The Scarlet Letter - Guilt


Guilt as Reparation for Sin in The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter is a novel about a Puritan woman who has committed adultery and must pay for her sin by wearing a scarlet "A" on her bosom. The woman, Hester Prynne, must struggle through everyday life with the guilt of her sin. The novel is also about the suffering that is endured by not admitting to one?s wrongs. Reverend Mister Dimmesdale learns that secrecy only makes the guilt increase. Nathaniel Hawthorne is trying to display how guilt is the everlasting payment for sinful actions. The theme of guilt as reparation for sin in The Scarlet Letter is revealed through Nathaniel Hawthorne?s use of northeastern, colonial settings, various conflicts, and characters that must live with guilt for the sins they have committed.
Nathaniel Hawthorne?s elaborately descriptive writing style has been studied and criticized by people all over the world for years. Hawthorne has been thought of as one of the greatest writers in history, but his unique style has also been negatively criticized and disapproved of. No matter the opinion of his works, the people who knew him personally respected Hawthorne. "On the day after Hawthorne?s funeral, in May 1864, [Ralph Waldo] Emerson wrote in his journal: ?I thought him a greater man than any of his works betray??" (Martin 37). Hawthorne, however, was not so well thought of by people who did not know him well. Someone who would rather be creative and write than have a "real job" was not very well respected in Hawthorne?s day. A writer who wrote fictional tales was even less respected than an author who wrote of actual events was. These unjustified opinions of writers influenced Nathaniel Hawthorne throughout his life and career in creative writing.
Another issue that influenced Nathaniel Hawthorne was his ancestry. His family had spent five generations in Salem. A couple of Nathaniel?s ancestors of whom he was especially ashamed were William and John Hathorne. William Hathorne was a Puritan who showed fierce prejudice against the Quakers. He ordered a public beating for Ann Coleman?s punishment, and she almost died consequently (Shepherd iv). John Hathorne was a judge who sentenced many people to death during the Salem witch trials. He was the

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Judge Hathorne spoken of in Miller?s "The Crucible." It is believed that Nathaniel added the "w" to his last name in an effort to distance him from these historical ancestors (Shepherd vi).
Nathaniel Hawthorne (originally spelled "Hathorne") was born to Elizabeth Clarke Manning Hathorne and Nathaniel Hathorne in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. He was the second child and the only son of the Hathornes? three children. When Nathaniel was four, his father came down with yellow fever and died in Surinam, Dutch Guiana. After his father?s death, Mrs. Hathorne moved her family into her parents? house in Salem (Shepherd iv). At the age of nine, Nathaniel Hathorne suffered an injury to his legs that kept him from attending school for about two years. This injury was a blessing in disguise. During his recovery, Nathaniel read many books and developed an appreciation for the English classics. Bunyan?s Pilgrim Progress and Spenser?s Faerie Queene seem to have been his favorite books because he had two cats named Beelzebub and Apollyon, characters from Bunyan (Martin 17). "Hawthorne later named his first child Una, after Spenser?s heroine" (Martin 17).
Hawthorne would spend the rest of his childhood in Raymond, Maine, hunting, fishing, and enjoying the outdoors. He returned to Salem for schooling and worked as a bookkeeper for his Uncle?s stagecoach line (Martin 17). He entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in 1821. He made some very impressive acquaintances during college, meeting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Horatio Bridge, and Franklin Pierce. These friends will prove to be beneficial to Nathaniel in his authorial career. During college, Nathaniel added the "w" to his last name (Shepherd vi).
About three years after Hawthorne graduates from college, he publishes his first book. Fanshawe is a romance novel. Out of dissatisfaction with the novel, he collects and burns all of the copies of this book that he can find shortly after its release. He also burns Seven Tales of My Native Land, a collection of short stories he began work on while in college. Two years after his failure as a publisher, Hawthorne has five of his stories published in the Salem Gazette. In 1834, some of