2 Historical Background
2.1 The Puritans
2.1.1 The Rise of Puritanism in England
2.1.2 Puritanism in North America
2.1.3 Puritan Beliefs
2.2 The Concept of Nature in Western History
3 Nathaniel Hawthorne – Man and Writer
3.2 The “absurd misconception” of Nathaniel Hawthorne
3.3 Nathaniel Hawthorne, “lover of nature”
3.4 Hawthorne, Hathorne, and God
3.4.1 The Burden of Puritan Legacy
3.4.2 Mr God, This Is Nathaniel
3.4.3 Religion and Puritanism in Hawthorne’s Works
3.5 Symbolism and Moral in Hawthorne’s Tales
4 Consulting Major Works
4.1 The Reason of Choice
4.2 The Dilemma of Young Goodman Brown
4.2.1 The Validity of Names
4.2.2 The Devil along the Path
4.2.3 Devout Sinners
4.2.4 Light and Darkness
126.96.36.199 The Sun upon Salem
188.8.131.52 The Darkness of the Forest
4.2.5 The Mocking Forest
4.2.6 Puritanism Upside Down
4.3 Reading The Scarlet Letter
4.3.1 What’s in a Name?
4.3.2 The Color Palette of The Scarlet Letter
4.3.3 Light and Darkness.
184.108.40.206 The Scarlet Letter on Fire
220.127.116.11 Mirror, Mirror
4.3.4 Waters of the Past and Future
18.104.22.168 The Blue Babbling of a Brook
22.214.171.124 The Freedom of the Ocean
126.96.36.199 Godly Waters
4.3.5 Symbols in the Air
188.8.131.52 A Breath of Fresh Air
184.108.40.206 Free as a Bird
4.3.6 Between Heathen Forest and Cultivated Land
220.127.116.11 The Governor’s Pride
18.104.22.168 The Capabilities of Forest Wilderness
22.214.171.124 The In-Between
4.3.7 Say It with Flowers
126.96.36.199 Cemetery, Prison, and a Shrub
188.8.131.52 A Bouquet of Flowers and Pearls
184.108.40.206 Tainted Flowers
4.3.8 Moss-Covered Memories
4.3.9 The Letter Unfolded
4.3.10 The Letter Concluded
4.4 The Scarlet Letter of Young Goodman Brown
Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of America’s most noted and highly praised writers, and a key figure of US literature. His works have contributed to the national identity and can be found in almost any curriculum of North American Literature Studies worldwide. Although Hawthorne struggled to become an acknowledged author for most parts of his life, today his work “stands in the limelight of the American literary consciousness” (Graham 5). Even Edgar Allan Poe, who usually had many unflattering things to say about his contemporary, honored him as “the example, par excellence, in this country of the privately admired and publicly unappreciated man of genius” (“Tale Writing” 21). During his lifespan, Hawthorne composed eight novels – some of them left unfinished, – several children’s books, close to a hundred short stories, and various non-fictional writings. Until today, his most appreciated and famous achievement is the romance novel The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850. Since the author’s passing 150 years ago, numerous scholars have discussed his works, addressing topics such as the extended use of symbolism, the didacticism of moral lessons, and the dark and gloomy atmosphere within Hawthorne’s historic fictions.
Being a direct descendant of Massachusetts Bay colonists, the Puritan era of 17th and 18th century New England served as a lifelong preoccupation for Hawthorne and inspired many of his best-known stories. Hence, in order to understand the author and his works, it is crucial to apprehend the historical background from which they arose. Awareness of both the Puritan legacy in Hawthorne’s time and their Calvinist beliefs, which contributed to the establishment of American identity, serves
as a basis for fathoming the intention behind Hawthorne’s writings. His forefathers’ concept of wilderness was an important part of their religious life, and in many of Hawthorne’s tales, nature can be perceived as an active agent for both plot and moral message. Therefore, it is indispensable to consider the development behind the Puritan perception as well as the prevailing opinion on nature during the writer’s lifetime.
After the historical background has been depicted, I will turn the focus on the author himself. His ambiguous character and non-persistent lifestyle are the source of many themes which can be retrieved from his works. Thus, understanding the man behind the stories is necessary in order to analyze the tales themselves. Seclusion, nature, and Puritanism are constantly recurring topics in both the author’s life and
works, wherefore particular attention will be paid to these. To be familiar with Hawthorne’s relation to nature, his ancestors, and religion in general is essential in order to understand the vast amount of symbols that can be found in his stories. The writer is known for his frequent use of this stylistic device and uses it for the conveyance of his didactic messages which I will explain before turning the focus to their realization in Hawthorne’s tales.
Based on the study of both historical and biographical facts underlying many of the writer’s works and being aware of his style and purpose of writing, his stories can be brought into focus. The second part of this paper will analyze two of the author’s most eminent and esteemed works according to the use of nature symbolism and the underlying moral intention. By depicting various images within “Young Goodman Brown” and The Scarlet Letter, I will examine to which extent they correspond to the formerly explained historical facts and Hawthorne’s emphasized characteristic features. The comparison of the two works will focus on the didactic lesson Hawthorne tried to include in all of his works and will thus provide an in- depth understanding of the author’s intentions and his utilization of both Puritanism and nature perception. What could be more vital to a student and future teacher of US History and Literature than to understand the motives and quintessence behind some of America’s greatest literary achievements: The work of a “man of genius,” Nathaniel Hawthorne.
2 Historical Background
In order to fully understand Hawthorne, his works, and the symbolism within, history has to be taken into account. On the supposition that no author is fully free of personal and national history and the mindset of his time, one needs to understand these backgrounds and sources of inspiration. With regard to the focus of this paper, especially the history of the Puritans, their beliefs, and the Western concept of nature should be considered, as those were main influences in Hawthorne’s life and works.
