Nathaniel Hawthorne Critiques Puritan Society in His Works, Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter
Many American writers have scrutinized religion through their works of literature, however none had the enthusiasm of Nathaniel Hawthorne. A handful of Hawthorne's works are clear critiques of seventeenth century Puritan society in New England. Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter illustrate his assessment by showing internal battles within characters, hypocrisy in religious figures, atypical punishment for crimes, and accenting women's roles in Puritan society. Firstly, Hawthorne's literature often stresses internal battles in main characters. In both Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter, these battles are between morals and sin (both past and future). In Young Goodman Brown, Brown goes into the woods and meets Satan. Satan, in the form of Brown's deceased grandfather, asks the weary Brown to take his staff. The staff "bore the likeness of a great black snake... almost be seen to twist and wriggle... like a living serpent" (Hawthorne 1237). The comparison of the strangers' staff as a snake is very reminiscent of the Bible's story of Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden. "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God made" (Genesis 3:1) and as we know Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree and succumbed to the serpent's temptation. However, unlike Eve, Brown did not take the serpent-like staff because he knew he was being tested. Goodman Brown was also ethically confronted when he sees his wife, Faith, among a group of high standing community and church members in a circle of religious converts who plan to switch to Satanism. Seeing his adored wife ready to worship the devil makes Brown question his community and his own faith in God. Now, if Satan has a job it is to entice people into following him as opposed to God, and the best way to do this is to make Brown question what he knows and believes. Seeing his fellow church members and his wife among women who were convicted and put to death for being witches makes Brown question himself. Yet, still Brown abhors transgression. Although he avoids Satan, however, he cannot forget how Satan influenced him with what he saw that night. He became " a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man" (Hawthorne 1244) and lived his life this way until death.
Another internal conflict within a character is shown in The Scarlet Letter's
Arthur Dimmesdale. Perhaps one of Hawthorne's most widely read works shows this
battle most simplistically. In this tale, Hawthorne introduces us to Hester Prynne who
has had a child by Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Hester could not hide her child, Pearl,
and was disciplined openly for committing adultery. Meanwhile, Dimmesdale does not
reveal that he is the father of Pearl because of his esteemed position as Reverend of the
town's church. Since Hester technically is...