Sin, Guilt, and the Mind of Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne's works are notable for their treatment of guilt and the complexities of moral choices. "Moral and religious concerns, in short, are almost always present in Hawthorne's work"(Foster, 56). Given Hawthorne's background, it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that his novels are critiques of Puritanism. Hawthorne lived in the deeply scarred New England area, separated from Puritanism by only one generation. His grandfather had been one of the judges in the Salem Witch Trials. Personal issues include the various ways Hawthorne's family and specific events in his life influenced his writing. Readers can easily recognize how "Young Goodman Brown" incorporates facts about his Puritan ancestors. Father Hooper in "The Minister's Black Veil" may be symbolically paralleled to Hawthorne's ancestors, trying to hide a sin they have committed. His descendants' remarks on him in The Custom House introduction to The Scarlet Letter mix pride in Hawthorne's prominence and a sense of inherited guilt for his deeds as judge. Hawthorne's guilt of wrongs committed by his ancestors was paramount in the development of his literary career. He investigates human weaknesses through the time period of his ancestors. Generally Hawthorne's writings contained powerful symbolic and psychological effects of pride, guilt, sin and punishment.
The theme of pride may be recognized as a vice or as a virtue in Hawthorne's works, depending on the situation. Goodman Brown from "Young Goodman Brown" becomes a victim of his own pride and he consequently suffers. Goodman Brown has a feeling of superiority over the rest of the village. He attains his feeling after he sees all the people that he thought were good and pure participating in satanic rituals in the forest. He says, "There were high dames, well known, and wives of honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled lest their mothers should espy them" (Young Goodman). He loses all faith in the community, as he says, "my faith is gone! There is no good on earth" (Young Goodman). He feels he is above them because he was able to resist the devil. He says, "Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!" (Young Goodman). Goodman Brown's pride is his tragic flaw, since he has too much therefore it causes his downfall.
The pride Goodman Brown experiences differs from that of Hester Prynne. Hester from The Scarlet Letter is an example of pride, self-empowerment and redemption. The scarlet letter, "fantastically embroidered with gold thread" (Scarlet Letter, 45) is constantly worn by Hester in pride and in dignity. In the city of Boston many people refuse to interpret the scarlet "A" by it's original significance. They say it means "Able". After many years, Hester returns to New England. "There [is] a more real life for Hester Prynne here, in New England, than...