2.1 The Puritans
When studying Hawthorne and his writings, the comprehension of Puritanism is indispensable, as the author’s engagement with their beliefs and history cannot be denied. His lifelong preoccupation in the early colonial history, which was for large parts also a genealogical research (Wineapple 60; Rogers 13), led to the fact that many scholars perceive him as “more a man of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries than of his own” (Waggoner 33). Referring to his ancestry, some even go as far as calling him the “capital son of the old Puritans” (James 45). Before this paper focuses on Hawthorne’s attitude towards this religious movement, the origin and beliefs of Puritanism will be discussed.
2.1.1 The Rise of Puritanism in England
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter together with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible have shaped today’s perception of Puritanism probably more than anything else (Person 17). It is due to them that this religious movement is nowadays mostly associated with “superstition, excessive moralism, intolerance, and patriarchal oppression” (Person 17). De facto, these reproaches have accompanied Puritans ever since their appearance in the 1530s. The term Puritan itself was initially given by Anti-Puritans (cf. Collinson) “in a spirit of mockery” (Heimert and Delbanco 1). It played on their primary concern, the purification of existing religious beliefs, and thus bore a negative connotation from the beginning onwards.
The Puritan movement began to emerge when King Henry VIII repudiated the authority of the pope and founded the Church of England through the Act of Supremacy in 1534, investing himself as “the supreme head”. For certain Englishmen, the newly-formed denomination did not renounce far enough from the papal reigned church, as many elements of Roman Catholic liturgy were still to be
found in its rituals (Delbanco 890). The demand for a further reformation united the people who would later be known as Puritans. Despite this common ground, they were divided into at least two different groups: The first, also called separating Puritans (Campbell), believed the Church of England to be corrupt and wrong in its ecclesiastical approach and therefore claimed autonomy for some individual communities, such as themselves (Delbanco 890). The second, less radical party, the non-separating Puritans (Campbell), aimed at reforming the doctrines and liturgy of the Church of England instead of separating from it (Delbanco 890; Campbell).
This discrepancy shows that Puritanism as such does not describe a single unanimous set of beliefs, but can rather be seen as a generic term for various groups within a fairly wide spectrum of beliefs. Nevertheless, these dissensions were – at least for now – of no great importance for the different congregations themselves since the Puritan distribution stretched over entire England, facilitating autonomous communities with slightly differing notions.
The ongoing dissatisfaction with the Church of England and the opposition within their own country led to an increasing number of Puritan emigrations, as their convictions were popular in some parts of continental Europe, as well. Throughout the first decades of the 17th century, the Netherlands was the most popular refuge, attracting as many immigrants as New England in the 1630s. However, the former got increasingly unappealing during the 1620s, as the Thirty Years’ War broke out.
Additionally, the English government pressured the Dutch to set an end to their acquiescence of Puritan autonomy (Bremer, Puritanism 15-16). Nevertheless, a return to their initial home country was beyond dispute for most Puritans, as they believed physical separation to be the only way to both implement and enhance their religious ideals (Graham 60). One of the groups that moved to the Netherlands and later on to North America were the Pilgrims, separating Puritans who came to the New World inter alia onboard the Mayflower and founded Plymouth Colony in 1620 (Delbanco 891). Meanwhile, Charles I ascended the throne of England in 1625. He was highly influenced by his wife, Henrietta-Marie de Bourbon, a Roman-Catholic (Neal, Toulmin, and Choules 279) and the current Archbishop of London, William Laud. Both of his advisors considered the Puritans to be a direct threat to the Church of England and the Roman Catholic tradition alike. The growing religious intolerance, accompanied by the policy of uniformity in worship drove even more Puritans “to undertake the perilous journey” (Graham 60) towards a better and devout life in the New World.
2.1.2 Puritanism in North America
One decade after the foundation of Plymouth Colony, another group of worshippers – mostly non-separating Puritans this time (Campbell), – started their voyage to the New World, marking the beginning of the Great Migration. On board the Arbella were several prestigious passengers, who would later shape the identity of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Among them was John Winthrop, who was elected first Governor prior to the departure, and William Hathorne, great-great-great- grandfather of the renowned author (“The Paternal Ancestors”). By the 1840s, approximately 20,000 fugitives had migrated to New England, spreading even beyond the territories of what are known as Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine today (Delbanco 892). The Great Migration was, contrary to norm, dominated by the exodus of whole families and contained an unusually low amount of illiterates (Delbanco 892).
Although some emigrants had embarked on the journey out of economic ambition, most voyagers saw their flight as “a self-removal from a land of buzzing distraction to a place better-suited for concentrated worship” (Heimert and Delbanco 15). Having escaped the burdens of their past, the Puritans now faced a land which they could freely transform into their own social and religious ideal. Nevertheless, “American Puritanism . . . was more complicated” (Person 17). Their diverse beliefs and backgrounds turned out to be challenging in the attempt to create a new society (Bremer, “The Puritan Experiment” 128). While the different Puritan subgroups were able to autonomously hold and further their respective beliefs in Europe, they assembled and clashed in the New England colonies. Not only did they have to find a consensus on the governmental aspect of their newly-found society, but regarding religious topics as well. During the first decade after the arrival of the Arbella, the Puritans managed to agree on a colonial government and a way of church organization (cf. Bremer, Puritanism 20). The resulting regime is usually referred to as theocracy, although it consisted of a clear separation of clerical and state powers. However, despite the actual disunity, both parties supported each other in promoting and maintaining the Calvinist doctrines and the purity of faith. Hence, church
membership and colonial citizenship were inevitably connected and only the Elect eligible for partaking (Campbell). Another way of coping with the divers takes on Puritanism, was the division into several self-governing colonies, such as New Haven, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. In the course of the establishment of a proper educational system, Harvard College was founded in 1636 as the “crown” (Bremer, “The Puritan Experiment” 129) thereof. With Yale, a second Ivy League university has its roots in the Puritan era (Coffey and Lim 7).
