Dark Romanticism in the Scarlet Letter

Dark romanticism is a writing form started in the 19th century with the advent of the industrial revolution. It is demonstrated through the rejection of human society and the appreciation of spontaneous feelings, intuition, as well as the pristine nature. Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter employs issue common with dark romanticism such as admiration of nature and children, a belief in a higher moral code and breaking away from the standard rules of society.

In this novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne addresses the issues of guilt and sin through outward guilt by Hester and hidden guilt by Dimmesdale, sin in the form of adultery by Hester and the priest, and the desire for revenge by Roger Chillingworth. This novel questions the idea of what is good and what is evil. For instance, Nathaniel Hawthorn leads the reader to ask if Hester did the right thing by not revealing the father of her daughter and whether it was right for Chillingworth and Dimmesdale to refuse to reveal their secrets. Madness in the human psyche is demonstrated in how Chillingworth changes from a caring man into a deranged man whose only purpose is revenge (Hawthorne 145). Also, the concept of madness can be seen in Dimmesdale who punishes himself through starvation and torture.

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The author also shows an appreciation of young innocent minds in this novel. Also, there is evident appreciation of the untainted American nature. Through these examples, the author shows his romantic belief that the things that have not yet been influenced and corrupted by the modern society hold a lot of wisdom and truth. For instance, Pearl’s intuitions are very strong as can be seen in how she noticed that the priest would not show her and her mother affection in public. Furthermore, she always spoke the truth no matter the circumstances (Hawthorne 189). The woods represent an untainted space, away from the society. Once in the forest, Hester and Dimmesdale could be their true selves, talk freely to each other and escape the pressures of the society. Here they could freely talk of how they would flee Boston and gain safe passage to England, a topic they avoided in the vicinity of the town. Pearl also felt at home in the woods as the animals were unafraid of her, there was foliage to play with, and there was some form of connection as the forest recognized her wisdom and purity (Hawthorne 41).

Like many other dark romantics, Hawthorne rejects the standard rules of the society set by England and Puritan religious attitudes. Despite the fact that she broke a serious law, the community still understands and treats Hester with compassion. Hawthorne portrays her as a kind hearted and religious individual who has repented for her misdeeds. Just like other romantic heroes, Hester answers only to a higher moral code. At the same time, although by keeping his secret Dimmesdale is breaking the law the reader is led to pardon him because he does more good in his position than he would if he were to be dismissed, and also because he repents ardently. An example of a character who is strongly influenced by the English and puritanical doctrines is Governor Bellingham (Hawthorne 83). He is portrayed as a more distasteful character than Hester and Dimmesdale even though he is more obedient to the law. This shows how the author rejects the written law.

The scarlet letter embodies the concepts of dark romanticism that were prevalent among 19th-century writers. The author uses the concepts of dark romanticism such as a belief in wisdom and untainted people and places, a rejection of traditional rule, and a belief in a higher knowledge rather than the one achieved through human reasoning. It is, therefore, correct to argue that Nathaniel Hawthorne was a dark romantic.


Work cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter: A Romance. New York: Doubleday & McClure Co, 1898. Print.