Please identify some modern themes of human nature used by Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novels The Scarlett Letter  and The House of Seven Gables Nathaniel Hawthorne uses similar modern themes regarding human nature which are most salient in the way that physical and psychological traits are depicted. These traits are even more impressive when juxtaposed to the time and place of the novels, which entail a period of relative harmony and community among the people of Massachusetts. However, this contrast is precisely what Hawthorne aims to achieve to present his main idea. Three of the many themes that could be extrapolated are misjudgement, deception, and hypocrisy.

Misjudgement-  The theme of misjudgement is identifiable in both novels. In The Scarlet Letter, the scorn of the people is focused on Hester and her "crime" of having become pregnant from an unknown man. As a result, she becomes the pariah of her society and the scapegoat through which the villagers channel their own vices. Despite of the great efforts she does for the community that condemned her, people continue to see Hester as a sinner and act holier than thou in her present. Similarly, The House of Seven Gables Hepzibah Pincheon's visual impediment makes her LOOK unapproachable, but she is inherently kind and good-natured. The basic idea is that appearances fool everyone, and that it is unfortunate that someone's looks, or even their reputation is the most important factor for shallow people to make their judgment of others.

Deception- Following along the lines of misjudgment, deception is a crucial theme in both novels. In Scarlet the unfair treatment of Hester is exacerbated by the blind fanaticism that the villagers feel for Reverend Dimmesdale, described as

The young divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford, was considered by his more fervent admirers as little less than a heavenly ordained apostle...

Little did the town know that it was he who impregnated the very woman whose life they have made impossible, and that beneath that look of sainthood lives a man of flesh and bone who may very well have a sadistic tendency for inflicting pain upon himself. Until the very end, Dimmesdale refuses to let go of his "saintly" reputation and face the facts that surround him.

In Seven Gables the character of Judge Pyncheon is similar to that of Dimmesdale in that they both enjoyed a great reputation and status within the community. Judge Pyncheon's larger than life personality and his dashing smile completely hides his true persona: he is selfish, heartless, a liar, and a bully who uses his rank to get whatever he wants.

Hypocrisy- There is a clear social class division in both of Hawthorne's novels. Those who serve as elders to the community are treated like celebrities, basically, allowing them to indulge in less than  holy behaviors. In The Scarlet Letter, the puritan leaders seem to have forgotten the vow of poverty and simplicity in dress and lifestyle that the religion entails. We know for a fact that at least Dimmesdale blew his vow for chastity. Yet, the loyalty to the faith is almost demanded from all villagers to the point of putting Hester on the pillory for it.

Similarly, Gables also shows the double standards when the powerful do something versus the not-so-powerful. The feud between the Mauds and the Pyncheons, Matthew's severe complex with being identified as a working class man, and Alices snubbing of him for that very reason makes it clear that Hawthorne intends to mock society, its ridiculous divisions, and the silly behaviors of the people in general.

Wiggin42 | Student

Another theme that Hawthorne briefly touches upon is empathy. After Hester is forced to wear the scarlet letter, people look at her differently and Hester perceives that. She is able to see the hidden sins in others. Singled out as a black sinner, other sinners are able to sympathize with her. And although no one dare approach her, they all share a connecting secret. 

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The Scarlet Letter

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