Still, religious dividedness persisted and challenged the newly-found societies. The “key controversy in early Puritan New England” (Person 18) was the Antinomian Crisis of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636-38, which predominantly centered on Anne Hutchinson. On the one hand, some Christians, following the teachings of Antinomianism, believed that only God Himself could decide upon a person’s fate which would implicate the possibility of civil, moral, and ethic disobedience, since no earthly deed could change the Lord’s predestination (Covenant of Grace). Puritans, on the other hand, clearly rejected this thought, being convinced that the Elect had to work constantly on their faith and devoutness to God in order to achieve salvation (Covenant of Works) (Bremer, Puritanism 21; Ritter Dailey 530; Hutchinson). Anne Hutchinson, despite being a citizen of Massachusetts Bay Colony, strongly believed in the former idea, advocating it to such a large extent that she is described as having been “radical” and “extreme” (Ritter Dailey 530). The crucial factor of the scandal she provoked was the fact that she hosted increasingly popular and well-frequented devotional meetings in her private house (J. R. Holmes). One of her followers was then-Governor Sir Henry Vane the Younger, who started attending her lessons in 1836 (J. R. Holmes). Being supported and endorsed by a man of such high rank, Hutchinson began promoting her views more openly, and even publicly attacked the colonial religious authority. She blamed all church leaders of New England for overemphasizing the Covenant of Works (Hutchinson) and claimed that they were not only “spiritually starving” (Bremer, Puritanism 21) their parishioners, but first and foremost accused them of “teaching error” (J. R. Holmes). In May 1637, Winthrop was reelected Governor. Being one of Hutchinson’s “most prominent opponents” (J. R. Holmes), he charged her with sedition in November 1637. As the theocratic regimen of Massachusetts Bay Colony based both its cleric and state powers upon the Calvinist teachings, an assault on the church was tantamount to an assault on the government (J. R. Holmes). Hence, Hutchinson did not only have to face a trial due to her religious agitations but also because of threatening the whole Puritan regimen. The fact that she was female must have additionally outraged the male-dominated clergy and General Court. Unsurprisingly, Anne Hutchinson was found guilty, banished to Rhode Island, and formally excommunicated from the Boston Church (Bremer, Puritanism 21). Successive generations have frequently referred to Hutchinson as “the first feminist in the New World” (J. R. Holmes). Until today, she serves as an American role model, having fought for religious freedom and toleration, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to assemble (J. R. Holmes). All of these were unimaginable in early Puritan times but manifested in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in 1791.
The ongoing fight for the maintenance of religious purity resulted in one of the darkest chapters in Puritan history. The Salem Witch Trials had a long-lasting aftermath and shaped the present perception of Puritans probably more than any other of their deeds. Between 1692 and 1693, twenty people were executed and more than 150 accused of practicing witchcraft and thus of harming and threatening the colonial society (Mather, “Enchantments Encountered” 16). The persecutions were based on the belief that people could actively allow Satan to enter their souls, wield power over them, and leading them to tempt others to sin. Cotton Mather, influential Puritan minister and author, argued that the devil was angry at the settlers, who had infringed on his former realm. Because of that, he believed Satan to have laid “[a]n Horrible PLOT against the Country by WITCHCRAFT, and a Foundation of WITCHCRAFT then laid, which if it were not seasonably discovered would probably Blow up, and pull down all the Churches in the Country” (“Enchantments Encountered” 14). Despite these threatening assumptions, the pursuits ceased when the Salem magistrates came to the conclusion that the devil could not only be willingly allowed to enter one’s soul but could also do so without previous permission. The victims were therefore to be released, since they could not be punished for something they did not actively approve of (Person 18).
The early New England settlers did not only have to face internal religious controversies but also external threats to their society. The constant struggle with native tribes led to continuous tensions between both parties. While the Puritans eagerly tried to civilize and convert the indigenous people, they simultaneously forced the Natives out of their former habitat. Hence, the European settlers not only
evoked resentment among the tribes, but caused the loss of their “ability to sustain themselves” (Bremer, Puritanism 29). One of the most devastating controversies between Natives and Puritans was King Philip’s War in 1675, when Wampanoag sachem Metacom (King Philip) led a raid on the Puritan settlements. The outcome was disastrous for the Puritans, leaving more than a dozen cities destroyed and about one tenth of the population severely injured or dead (Bremer, Puritanism 29). However, it turned out to have been even more devastating for the Natives, who were left with having lost more than 3,000 of their own men, and many of them held captive and later sold as slaves.
An aggravating factor to the steady conflict with Native Americans was that the newly-formed society was subject to permanent surveillance by their former home country. During the 1660s and 1670s, England implemented several measures to undermine Puritan power, limiting their religious freedom and practices, and preventing further development within the New England colonies. This included the ordinance to award church membership to all prospects, whether considered to be elect or not (Bremer, Puritanism 28). The Puritans tried to oppose these regulations from across the Atlantic. Adding to the threats from England was the growing amount of immigrants that moved to the colonies out of economic reasons, destroying the Puritan idea of a devout and pure society of Elect. Given the fact that most first-generation settlers had already deceased by now, compounded to the instable situation of the former solely religious society. By the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the New England colonies had already lost political control over their
territories (Bremer, Puritanism 30). The late 17th century saw Puritanism in England
come to an end, followed by its American counterpart during the 1730s (Coffey and Lim 6). Despite the dusk of the Puritan era almost 300 years ago, its legacy is still visible in present-day US America. Two of the country’s best universities serve as a constant reminder of the positive features within Puritan tradition, whose constitutors are often referred to as “‘founders’ or ‘shapers’ of American culture” (Coffey and Lim 7). Especially their eagerness to work hard (Covenant of Works), conquer new land (Mather, “Enchantments Encountered”), and support and further their ideal and the community (Winthrop), have served as a foundation for the ideas behind Manifest Destiny and the American Dream, and thus hold “the key to American identity” (Coffey and Lim 7). Opponents of these assumptions might regard them as being far-fetched or idealized. However, these notions serve as an eligible counterbalance to the dark and gloomy picture that authors like Hawthorne and Miller evoke in modern-day minds.
