Demonstrate how The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables have a lack of external conflict in keeping with Hawthorne's style.

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing style is supremely consistent and distinctive; in other words, what you find in one of his works you will assuredly find in all of them and when you read them you immediately know that he wrote them. 

In terms of characterization, Hawthorne is generally more concerned about the inner workings of his characters' minds, and the conflicts they have are internal much more often than they are external. In both The Scarlet Letter and in The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne creates characters who are conflicted on the inside but who rarely, if ever, demonstrate any external conflict. 

In Scarlet, Hester has a multitude of both reasons and opportunities to confront people, yet she never really does so. When she walks out of the prison and hears the not-so-quiet whispers about her, she says nothing. When the ministers of the town--arguably the most important figures in a Puritan community--pressure her to reveal her lover's name, she refuses (which is about as confrontational as she ever gets in this novel). When one of them starts preaching and uses her as his living example of sin, she says nothing. When her wronged husband comes to see her in prison and prepares an elixir to give the baby, all Hester says is

“Wouldst thou avenge thyself on the innocent babe?” whispered she.

No confrontation there. When the women who hire her to sew for them insult Hester, she is silent--at least on the outside. The same is essentially true when she meets both Chillingworth and Dimmesdale in the woods, when Mistress Hibbins tries to engage her in witchery, and when the captain of the ship announces that Chillingworth will be joining them on their journey to England. In each case, Hester is certainly stirred up internally, yet she does not speak. Hawthorne has her deal with her conflicts internally.

When she is treated poorly, Hester discovers she cannot pray for her tormentors because she is afraid she will pray curses on them rather than blessings. You see, it is not that she does not want to have a confrontation, it is that Hawthorne forces her to confront herself, instead. When Dimmesdale is tempted to commit random blasphemous acts with his parishioners, he does not do it. Instead, he is forced to go home and confront himself. This is a consistent pattern for him, as well. He should face the people, the law, his congregation, or even Hester, but he cannot do it. What he does instead is confront himself in the form of lashings and vigils and whatever he might have done to his chest. Again Hawthorne forces his characters to look inward rather than to others as the true source of their conflict.

While the example I have from Gables is not quite so dramatic, it is the same principle. When Hepzibah is forced to open a shop in order to pay the bills, she is not happy. Her rather genteel upbringing makes her supremely unsuited to conducting business. In fact, she loathes it.

Ring as often as it might, the sound always smote upon her nervous system rudely and suddenly. And especially now, while, with her crested teaspoons and antique china, she was flattering herself with ideas of gentility, she felt an unspeakable disinclination to confront a customer.

Again Hawthorne keeps her conflict internal. She is a failure as a shopkeeper on the outside, but the conflict remains internal. 

sonvita | Student

1)      Faith and Goodman Brown are symbols of goodness and piety.

2)      “My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name.”(P439)

Note:Brown’s wife disappearance is a symbol, which shows the disappearance of goodness and piety.

3)      “…How hoary bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eager for widow’s weeds, has given her husband a drink at bed-time, and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom; how beardless youth have made haste to inherit their father’s wealth; how fairy damsels…have dug little graves in the garden.(P443)

Note:These are instances of human’s evil.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

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