The the church. The Puritans wanted to ‘purify’ their

The Puritans and their Doctrines:

The most extreme Protestants to exist within the
Church of England in 16th century were the Puritans. According to these
Protestants, the English Reformation had not been strict enough to reform the
dogmas and structure of the church. The Puritans wanted to ‘purify’ their
church and different religious beliefs were not tolerated by these Protestants.
They believed that high position and achievements were signs of ‘eternal grace’,
that is, favor of God. Many Puritans immigrated to America in the 17th
Century and set up a holy Commonwealth in New England that maintained its integrity for almost a hundred
years (Westerkamp 15). They believed that all evil deed were the works of the
devil and constant surveillance was required to stay away from his influence.
Ministers gave sermons filled with warning against the persuasiveness of the
devil’s power and how it leads to hellfire. Puritan law was extremely strict
and people were punished severely for various offenses. Those who committed crimes
against the government were not only considered criminals, but sinners and were
persecuted harshly. During the century that followed, women of different
ethnicities across the North American societies became involved in an expanded,
diversified pietism (Westerkamp 15). They were considered sab par to men. Women
were not allowed to participate in town meetings and were barred from decision
making in the church.

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Hester and the Puritan Society

The Puritan era during which the action of Hawthorne’s
The Scarlet Letter takes place embodied a society in which the individual and
his or her actions were often pitted against a social order determined to stamp
out behaviors it considered immoral. Hawthorne extracts episodes not only from
American history, but even from the knowledge of English history. His narrative
in The Scarlet Letter, respond to events occurring in England. Seventeenth
Century New England is shown as being synonymous with social repression, which
uses psychic repression in order to make the subjects easy to control. The two
French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari underline the process
claiming that “What really
takes place is that the Law prohibits something that is perfectly fictitious in
the order of desire or of the instincts so as to persuade its subjects that
they had the intention corresponding to this fiction. This is indeed the only
way the law has of getting a grip on intention, of making the unconscious
guilty”. A perfect example would be the casual plot of Hester Prynne’s
obedience and disobedience between the Law of marriage and the transcendental
Law of erotic desire with a “consecration
of its own”.

As Hawthorne suggests, sin was the bedrock of
Puritanism. It was at once an individual and social aspect. The critic Eric
Mottram, in his essay “Power
and Law in Hawthorne’s Fiction,” comments “So the monster created by a society or by and through
its invented Gods — and this is a major basis of all fiction since Defoe, and cuts
across the genres — elicits sympathy because he or she or it is the form of the
repressed and oppressed. The illegal becomes a category of necessity and therefore
strangely legal.” Hawthorne’s novels deal with persons stuck in a
struggle between individual needs and the moral demands of society, a struggle
which the individual generally loses. More importantly, Hawthorne’s characters
are isolated individuals, who reject society’s standards, but because they are
imperfect individuals disposed to sin — especially the unforgiveable sin of
pride — they are destroyed by their guilt.

Hawthorne writes near the end of the novel that Hester
had become a strong woman as a result of her experiences. This strength is
often taken to be an individualistic kind of strength, the power of self over
aggressive circumstances. Hester is seen as an early celebration of democratic
circumstances. She is seen as an early celebration of democratic individualism
asserting itself in a hostile environment formed by a political and religious
establishment. But Hawthorne’s point is that Hester’s strength is formed
positively as well as negatively by her society. In the paragraph where
Hawthorne speaks about Hester’s strength, he observes also that she ?had
wandered, without rule or guidance, in a normal wilderness,? and that although
her experiences in separation from the Puritan community ?had made her strong,?
they had also ?taught her much amiss. Roger Lundin and Anthony C. Thiselton wrote that her full
stature is gained when she participates in the personal struggles of the others
in the community, who have shaped her own life. Hawthorne’s novels deal
with persons stuck in a struggle between individual needs and the moral demands
of society, a struggle which the individual generally loses. More importantly,
Hawthorne’s characters are isolated individuals, who reject society’s
standards, but because they are imperfect individuals disposed to sin — especially
the unforgiveable sin of pride — they are destroyed by their guilt.

 

 

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