2.1.3 Puritan Beliefs
The history described above would not have occurred without the sternness of Puritan faith. Religion stood at the center of their lives and the awareness thereof is indispensable to the understanding of their minds and motives. Furthermore, this knowledge is crucial in order to fully comprehend the plots of Hawthorne’s historical writings, which mainly take place in 17th and 18th century New England. In order to be able to analyze the two works below and link them to the history and legacy depicted above, the following section will thematize the Puritan dogma.
One of the most essential parts of Puritanism, which caused the dissociation from the Church of England, was the belief in plain style (Campbell). The Puritans were eager to find a direct, unaltered, and thus pure relation to God (Heimert and Delbanco 13), which demanded the rejection of all ecclesiastical embroidery that the Church of England had maintained after its separation from Catholicism. This especially included spiritual and liturgical customs, such as sacraments, priests, bishops, saints, prayer-books, the opportunity of indulgence, and sermons “stuff[ed] .
. . with rhetorical flourishes and learned quotations” (Campbell). Instead of acknowledging “the whole panoply of religious apparatus” (Heimert and Delbanco 13), Puritans believed in the unconditional power of sermons as the center of their religious life. For them, a minister’s pure preaching was more capable of mediating God’s words and purposes and therefore of opening a path for the Holy Spirit to enter peoples’ souls, than any sacraments or other Catholic traditions (Delbanco 891). Puritan sermons, such as Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” or John Cotton’s “The Divine Right to Occupy the Land” are distinct from their Catholic counterparts. They clearly exhibit a plain structure, consisting of an excerpt from the Scripture, followed by questions and answers concerning this biblical quote, and concluding with further advice on the use of that which was just heard. As Perry Miller points out, one argument follows the other “with no other transition than a period and a number,” ending a sermon “when there is nothing more to be said” (qtd. in Campbell). Cotton Mather adduced the reasons for this style in one of his most renowned books: Magnalia Christi Americana. He refers to the responsibility of a minister to solely base his sermons on the Scripture, leaving out any further embellishments:
it was his duty to preach with such a plainness, as became the oracles of God, which are intended for the conduct of men in the paths of life, and not for theatrical ostentations and entertainments . . . he would preach a plain sermon, even such a sermon, as in his own conscience he thought would be most pleasing unto the Lord Jesus Christ; and he discoursed practically and powerfully, but very solidly upon the plain doctrine of repentance. (Polybius (Third Book) 235)
The plain style, accompanied by the rejection of all “superficial glamour” (Graham 59), led to the fact that the Bible served as the central part of Puritan belief.
While Puritans opposed pontifically-imposed traditions, they built their creeds on the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564). The Five Points of Calvinism, codified in 1619, included the belief in total depravity, unconditional election and limited atonement (Delbanco 891). Therefore, Puritans were convinced that all men were tainted by sin and most of them destined for hell. Since there was no opportunity for indulgence or forgiveness of sin, the destiny of each individual lay solely in the hands of God. According to the concept of unconditional election, God was believed to have chosen only some of his followers as the Elect, who would be redeemed after death. As both Winthrop and Cotton emphasized in their sermons mentioned above, Puritans thought themselves to be a group of Elect, assigned by God to create a model and ideal society. The belief in being God’s chosen people led to the association of themselves with the biblical Israelites. Following the tradition of their Exodus from Egypt, Cotton stressed that “[t]he placing of a people in this or that country is from the appointment of the Lord.” Leaving England towards the New World was thus an obedience to God’s command and His will for the chosen people. On board the Arbella, Governor Winthrop held his renowned speech “A Model for Christian Charity.” It included the widely-known image of a “citty upon a hill,” which was to represent the new society’s ascendancy as God’s Elect. Winthrop stressed that this society had “[t]he eies of all people” upon it and was thus bound to serve as role model and example of moral and religious purity for the whole world. He further accentuated the importance of community, claiming that the new colonists “must be knitt together, . . . as one man . . . . one body in Christ.” Hence, for a union under God, “the care of the publique must oversway all private respects,” which underlined the fact that the Puritans should sacrifice their individual needs and longings to the common good.
The characteristics of Puritan belief, as described above, played an essential role in the establishment of colonial New England and the further course of US
history. As far as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works are concerned, another important Puritan belief needs to be analyzed: The Puritan concept of nature.
2.2 The Concept of Nature in Western History
One of the major pillars of New England Puritan belief was the perception of the natural surroundings which the settlers had to face in their new home. In order to thoroughly understand the Puritan concept of nature, the historical development has to be taken into account. As many of Hawthorne’s stories are set in a Puritan society, it is crucial to be aware of the Puritan point of view as well as the conception of nature current during the author’s life, to be able to analyze his writings. The following chapter will concentrate on the development of the human conception of wild, rural landscape in the course of history, so that one may profoundly
comprehend the zeitgeist of 17th, 18th, and 19th century New England.
Back in the time of nomadic hunter-gatherers, the word wilderness with all its connotations did not yet exist. For these early ancestors, who had lived on this planet for the majority of human existence, the unspoiled countryside was solely a source of food and a provider of habitat. It was not until mankind began to settle and invent forms of agriculture, herding, and permanent residences during the Neolithic Revolution around 10,000 BC (Junker 107-08), that their conception of the surrounding nature changed. Sedentary dwellings had to be built in order to meet the requirements of their new lifestyle. Consequently, flora and fauna were divided into two categories: useful and harmful. With this newly-attained knowledge of domestication, our forefathers “saw themselves as distinct from and . . . better than the rest of nature” (Nash xii). Thus, every living creature – animal or plant, – which was not subject to human control, was declared as being wild. This already bore the negative connotation of the rampant, savage, and perilous being, which would later be, inter alia, adopted by the Puritans (Nash xii).
