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The Scarlet Letter - DOC 2


									                    Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter

       Understand the main features of Romanticist tradition in American literary
      works; (pay attention to some features of Brooding Romantics)
       Understand the tradition of American Literature influenced by Puritanism;
       Study the main writing techniques in The Scarlet Letter, esp. symbolism;
       Study the main theme in the novel;
       Study Hawthorne’s contribution to American literature.

Teaching Processes
I. Introduction to the novel
Read the novel and study Chapter II: The Market-place;
Appreciate the movie.

II. Introduction to Puritanism
      In the early immigration to the New World, evidently, the first New England
settlements (Mainly from England ) grew out of religious controversy, out of an urge
for religious freedom and determination, out of fleeing from religious and political
oppression and persecution, out of thirst for greater economic opportunity, for land,
and for the adventure. They were called “Puritans,” so named after those who wished
to “purify” the religious practice in the church. They soon established their own
religious and moral principles known as American Puritanism which became one of
the enduring influences in American thoughts and American literature.
      American Puritanism is a branch of the Protestantism, and its teachings and
principles are based on Calvinism. Puritanism stressed predestination, original sin,
total depravity and limited atonement from God’s grace. With such doctrines in their
mind, Puritans left Europe for America in order to prove that they were God’s people,
who would enjoy God’s blessing on earth and in Heaven; they felt that they were
exiles under the special grace of God to establish a theocracy in the New World. Over
the years in the new homeland, they built a way of life that stressed hard work, thrift,
piety and sobriety.
      Perry Miller describes the American Puritan in this way: “He was a visionary
who never forgets that two plus two equals four; he was a soldier of Jehovah who
came out on the losing side of a bargain….he was a practical idealist…. He came to
New England to found the perfect society and the kingdom of the elect and never
expect it to be perfect, but only the best that fallible men could make. His creed was
the revealed word of God and his life was the rule of moderation. His beliefs were
handed down on high and his conduct was regulated by expediency. He was a
doctrinaire and an opportunist” (Waller 20). (吴定柏,第 4 页。)

III. Introduction to the author
A. Nathaniel Hawthorne’ life experiences (see the text book)
B. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s interests and his psychology. Hawthorne was born in Salem,
Massachusetts. Visitors to his home town can see a fascinating old house with all the
characteristics, inside and outside, of early Puritan architecture. Hawthorne named it
“The House of the Seven Gables” in his novel, it is a cursed house by a husband of
one of the convicted witches at the notorious Salem witch trial in which Hawthorne’s
ancestor, and Hawthorne was a Judge. When Hawthorne was twenty-one, he inserted
the “w” in his name to show his attitude to his ancestors. He said of his ancestors, esp.
Judge Hawthorne, “I hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes, and pray that any
cure insured by them…may be now and henceforth removed.” and believed that “the
wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones.” and that evil will come
out of evil though it may take many generations to happen --- the theme of “The
House of Seven Gables”, and the author’s spiritual and religious belief. He used
symbolic stories which touch the deepest root of man’s moral nature, “The Scarlet
Letter” is the most successful product.

IV. Study of the theme
       This novel is about adultery, or even really about sin. It is about the effects of
the sin on those whom it touches. It tells more about men’s soul than about their
actions. The best way to appreciate the characters and their function in the novel is to
study their relationship to the central sin and the manner in which that sin lays barely
their souls. And through the study we can also know that Hawthorne’s contradictory
attitudes to Puritanism --- hatred and respect.
       Hawthorne uses symbolism to imply his theme. This novel is about adultery, or even
really about sin. It is about the effects of the sin on those whom it touches. It tells more about

men’s soul than about their actions. The best way to appreciate the characters and their function in

the novel is to study their relationship to the central sin and the manner in which that sin lays

barely their souls. And through the study we can also know that Hawthorne’s contradictory

attitudes to Puritanism --- hatred and respect, he uses symbolism to imply his theme.

