Connections btwn Scarlet Letter and Faust?Hi all-I co-taught a course on the various incarnations of Faust (Marlowe, Goethe, Mann) and also had "The Scarlet Letter" in my list of...

Connections btwn Scarlet Letter and Faust?

Hi all-

I co-taught a course on the various incarnations of Faust (Marlowe, Goethe, Mann) and also had "The Scarlet Letter" in my list of novels for my comp exams in American literature.  I feel there is a strong connection between these works and the Faust myth/legend.  For example, could Chillingsworth be an incarnation of Faust(us) and/or Mephestopheles? 

Consider these parallels:  (Chillingsworth)“I come to the inquest with other senses that they possess.  I shall seek this man, as I have sought truth in books; as I have sought gold in alchemy.  There is a sympathy that will make me conscious of him.  I shall see him tremble  I shall feel myself shudder, suddenly and unawres.  Sooner or later, he must needs be mine!”   

Furthermore, Chillingworth obtains this doctorate at a GERMAN university/ uses people’s ignorance against them…”scientific attainments were esteemed hardly less than supernatural…”  and Dimmesdale thinks of Chillingworth as “arriving bodily through the air" and setting him down at the door of Dimmesdale’s study!…a miraculous stage effect!”  (Recall Marlowe's (and Goethe's) Meph arriving in Faust’s dim study).

I believe there are also significant parallels between Gretchen and Hester, but I am running out of room.



Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think clear parallels can be drawn between Chillingworth and Faust. Repeatedly throughout the text Chillingworth is described as demonic or like a devil, and he certainly sacrifices his life to persecute and haunt Dimmesdale and gain his revenge. This is clearly his all-consuming purpose in life.

Yes, Chillingsworth does seem to have a Mephisto-like role in Hawthorne's tale.


Using Charles Gounod's "Faust", which emphasizes Gretchen/Marguerite's experience in the tryst.



(There's now an opera based upon Hawthorne's novel, too.)


Although Marguerite/Gretchen gets hanged in the end of the story, and Hester Prynne not so, they are remarkably similar.



Here are a few parallels:


(1) Both Hester and Marg have had affairs with men with whom they really were madly in love with.


(2) Both had children by their affairs.


(3) Both were tormented by other females about their fecund trysts.


(4) Both remained loyal to their lovers, more than their lovers were loyal to them. (Hester never turned in Dimmesdale, and Marg still loved to hear Faust's voice in the end, in her gaol-cell awaiting execution.)


(5) Both were publically punished (the Letter "A" or the hangman's noose).


(6) Both were tormented by accusatory beings: Mephisto, Chillingsworth.


(Of course, I don't recall Hester Prynne going bezerk and killing her child; but then again, Hester did not get to directly see the Devil threatening to eternally destroy everybody whom she knew and loved, while Marg got to witness Mephisto threaten/promise her that nobody whom  she knows is safe, not even the innocent.  (That's not to justify what she did to her baby, though, but it does make her motives more understandable and sympathetic.))

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

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