The early Neolithic thought was communicated over several millennia, accompanying every society which aimed at the establishment of a civilized habitat. At this point, it is essential to contradistinguish the Western world of later Europe from the societies of America and Asia (cf. Nash 20-21), of which the former will be thematized in the course of the discussion.
In ancient Greece, people would fear Pan, god of the woods and countryside (Tresidder 366). He was believed to threaten those who entered his spheres with
alarming cries (hence the word panic). Pan is often depicted in the company of satyrs (Tresidder 425). Half goat half human, the latter did not only symbolize (male) lust (Tresidder 425) but was also associated with night and darkness, appearing only “in the darkest parts of the forest” (Nash 11). According to Hellenic folktales, these legendary figures raped women and abducted children who had entered the woods all by themselves. These two examples of ancient gods serve as a paradigm for the myths told in each and every cultivated tribe and nation within the borders of what is known as Europe today.
Even the relatively advanced society of ancient Rome held onto the negative perception of uncultivated land. The people’s idea of a beautiful and enjoyable nature was merely reduced to “the fruitful or otherwise useful” (Nash 9), id est, the cultivated land. Roman poet Titus Lucretius Carus confirmed the frightful impression of uninhabited nature and the creatures living within in his most renowned poem De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of Things:” “For savage monsters crowd the world e’en now, / Fearful and gaunt; and hills, and groves remote, / And pathless woods re- echo to their roar; / Scenes, still, our feet with ease may ever shun” (46-49). Lucretius did not only depict the evil side of nature, but also showed men’s capability of adopting it as his own, “to show how nature bends” (81). These two basic principles could still be found, several centuries later, in the Puritan mindset.
The foundation and spreading of Christianity intensified the fear of wilderness among Europeans as the Old Testament seemed to confirm the prevailing belief. Indeed, the term wilderness still occurs as many as 281 times in today’s New American Standard Bible (1995). The story of “The Fall of Man” (Gen. 3) deals with the sin and punishment of Adam and Eve, who are banned to a wild land containing “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3.18) after they have eaten the forbidden fruit. Thus, from the first biblical book onwards, unfruitful wilderness, often equated with desert in the course of the Scripture, stands in strong contrast to the paradisiacal world of Eden, where – with the exception of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – all plants and fruit are edible (Gen. 2.16-17) and nothing can befall the first of mankind. It opposes the harmonious life in Paradise on both “physical and spiritual” (Nash 15) levels, not only being infertile land, but also representing God’s punishment of human sin. The Book of Isaiah further emphasizes the sharp contrast between godly land and wilderness. Predicting Zion’s future, the author claims that “waters will break forth the wilderness . . . . No lion will be there, Nor will any vicious beast go
up on it . . . . [People] will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away” (35.6-10). Hence the belief that past and future of mankind will take place in a paradisiacal setting, while present life is cursed with wilderness.
A more ambivalent take on wilderness is depicted by the biblical description of the Israelites’ Exodus. During their forty-year long journey through the desert, “the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions” (Deut. 8.15), they are tormented by hunger and thirst. Over the course of their migration, God punishes them and lets all those disloyal to him die (Num. 14.35). However, God sees another motive behind the Exodus from Egypt, which is already hinted at in the previous reference. Beside hunger and punishment, he wanted to put his “chosen people” (Is. 43.20) to a test in order to see “what was in [their] heart, whether [they] would keep His command or not” (Deut. 8.2). Hence, biblical wilderness also serves as a place where believers can testify their faith in God and adherence to His words and commandments. This positive display of the capability of vast nature is enhanced when taking into account that God Himself appears within the wilderness. The story of the Burning Bush (Ex. 3) as well as the receiving of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20.3-17) take place within the desert. Even God’s goodwill is exhibited in the story, as He provides the suffering Israelites with food and water (Ex. 15.22-27; Ex. 16.1- 21; Ex. 17.1-7).
In accordance with the Exodus tradition, European Christians started going into the wilderness, eager to find rededication to God and the purification of their beliefs (Nash 16). The beginning of these journeys is already established in the New Testament, when John the Baptist is described to be “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Mat. 3.1). After his christening, Jesus is drawn to the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil” (Mat. 4.1). Similar to the Israelites’ experience, he returns forty days later, now being able to start his ministry (Mat. 4.17). During early and medieval Christianity, several monks followed the biblical tradition and set up a monastery in the midst of uninhabited land. They believed that their escape from corrupt society might enable them to transform the earthly wilderness into its original condition of paradisiacal Eden (Nash 18). Meanwhile, many of their contemporaries felt obliged to fulfill God’s demand and “cultivate[d] the ground from which [they] were taken” (Ex. 2.23). Thus, transforming wild land into human-controlled nature was still conceived as being a good deed, willed by God.
While these diverse thoughts dominated Christianity for centuries, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) took a lone standpoint by believing in the equality of all living beings (Nash 19). This assumption did not only challenge the human self-perception as dominant race, which had now been sustained for almost ten thousand years, but it also contradicted the Word of God, which stated that men should “rule” (Gen. 1.26) over all remaining creatures.
Although Assisi’s opinion did not coincide with the conviction of most of his compatriots, it was prominent among the people on the other side of the Atlantic. As Chief Luther Standing Bear of the Oglala Sioux would later explain, the value system of Native Americans considered the world to be “a library[,] and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals”. They believed all living creatures to be alike, to share the possession of personality, and to be “made by the same hand, and filled with the essence of the Great Mystery.” Furthermore, animals were thought to hold the right to live in freedom and to be protected by humans as well as “the right to man’s indebtedness.” In his works, Standing Bear also addresses Western settlers who were, according to his opinion, “still troubled by primitive fears.” He compares the persisting clash of views in the following:
Nothing the Great Mystery placed in the land of the Indian pleased the white man, and nothing escaped his transforming hand. Wherever forests have not been mowed down, . . . wherever the earth is not bereft of four-footed life – that to him is an "unbroken wilderness[.]" But, . . . for the Lakota [Oglala Sioux] there was no wilderness, because nature was not dangerous but hospitable . . . And here I find the great distinction between the faith of the Indian and the white man. Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings . . . . For one man the world was full of beauty, for the other it was a place of sin and ugliness.
