Puritanism And The 19th Century American Novels

1671 words - 7 pages

The Puritans were the dissidents from the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church had become corrupt and a need to establish purity was felt by many of its devout members; hence The Puritans. The Puritans were the vanguard of the Republican revolution of the 1640s which was directed at the monarch of England. However, the restoration of monarchy in the middle of the 17th century brought disillusionment with the state of England and the diehard Puritans set sail from Old England to the virgin land of America to establish their New England. This exodus brought Puritanism to America.

American writers of the nineteenth century like Hawthorne and Melville look at the ‘new’ culture of America and ...view middle of the document...

Similar to Hawthorne’s conservative Puritan community of the 19th century Hester’s world is a joyless Puritan community in 17th century. The Puritans of Old England come and practise orthodoxy in New England. In their attempt to go back to the (Christian) fundamentals of Church they prescribe a code of conduct for every section, class, rank, gender etc. Moreover, Puritans see the purpose of life in glorification of god and in making penance for the ‘original sin’. Anything against such Puritan ethics is seen as transgression and Puritans are indiscriminately severe in punishing transgressions as they remind them of the original sin and are seen as Devil’s attempt to ruin them. Hawthorne’s transgression (writing or “wastefulness”) is as venial as Hester’s (adultery, sinfulness and dissidence) as for the Puritans there isn’t much difference between the acts of idling, writing and adultery – each is an exercise in self-indulgence which is an anathema to Puritans and therefore must be punished. Hawthorne plays around with the notion of punishment in the text through Hester Prynne, her sin followed by her due punishment, and what this punishment actually does to her. In acquiescing to the penalty Hester enacts, more than conformity to Puritanism, transgression to the same penal requirement to which she acquiesces; her “haughty smile” and “burning blush” bespeak this. Letter ‘A’ signifies ‘adulteress’ but she weaves it so decorously that it becomes an adornment. Henceforth begins a struggle between her Puritan acculturation and her growing dissatisfaction with it. Paradoxically, in the case of both Hawthorne and Hester it is the Puritans who, by way of ex-communicating and branding each in their respective time, make both Hawthorne and Hester believe that they do not ‘belong’. This ideological dislocation becomes an apparatus for them to think apart. Pushed to the margins of the community both gain critical vantage point which enables them to re-think their culture critically and facilitates their self-liberation and self-realization. Melville also subjects his central character Ishmael to a dislocating experience which is his encounter with Queequegg, a savage. This encounter makes Ishmael more accommodating and tolerant towards the ‘other’ while Ahab, the captain of the ship Pequod, remains indifferent and intolerant to otherness and hence remains rigid as an archetypal Puritan.

Hawthorne also destabilizes Puritan intentionality of seeing the world as uni-dimensional and Puritan ideology of fixing meanings. The scarlet letter as an emblem is authored with singular intention by Puritan magistrates to fix Hester into a singular meaning – “a” for Adulteress. This desire is symptomatic of Puritan world-view which saw in everything the evidence of the original sin and accordingly humanity was to realize their sinful past and recognize their damned state. Hawthorne, however, syas that the Puritan endeavour was fated to failure. Puritans seek to ossify...

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