The Scarlet Letter is in the 17th century in Boston, America. Before proceeding to the analysis of the Puritanism in the novel, some fundamental definitions need to be established. Who were the Puritans? When did they arrive in the New WorldвЂ"America? How about their ideology and lifestyle? How about the author?

Puritan is the name given in the 16th century to the more extreme Protestants within the Church of England. These Protestants thought the English Reformation had not gone far enough in reforming the doctrines and structure of the church. They wanted to purify their church. In the 17th century many Puritans immigrated to the New World, where they sought to found a holy Commonwealth in New England. “The Puritans did not allow religious dissent (holding different religious belief).They insisted that high position,and achievements were signs of вЂ?eternal grace’, that is, favour of God, and they wanted to force God’s will on the rest of mankind.Puritan tradition also involved a respect for learning which led to the estalishment of schools and the spread of literacy.”[1] (P238) Puritanism remaines the dominant cultural force in that area into the 19th century.

B. New England

According to historical data, in 1620, the English Monarchy, as eager to be rid of the Puritans as the Puritans were to be rid of the King, granted a group of Puritans a charter to make a settlement in the English colonies that is now the New England of America. There were economic incentives for the Puritan to move to the New World, including economic upheaval in Europe and the prospect of making a profit in America, but their chief incentive was religious: they would be able to practice their religion freely. So in late fall some 103 settlers sailed on the Mayflower and arrived in New England. Then in 1628, provoked by King Charles I’s increasing intolerance, another group of Puritans formed a business corporation, the Massachusetts Bay Company, for settlement of the New World. They arrived on Cape Ann, just north and east of what is now called Boston. Thirteen years later, about 1,000 English settlers, largely the Puritans, had immigrated to the Boston area. By 1643, there were some 20,000 in the general area of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, making Boston the largest and the most prosperous Puritan town in America.

Considering the large number of all these Puritan settlers, their wide distribution and their strong faith, religious and daily life in the new American colonies, especially in Boston, was mainly of Puritan color. In addition, religious doctrine became civil law, and the rule of the leaders was absolute. While the whole of New England was largely Puritan, it is those who settled in and around Boston, who influenced American culture profoundly and of whom Nathanial Hawthorne wrote.

C. Puritans ideology and lifestyle

On the other hand, Puritan ideology is very important for Puritans for they designed their lives after that. The puritans believed in the majesty, righteousness and sovereignty of God. They regard him as omniscient and omnipotent. In contrast,all human beings were depraved sinners. They believed that God had predestined some of these fallen creatures for the gift of salvation. This status of the elected or non-elected signified God’s choosing of those to whom the grace of salvation was to be offered. The Puritans took the scripture, and the sermons as God’s own words, which they interpreted, following the works of the French Peter Ramus, in the most accurate way, and expected all Puritans to live strictly following these parameters.It did not mean that sinners could save themselves, but the elect could improve their souls. Two of the main points of Puritan theology are the covenants of grace and work. The covenant of grace required a faith in God, and that God himself gave the elect to grasp. The covenant of work, on the contrary, depended only on human action. Although the Puritans believed in predetermination they did not wait their God-given fate. They spent their whole life trying to find out their destiny, whether it might be heaven or hell. Work, even if it did not guarantee salvation, was their way to express their faith and to show their hope for heaven.Everyone who did not work was deprived of the high morality and a good life.

However, Puritans paid much attention to their education. They thought that only those who were able to read the Bible would find religious truth. The Bible was read and interpreted very accurately and strictly. And this truth, that was to be found by accurate interpretation, was synonymous with a good life. Although the Puritans have been very strict in religious way, on the other hand they could be quite tolerant. The grade of tolerance was dependent to the extent of the appropriate thing. For example they condemned the drunkard, but not the consumption of alcohol itself. And they did not taboo sexuality, as long as it was sexuality between husband and wife and not extramarital sexuality. But the strict Puritan code was far from tolerant. Relationship between men and women was very constrained and that are what made adultery such a bad sin in the eyes of everyone who in the community believed that their fate was controlled by God. Public discipline and punishment were used to discourage everyone

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