These different viewpoints on the subject matter did not only trouble the Puritans on their mission in the New World but all European settlers alike. Even before the first Puritans set foot in North America, the pioneers had to undergo an experience quite similar to the struggle of the Neolithics. Again, wild nature threatened the life and viability of a sedentary society. The acquirement of the most basic human need – food – was one of the main reasons that drove settlers to eliminate forestlands. Being used to agriculture and permanent residences, they had to transform the landscape according to their needs. Another important factor in the rejection of wild nature was the fact that it served as a habitat for the Natives, “wild beasts[,] and still stranger creatures of the imagination” (Nash 24). Partly due to their
nomadic lifestyle and their divergent attitude, inter alia, towards religion and nature, indigenous Americans were regarded as heathen and wild, and thus perceived as a threat to the newly established community.
In 1620, having arrived in the New World on board the Mayflower, William Bradford complained about the “hideous and desolate wilderness” (qtd. in Nash 23-
24) that revealed itself before his eyes. Following biblical tradition, the settlers aimed at conquering and thus transforming the “moral vacuum” (Nash 24) that dominated the scenery. Every difficulty along their path was blamed on the wild condition of their new habitat (Nash 26), leaving them in a constant fight with nature. However, not only extrinsic factors stoked the settlers’ fear, as another reason lay amidst the nature of man himself. Departing from the former image of nature as realm of possible religious purification and intimacy to God, early pioneers were afraid that closeness to wilderness would tempt their men to lose the endeavor to establish a civilized society. Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecœur (John Hector St. John) of New France critically observed that colonial happiness solely depended on social life: “He [the settler] cannot live in solitude, he must belong to some community . . . Men mutually support and add to the boldness and confidence of each other” (187). Although these thoughts might not have completely been of religious nature, the Puritans would later adopt them. Calvinist minister and missionary John Eliot referred to this topic as “wilderness-temptation” (qtd. in Nash 29). The stated reasons and consequential beliefs led to the obliteration of all positive associations with nature. Even if the Bible ties vast countryside to the appearance of God and purification of faith, the first American settlers shunned the wild, frightening, and intimidating land. The only nature-bound objects they enjoyed were the many gardens, trees, and flowers that were cultivated (cf. Gen. 2.15), planted, and cared for by the hands of mankind (Nash 33).
When the Puritan belief arose, their concept of nature was neither new nor unique, as they rather adopted selected and historically established convictions. Like the first American settlers, the Puritans did not cherish nature, and especially wilderness, for various reasons. More than their direct ancestors, Puritans relied on the Words of God, since they were the groundwork of their life and “contained all they needed to know in order to hate wilderness” (Nash 35).
As already mentioned above, community and parochial life were essential aspects of their religious practice. Connected to this mode was the disapproval of
individuality. As Kate Rogers argues, individuals usually flee to the wilderness in order to seek, find, and finally transgress the boundaries of civilization and to explore their personal freedom and identity (9-10). Chester E. Eisinger, however, introduces the idea of “riot and confusion” (85) which would result from man’s escape and adherence to nature. Only bound to the laws of nature, such a man would transform into “a creature of instincts” (Eisinger 85) rather than reason. Either way, both images stand in high contrast to the Calvinist doctrine and serve as an explanation for the Puritan rejection of individualism within the realms of wild nature.
Similar to the experiences of the first European settlers, the Puritan repugnance of wilderness was enhanced by the fact that New England forests were inhabited by indigenous people. As a vast amount of the latter was not willing to be evangelized, the Puritans persecuted them due to their rejection of God. Cotton Mather believed Natives to be induced with evil spirit. Thus, being not only heathens but actually Satan’s minions, wilderness was transformed into the realm of devil himself, standing in high contrast to the Puritan ideal of a City upon a Hill. Mather emphasized the colonists’ ominous situation in the New World by saying that “[t]he New-Englanders are a People of God settled in those, which were once the Devil’s Territories” (“Enchantments Encountered” 13).
In order to cast off these fiendly threats, the Puritans had to fight the vast forests around them. Following God’s command in Gen. 2.15: “God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it” (emphasis added) and Gen. 3.23, where Adam and Eve are banned from Eden “to cultivate the ground from which [they] were taken” (emphasis added), the Puritans felt determined to eliminate the wilderness they were facing in the New World. Especially due to their conviction to be reliving the Israelite Exodus (Nash 34), they were certain that God would test their faith and devotion by confronting them with another desert that was to be overcome in order to create an ideal godly society.
The Puritan concept of Nature remained in the minds of the people in New England for more than two centuries, and into the time of Nathaniel Hawthorne. During the Puritan era in New England, scientists across the Atlantic provided a reason for being fond of wild nature: Groundbreaking findings, especially in the fields of astronomy and physics, paved the way for a new notion on the landscape (cf. Greyerz; Heschl). Many people assumed that the revelation of a clearly structured, logically organized and harmonious universe suggested and emphasized
the thought that all nature could be traced back to a divine creational source (Nash 45). At this point, the objection could certainly be raised that the assumption made above is already stated – as a matter of fact – in the first sentences of the Bible. However, Roderick Frazier Nash points out that, although nature was renowned as being God’s creation, “wilderness . . . was excluded from the category of nature” (46). Nevertheless, the new, “romantic” (Nash 44-66) take on nature was not able to replace the old, which was, inter alia, advocated by the Puritans. Nash implies that it rather “softened” (64) or relaxed (65) the current aversion to wilderness, as America was, concerning their concept of nature, “in a state of transition” (Nash 66).
