Nathaniel Hawthorne- born Hathorne-changed his last name due to his desire to disconnect himself from the Salem Witch Trials and the whole Puritan belief system; seeing as one of his relatives was a judge during this time. Hawthorne, throughout a number of his work, uses his female characters as the stage to show off his feelings towards the Puritanical ideology. He uses the character shells of either an older woman who critically lives by Puritan law, to show how judgmental Puritanism is with anything that doesn’t conform to their beliefs; or has a young pretty “rebel” who goes against Puritan law, which results in showing the corrupt side of Puritanism; using these two character shells in The Scarlet Letter and “The Minister’s Black Veil” Conversely, to blatantly show his hatred towards Puritanism, Hawthorne uses Mistress Hibbins in The Scarlet Letter to combat these two roles, and to continue to show off his dislike towards the religion.
Hawthorne makes the first role for his female characters- the older, stricter Puritan- the most obvious, one note characters in these two pieces. In The Scarlet Letter these women weren’t names nor really big people involved in the story, he used them to show how the community felt about Hester and her “whorish” ways, saying “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead.” (Hawthorne, 49) Other comments made by the women of the community include, “What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are not here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worship magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not!” (Hawthorne, 49) Here, Hawthorne seems to use the stereotype of women to be gossips to cushion the Puritan persona he loves to use: that they are simply judgmental critics of everyone who didn’t conform to their religion and these “sinners” deserve the worst punishment.
In “The Minister’s Black Veil” Hawthorne again uses the older women of the community to criticize any other ideals other than the ones that fit in the Puritanical ideology. During the young girl’s funeral, Hawthorne writes one older woman’s comment as, “I had a fancy, that the minister and the maiden’s spirits were walking hand in hand” (Hawthorne) This was after the Minister leaned over the girl, although no one knows what he did due to the veil hiding any interaction that occurred. This scene shows off the idea of Puritans being highly judgmental and critical, considering no one knows what the interaction between the minister and the girl was, this woman is simply assuming because he got close to her that they obviously had to be having an affair, because during that time there seemed to be no other explanation as to why a minister would come in such close contact with the body whose funeral he's speaking at.
On the other side of the spectrum, Hawthorne’s other use of female characters is as the young, pretty rebels of the communities who...