V. Study of the skill---- symbolism

Definition of symbolism:
       Generally speaking, a symbol is anything which is used to represent some thing
other than itself. In literature, it is most often a concrete object which is used to
represent something broader and more abstract---often a moral, religious, or
philosophical concept or value. Symbols range from the most obvious and mechanical
substitution of one thing for another, to creations as massive, complex, and perplexing
as Melville’s white whale in “ Moby Dick”. “The Scarlet Letter” is usually regarded
as the first symbolic novel to be written in the United States.
Symbolism in the novel. (Refer to the theme)

I. The names:

      (i) Hester Prynne: First, Hester reminds the reader Hestier ---the Goddess of Beauty in

Greek fairy, showing the author’s praise to Hester’s beauty and saint, Goddess-like beauty. Second,

the pronunciation of Hester is very close to hastier (the comparative degree form of hasty), here

the author implies that her marriage is haste, her love with Dimmesdale is haste, and to the

extreme, her joy with the priest is haste.

      Prynne has two symbolic meanings. First, its pronunciation is close to prurient (desire for
physical joy) which is, hence, considered as the root of sin and crime. Second, its pronunciation is

very similar to prune (purify or get rid of), which therefore foreshadows Hester’s self-save from

the sin or crime.

      (ii) Arthur Dimmesdale: First, Arthur reminds the reader of Adam, human beings ancestor

who committed the Original Sin with Eva in the Garden of Eden, Arthur Dimmesdale, the initials

AD are concurrently the beginning of “Adultery”; Secondly, “Dim” means lack of light,” dale”

Means valley, which symbolizes the minister’s dim-interior world of his love and the shadow of

sin and guilty of his mind. Arthur Dimmesdale means someone who committed adultery but dares

cowardly to confess his sin or crime, and has to conceal it in the shadow and suffer it interiorly.

      (iii) Roger Chillingworth has two aspects. “Roger” is the homonymic of Rogue (hoodlum,

scoundrel, bully), which expresses his act to his wife; Roger also reminds us the Jolly Roger (the

black banner used by pirates). We know that pirates’ nature is to explore treasures and revenge,

which demonstrates Chillingworth’s act to his wife and to Dimmesdale. “Chilling” means chilly.

“Worth” tells us Roger’s act is, to some extend, worth/valuable----the author’s contradictory

psychology to Puritanism.

      (iv) “Pearl” has many symbolic meaning. First, it means treasure--- the treasure to her

mother. Second, pearl is the homonymic of purl (stream), Pearl’s fate and life is like the purl in the

forest, mysterious, can only flow in the forest, seldom bathe the sunshine.

II. The letter “A”.

      (i) “A” means “adultery”. To the puritans it is a symbol of just punishment; to Hester, a

device of unjust humiliation; to Dimmesdale, a piercing reminder of his guilt; to Chillingworth, a

spur to the quest of revenge; to Pearl, a bright and mysterious curiosity.

      (ii) “A” varies its meaning as the development of the story, adultery--- able ---- angel.

III. The scenes:

      (i) the prison: Hawthorne describes the prison so as to make properly represent” the black

flower of civilized society”, he Is therefore using the prison building to represent the crime and the

punishment which are aspect of civilized life; he uses the grass plot “much overgrown with

burdock, pigweed, and apple Peru, and such unsightly vegetation” as another symbol of
civilization corrupted by the elements which make prisons necessary. And he points out at least

one symbolic intention of his wild rose-bush: “It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet

moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of

human frailty and sorrow.” (ii) the scaffold: is not only a symbol of the stern Puritan code for

Hester accepted the punishment, but also becomes a symbol for the open acknowledgment of

personal sin. It is the place to which Dimmesdale knows he must go for atonement, the only place

where he can escape the grasp of Chillingworth or of the devil.

       (iii) nights: is used as a symbol for concealment, and the day for exposure; Dimmesdale

mounts the scaffold to give out his pain at nights; and in the end confesses his guilt and sin in the


       (iv) the sun: is used as of untroubled, guiltless happiness, or the approval of God and Nature.

It shines on Pearl, but flees away from Hester and from Dimmesdale, even in the forest.

       (v) the forest: is a symbol of darkness and devil. It is a place where witches gather, where

souls are signed away to the devil, and where Dimmesdale can “yield himself with deliberate


VI. Brief comments on the novel
  Positive aspects:
  Self-reliance, thrift, industry, initiative (capacity to see what needs to be done and
enterprise enough to do it).
  Negative aspects:
  Unnatural self-denials, overtly austere disciplines, an ascetic mode of living, an
oversensitive emphasis of chastity, an undue repression of normal human enjoyment,
and religious intolerance & bigotry.

吴定柏,《美国文学大纲》(英文版),上海外语教育出版社,2000 年 10 月版。

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