Anyway, well it’s about lots of things.
- It’s about human nature versus the institution man puts in place to suppress human nature.
- It’s about forbidden love in time whilst it wasn’t frowned upon, it was illegal.
- It is about the heavy toll guilt and secrets take on the body, mind, and soul of person.
- It’s a collision among faith & morality and the terrible decision of which one to listen to.
- It’s also about so much more as you’re gonna find out.
Some key facts about the novel, full title is “The Scarlet Letter” written by “Nathaniel Hawthorne” published in 1850. It’s set in the “Massachusetts Bay Colony” in Boston in the years 1642 and 1649. There’s a seven-year gap in between chapters. The point of view, it’s told from 3rd person that the narrator is Omniscient-Ish. The narrator certainly seems to know more than other persons participating in narrative should. But it’s still somewhat limited. The narrator is actually a character based on Hawthorne himself, who is established in “Custom House” sketch that you’re gonna read. The genre, it is fiction and semi allegorical. It is historical fiction and it is romantic fiction.
He was actually born in year 1804 in the Salem, MA. He passed away on 1864 in New Hampshire. Nathaniel didn’t even live longer, of course, that was probably average old age back then. He died actually in a while, he was with his friend Franklin Pierce on trip to New Hampshire, died on the way there his health was failing anyway.
Nathaniel was the magazine editor. He was for the time the away or engaged for salt & coal for the Customs House in Boston. Then as you’re gonna read about he was Customs House official in Salem.
His other writing as well as “The Scarlet Letter”, “Twice Told Tales” published in 1837 was an assemblage of short stories. Scarlet Letter novel came along in 1850. It was his first romance but he wrote two more romance novels after that “The House of the Seven Gables” & “The Blithedale Romance”.
When we conversate about romance again we’re using the broader definition of romance, not our modern connotation when we hear romance and modern context we consider of love story. Well, yeah it might feature love story but that’s not what romance actually means. A real piece of Romantic literature just means a piece of literature that’s not a reality. It’s destined to be kind of fantastic. It’s intended to indulge in kind of ideal presentations of things, mystical things that sort of thing. So, when we consider romance, think the opposite of realism, don’t think of persons falling in the love. That’s not what it actually means.
Motivations behind The Scarlet Letter:
Hawthorne like lots of writers struggled financially for most of life. And just like writers nowadays, writers then often had to take jobs just to give support to their writing. Unlike now, writers then who won who seemed to have promise were sometimes supported by patrons are given patronage jobs. Patrons being wealthy individuals who didn’t really have anything good to do with money. So, they would just support an artist or a writer that they felt had talent. And put that writer off give them the place to live. Give them living expenditures so they could spend all their time writing by the time.
Hawthorne came around weren’t so many patrons for our artists as there were patronage jobs. Jobs gave to writers and artists that were typically part-time so they might earn a livable wage. But simultaneously still give them abundant time to create their art.
In 1846, Hawthorne’s best friend Franklin Pierce helped him get one such patronage job, made him surveyor for the district of Salem and Beverly an inspector of the revenue for the port of Salem. That really long title is actually a pretty important title within the customs world of the port of Salem. And he wasn’t something, he was previously on accustomed to remembering that he worked in the customs office for the port of Boston before that. Nonetheless, it was a patronage job, it wasn’t a passion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s at all to work in the government. It was just he needed a mode to earn money, earn living for his family while he could still write and this was the part-time work he only worked mornings.
Government work, however, as you may imagine did not suit him. He was an artist in every sense of word, he worked in the “Salem Custom House” for two years and considered it the worst period for his writing. In his entire life, he actually wrote to “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow”
“I’m trying to resume my pen… Whenever I sit alone or walk alone, I find myself dreaming about the stories, as of old; but then again these forenoons in Custom House undo all that afternoons & evenings have done. I should be happier if I could write.”
So, during this period of time, Nathaniel Hawthorne very unhappy, very unproductive as far as his writing goes. Fortunately, a Hawthorne post was federally appointed in subject to the spoil system. So, it was federally appointed meaning as political parties changed in White House different people could take this office.
Hawthorne was an Antiroyalist or Democrat although he wasn’t political at all. He was just a registered Democrat. His relation with the Franklin Pierce, who would become a Democratic president was personal, not professional. He wasn’t a politician, he wasn’t a supporter of politics. Nevertheless, when president Tyler became president in 1848, Tyler is a Whig. He dismissed Hawthorne and exchanged him with a Whig party’s member. It was how there wasn’t the sole target of attack. Tyler didn’t have anything against Hawthorne himself other than the reality that Hawthorne was just up the opposing political party. It was part of Tyler sort of cleaning houses lots of presidents do.
Hawthorne although he secretly hated the job. He felt publicly humiliated and he was. He had done a good job and he was by the all accounts a good surveyor. Yet he was very publicly Austin when this new president came to rule. Hawthorne fired back after his ousting with a letter in Boston Daily Advertiser which was then attacked by Whig supporters. And this little squabble over one little surveyorship in a port that really didn’t even see much trade anymore. Became much talked-about throughout New England, kind of became good political gossip throughout New England.