The emerging literary, political, and philosophical movement of Transcendentalism influenced many of Hawthorne’s contemporaries during the early 19th century and offered another opinion on nature itself. Transcendentalists believed in the unity of all creation – animate or inanimate, – the innate goodness of mankind (opposed to the Puritan belief in Innate Depravity), and “the supremacy of insight
over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths” (Encyclopædia Britannica). Furthermore, it celebrated the individual instead of society, preferred reason over emotion, and nature over mankind (Encyclopædia Britannica). Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature (1836) serves as groundwork for this belief and value system. Freeing himself from the history of his ancestors (1) and the negative connotations that were made during the preceding centuries and millenniums, he regards nature as something that “never wears a mean appearance” (5) but rather serves as “the symbol of the spirit” (23). He argues that society changes a man during his lifetime, while nature provides the chance of returning to “the spirit of infancy” (7). In order to regain his mental abilities and live in harmony and unity with nature, his inner self, his religion, and his fellow humans, man needs to cast off the burden of society and open to the beauty, joy, and insight which nature has to offer. Emerson adheres to the transcendental mindset explained above by prizing nature over society, stating that he “find[s] something more dear and connate [in the wilderness] than in the streets or villages” (8). While he feels lonesome among a crowd, nature provides “the suggestion of an occult relation” (8) between all beings, conveying the feeling that one is “not alone and unacknowledged” (8). Especially the woods appear to him as “[p]lantations of God,” where “we return to reason and faith” (8). As Emerson believes all creatures and objects to be parts of a whole, nature even bears the ability to provide him with security. He notes that being in the forest, “[he]
feel[s] that nothing can befall [him] in life, – no disgrace, no calamity, . . . which nature cannot repair . . . . [he] become[s] a transparent eye-ball; [he is] nothing; [he] see[s] all . . . [he is] part or particle of God” (8).
The idea of nature as the true source and place of religion and the Lord Himself – and not as formerly supposed – something of lower value, was new to the New England mindset (Nash 86). Emerson points out that nature is something humans can turn to in order to refine and regenerate their soul, feel close to God, and experience themselves as part of a greater whole. Especially the feeling of security within wilderness must have been irritating for many people. For that reason, it is to be kept in mind that this concept did not replace the Calvinistic perception, yet they coexisted. Nevertheless, the attitude towards nature slowly began to change, converting “from demonized to divinized” (Callicott and Ybarra).
Henry David Thoreau, who proved his belief in the transcendental doctrine in Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854), even took part in another reformative notion. By saying that “in Wildness is the preservation of the World” (Walking 26), he was one of the first to suggest the conservation of something that was earlier proudly destroyed by several generations. In 1872, eight years after Nathaniel Hawthorne’s death, the United States Congress passed a bill that created North America’s first nature reserve: Yellowstone National Park (Rydell and Culpin 1).
The preceding explanations have shown that the Puritan concept of wilderness, or nature in general, was neither unique nor new, but actually drew upon the previous thoughts and ideas of Western human evolution. Taking the further course of this study into account, the awareness of the concepts of nature present during Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life is essential. As the Puritan perception was not yet overcome, several new takes on the conception of nature arose. Hawthorne thus lived in a period of transition, torn between the belief in nature’s evil, threatening, and dark side on the one hand, and the image of wilderness as a conservation-worthy realm of self-discovery, harmony, freedom, and security on the other hand. The question in need to be answered is in how far the author and his works were influenced by this era of attitude change and how Hawthorne coped with the opposing viewpoints of his Puritan ancestors and transcendental friends.
3 Hawthorne – Man and Writer
The preceding chapter has laid the foundation for the discussion of Hawthorne’s life. The Puritan history, beliefs, and legacy as well as the change of attitude towards nature current during the writer’s lifespan, highly influenced his mind and works. In order to understand and analyze the latter, Hawthorne’s attitude towards both topics will be scrutinized. The following biography focuses on the main events and influences in the author’s life and emphasizes core characteristics that help to understand both the private man and author.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s earliest ancestors, yet still called Hathorne, lived in Wilton, Wiltshire, England. The earliest records of the Hathorne family can be dated back to the time of the discovery of the American continent by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century (Wagenknecht 4). The first to set foot in the New World was William Hathorne (1607-1681), who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 (Person 17). Seven years later, he moved from Dorchester to Salem, Massachusetts, where he held several influential offices. Being “the most eloquent
man in the public assembly” (Woodberry, N.H. 2), he worked as a legislator, magistrate, and preacher. Furthermore, he soldiered in King Philip’s War, and was a widely-known persecutor of Indians and Quakers. One of his most sinister deeds was the conviction of Ann Coleman, a Quaker woman, who was whipped through the streets of Salem on his command (Person 17). The same fate befell colonial citizen Hester Craford, who was publicly whipped being accused of adultery. She was later suspended from society for a month to give birth to her illegitimate child; a doom quite similar to her namesake’s in The Scarlet Letter.
William’s son John was also of reputable and respectable rank. Despite several other occupations, it was his role as “witch judge” (“The Paternal Ancestors”) during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692-1963, which earned him doubtful prominence. He is said to have been “so inhumanely in court” (Woodberry, N.H. 3) that the husband of an accused witch cursed him during one of the trials – and with him all of his descendants. This curse “lingered in the family memory like a black
blot in the blood” (Woodberry, N.H. 3), and was later even recalled by Nathaniel Hawthorne in “The Custom House” (Hawthorne, TSL 9).
While the third generation of Hathornes in New England was devoted to farming (Woodberry, N.H. 3), the fourth and fifth descendants were drawn to the sea (“The Paternal Ancestors”). Captain Nathaniel Hathorne, fifth-generation immigrant and father of the later author, died of yellow fever in Suriname, just four years after his only son’s birth (Wineapple 16).
