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Like Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a Dark Romantic, a writer who wanted to leave behind the tangible, rational world and discover the unsettling truth that lies in the dark, irrational depths of the human mind--to remove, as Herman Melville's Captain Ahab says, that pasteboard mask that covers reality.
As a Dark Romantic, then, Hawthorne composed his novel The Scarlet Letter, incorporating many of the tenets of Romanticism:
1. On the journey to truth, Romanticism either explores the past and supernatural realms, or it contemplated the natural world. Hawthorne's novel is an examination of his Puritan past in his efforts to assuage his guilt for his ancestor's participation in the Salem Witchcraft Trials.
2. As the Romantic hero, who possesses qualities of youthfulness, innocence, intuitiveness, and closeness to the natural world, the Reverend Dimmesdale is very naive. For a long time, he never suspects the motives of Roger Chillingworth and maintains the naive notion that he can do God's work while hiding his sins. In Chapter X, for instance, he discusses secret sin with Roger Chillingworth, telling him there are men, who
guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal for God's glory and man's welfare, ... shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men....
and in Chapter XX, he feels inspired and in his zeal, he writes his sermon for the New England holdiay all night.
3. Romanticism values feeling and intuition over reason. Little Pearl senses the sin in Dimmesdale and points out to her mother how he holds his hand over his heart. Worried about Dimmesdale's deteriorating health, Hester senses that Chillingworth is responsible for the minister's deterioration and vows to speak to her former husband.
4. Romanticism shuns the artificiality of civilization and seeks unspoiled nature. In Chapter XIX, Little Pearl is happiest in the forest by the babbling brook playing in the sunshine. There, too, Hester meets Dimmesdale and they can talk freely without the constraints of civilization.
5. Romanticism contemplates nature's beauty as a path to spiritual and moral development. Inspired by his walk in the forest with Hester and Pearl, Dimmesdale writes his greatest sermon the night before the New England holiday. (Ch. XX)
6. Romanticism champions individual freedom and the worth of the individual. In Chapter XIII, there is an exploration of Hester as an individual Hawthorne writes, "The scarlet letter has not done its office." For, Hester yet retains her independence and vows to speak with Roger Chillingworth as she is shocked to see the change in the minister.
7. Romanticism prefers youthful innocence to educated sophistication. It is young Pearl who scolds her mother for removing the scarlet letter, and it is the ingenuous Pearl who notices the minister's turmoil.
8. Romanticism finds inspiration in myth, legend, and folklore. Hawthorne finds inspiration for his story with the fabricated myth of the "scarlet letter," and he recreates the Puritan colony of the days of the Salem Witchcraft Trials.
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