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Shortly, after his ousting Hawthorne’s mother died. Hawthorne called it the “Darkest Hour” he ever lived. It was this melancholy mood combined with the righteous indignation he felt over losing his job that sort of fueled his penning of “Scarlet Letter”. It was kind of this perfect storm of feelings to create the utmost effort of art we have.
At the heart of this novel,e our contrast between what individuals feel is right and what their community tells them is right. The unsympathetic Puritans that you’re going to read about in the novel are likely representative of the politicians, who removed Hawthorne from office. The politicians who fired Hawthorne made their decisions purely rely on politics, ignoring how well Hawthorne did his job. Therefore, if you see in terms of novel, substitute politics for the Puritan faith and substitute Hawthorne’s poor treatment by the Whigs for the character poor treatment by the Puritans. In “The Scarlet Letter” you see that this is a somewhat autobiographical treatment. It’s inspired to be Hawthorne here. It’s inspired by Hawthorne sort of feelings toward this point in his life when he was ousted from public office.
The novel also can be detected as a criticism of partisanship in general. There’re many different things you can take out of this novel. Here’s what I prefer to see because I’m all about trying to find the social criticism and things. So, this can be detected as a criticism of partisanship. Partisanship is when you blindly side with the beliefs of a group you’re the part of as opposed to reasoning something out for yourself. Like our politicians today to sort of vote just with their parties, not because it’s what they believe but because there is more strength in numbers. It means they’ve got the better opportunity of getting reelected.
Just like that throughout “Scarlet Letter”, the central characters are persecuted, are punished by their members of Puritan community. Even though to us to reader the central characters are so incredibly sympathetic people. Yet for some kind of reason, no anyone else in the novel seems to feel this – everybody seems to like to be just sticking blindly to their Puritan beliefs and the laws of their community established without “wiggle room” for this given situation. So that is one way in which as you’re reading along you can sort of see how Hawthorne is kind of situation in his life contributed to the criticism he was trying to portray in scarlet letter.
The novel was incredibly successful. Hawthorne didn’t have to get another government job after this thank goodness. Many consider Scarlet Letter to be 1st remarkable work of “American literature”. Even scholars today would call scarlet letter the first great piece of literature to come out of United States. At the publication time, it was extensively considered as the top-class novel ever written. And keep in mind you had Dostoevsky’s writing at this time in Russia. You had Charles Dickens and England writing wildly popular novels at this time.
But here Hawthorne from United States who had put out anything good on the world scene came out with Scarlet Letter. And all of a sudden, it was a worldwide hit and it kicked off the grand tradition of the “American Novel” Since then the American Novel has been the dominant form of novel in the world. In the Americans write, the best novels in the world.
At the time, it was published it was almost entirely well-received. Some complained of the sympathetic treatment of an unwed mother. Argued that it sorts of promoted level of promiscuity but these moralizers were overwhelmingly drowned out by the enormous critical acclaim that scarlet letter received.
What is “The Custom-House”
You might be wondering what this is it’s a preface and you don’t often not all books necessarily have a preface. Especially not one that’s if several chapters combined. So, what is the “Custom House”?
The “Custom House” is an autobiographical draft that tells the tale of how Hawthorne came up with the idea for Scarlet Letter. However, even though it’s autobiographical, he calls it autobiographical it is actually complete fiction. The story he told in custom house never actually happened him. So, really it just serves as this venue for him to criticize his ousting from office.
In it, you’re gonna read about
- What his kind of day-to-day life looked like in custom house?
- Who the people were that he interacted with?
- Who his co-workers were?
And you see throughout that there’re many veiled criticisms leveled against them and the types of people who are employed in government positions. So, keep that in mind as you’re reading the custom-house, although it does create a nice little story. It makes the novel a frame narrative that is the story within the story which is something Hawthorne was very fond of.
The actual framing of this narrative never happened. This is the Hawthorne didn’t do what he said he did in custom house. It’s really just a means for him to criticize those that fired him from office.
Scarlet Letter is extensively thought to be an effort of dark romanticism which was first seen in early 19th century. But really didn’t flourish until the mid to late 19th century. It’s another sub-genre of the romanticism which came over to United States from Europe. Its type of a callous dark romanticism is a sort of counterpart of transcendentalism. If you remember the basic tenants of transcendentalism, you’re gonna see that dark romanticism sort of takes the opposite approach to that. It’s a darker share of Romanticism that says we’re. The transcendentalist said that man and nature are inherently virtuous & that it’s only society in its institutions that corrupt the individual.
Well, the dark romanticists trust that man and nature are inherently wicked and that society and the instant in its institutions are corrupt. As they were shaped by man who’s inherently wicked. You often see anthropomorphized evils in works of dark romanticized characters like Satan, Devils, demons, vampires, werewolves, other monsters. You’re gonna hear a lot about in Scarlet Letter. The New England myth of the black man which is kind of an anthropomorphized version of Satan in the New World. You probably read about that a lot in Puritan literature and in just New England literature in general.
Other dark romances you may well have heard of “Edgar Allen Poe” very well-known poet in story. As H. Melville wrote Moby Dick whose popularity came along right after Hawthorne. He was good friend with Hawthorne as well.
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