Nathaniel the younger was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. Besides him, his father and mother Elizabeth, née Clarke Manning, had two daughters of whom Elizabeth was four years his senior and Louisa two years younger (Woodberry, N.H. 3). The early death of the patriarch left an indelible mark on all the lives of the remaining family members. Young Nathaniel sought for closeness to his father by dreaming of setting forth the family tradition and becoming a sailor, as well. For the most part of childhood, he was occupied with this thought and even his earliest writings are said to have been related to the life at sea (Wineapple 21). Although he had lost his father to the roaring ocean, he spoke of it “as a place of comfort, . . . and wonder, of adventure and male bonding” (Wineapple 21). This behavioral pattern already shows Hawthorne’s close relationship to and occupation with his paternal male ancestors, which would accompany him throughout his life. Indeed, the death of his father is said to have been the key experience to trigger his interest in family history (Warren xi). Nevertheless, Nathaniel was not the only family member to suffer from the early loss. His mother was not able to overcome her husband’s death either. As it was a custom in those days, she withdrew from society and led a life of seclusion for the rest of her life (Woodberry, N.H. 3).
This manner was adopted by her children and especially the only son who would seek refuge in the realms of solitude throughout his lifespan. This reclusive way of living was even enhanced when he, as a nine-year-old, wounded his foot at school (Wineapple 26). Although this injury did not seem to be severe, the young boy secluded himself from the outside world (Waggoner 2). Brenda Wineapple, based on the writings of Hawthorne’s sister Elizabeth, makes the supposition that the loss of several male family members, such as his father, his maternal grandfather, and some of his closest uncles, led the young boy to the idea of running away, but “[u]nable to do this, he did the opposite” (26). Nevertheless, the restricted mobility
drew him closer to reading and within these years he developed a deep love of literature that would last a lifetime (McFarland 17).
After his recovery four years later, Elizabeth and her three children moved to Raymond, Maine, now residing in one of the Manning’s family residences. Having vast forests and Lake Sebago in close proximity, Nathaniel was able to experience and enjoy the beauty of nature (Wagenknecht 5). This acquaintance majorly contributed to the memory of his boyhood in Maine, which he describes as the happiest childhood experience he ever had (Woodberry, N.H. 5). In a letter to his mother, he remembers his time in Raymond: “shut out from the world, and nothing to disturb [them,] . . . a second Garden of Eden” (qtd. in Woodberry, N.H. 10). As the letter reveals, the solitude of his earlier years continued in Maine. Instead of finding playmates (Wineapple 40), he kept himself busy with the exploration of the natural surroundings, reading, and writing his first diary, a habit he would not break until his death (Wineapple 35; cf. Hawthorne, The American Note-Books). The latter already contained what his later notebooks would confirm: his emotional attachment to nature and especially the forest (Woodberry, N.H. 6-7).
Despite the feeling of comfort, Nathaniel had to leave his family and moved back to Salem to further his education when he was fifteen years old. There, he not only continued his eager reading but also published his first work, The Spectator, a weekly magazine (Woodberry, N.H. 8), which he printed himself and distributed among family members (Turner viii). According to Wineapple, it can be seen as his “declaration of independence and his passport to literature” (41). Unlike his later publications, it contained mostly commentaries and descriptions of the real life surrounding him, “without . . . the veil of fiction” (Wineapple 41), which he would later disclose in his tales.
During the subsequent months, Hawthorne started to think about his future career. Having abandoned his childhood dreams of becoming a sailor, he considered the professions preferred by his family, such as minister, lawyer, or physician (The Selected Letters 27). In a letter to his mother in March 1821, he states that the occupations mentioned above would not satisfy him and suggests becoming an author instead and “relying for support upon [his] pen” (The Letters 139).
In the summer of 1821, he entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he “took nothing more important away . . . than the friendships he made there” (Person 3). One of his college mates was Franklin Pierce, who would later serve as
President of the United States of America. During their years at Bowdoin, they started a cordial friendship, which would last their whole lives. Although fellow writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was also one of Hawthorne’s contemporaries at Bowdoin, it was future United States Naval officer Horatio Bridge, who became “[h]is closest confidant . . . encourag[ing] him, then and later, as a writer when he needed it most” (Wineapple 50). Hawthorne himself would later refer to him as “the best friend [he] ever had or shall have” (qtd. in Wineapple 50). Although Hawthorne did not withdraw from social life in college, he was described as being secluded in some way. One of his college companions, Jonathan Cilleys, recalls his perception of Nathaniel as follows: “I love Hawthorne, I admire him; but I do not know him. He lives in a mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits me to enter” (qtd. in Wineapple 52). Apart from the important friendships he found in college, there is no evidence of him getting too involved or eager in his college career, as he seems to have taken his private reading pleasures more seriously than his studies (Woodberry, N.H. 13). However, his life, friends, or books must have aroused the desire to slightly change his surname. The first recordings of the “fanciful spelling” (Woodberry, N.H. 14) date back to 1825, but it was not until two years later that he used it more frequently (Wineapple 63). Although it is often assumed that Hawthorne made the change due to his eagerness to break with his paternal ancestors, no reliable source for this supposition can be found (“The Family”).
After his graduation in September 1825, he returned to his family which had meanwhile moved to Salem, Massachusetts. Being back with his mother and sisters, Nathaniel immediately reverted to the family’s habitual life in solitude. For the following dozen years, he predominantly spent his time in his room, his “haunted chamber” (Hawthorne, “Hawthorne in the Boston Custom-House”), which scholars usually refer to as “the chamber under the eaves” (e.g. Woodberry, N.H. 15). Besides staying at home, dedicating his time and thoughts to writing and reading, he enjoyed long walks in the realm of nature. This period of “intellectual solitude” (Woodberry, N.H. 16) was essential for the composition of his future works.
 See “2.1.3 Puritan Beliefs” for further information on the meaning of the term Elect.
 See “3.4.1 The Burden of Puritan Legacy” for further information on Hawthorne’s handling of the curse.
- Quote paper
- Marina Boonyaprasop (Author), 2010, "A Forest Walk" - The Concept of Nature in Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Scarlet Letter", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/198314