Hawthorne begins The Scarlet Letter with his famous description of a jailhouse. He comments that in any society jailhouses and cemeteries--emblems of corruption and mortality--are among the first things to be built. Puritan Salem was a social experiment to create a better society free of religious persecution. It failed. Hawthorne participated in another social experiment in his own time--with the New England Transcendentalists at Brook Farm--which also failed. The New England Puritans believed that human nature was base and depraved; the New England Transcendentalists believed that it was pure and good. Do you think the ambiguous and anguished conflicts of the characters in The Scarlet Letter reflect Hawthorne's doubts about the success of the new America that was evolving in his own time? What are his views on human nature? How do those views affect his and our attempts to build a better society--in his time and ours?
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