Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the most significant American writers of the Romantic period. His dark outlook on humanity, revealed both in his short stories and 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, run counter to his peers in the Transcendentalist movement who believed that there were elements of the divine, or Oversoul, in humankind.
The Scarlet Letter is also notable as a proto-feminist work. The only character in the novel who emerges as sympathetic is Hester Prynne. The men in her life are not as strong as she is; it is fair to say that she is, in fact, the novel's heroine, though she is never recognized by other characters as such.
Like other Romantics, Hawthorne makes extensive use of symbolism and motifs to reinforce his works' themes. Moreover, he reinforces the Romantic idea that nature is superior to civilization. This is particularly true in The Scarlet Letter, which is a searing critique of Puritanism, the religion of his ancestor John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem Witch Trials. The "sin" that Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale engage in is presented as an act of nature, and the "civilized" forces of theocratic law are presented as cruel and indefensible.