Why are there so many historical real-life characters and settings involved in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter?
Hawthorne uses several historical personages and settings in his novel. What are the significances and the intentions?
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Although Nathaniel Hawthorne professed himself a Unitarian, there was much of the classically Puritan traits within him, one of which was a keen interest in the welfare of the community. Thus, his interest in the history of the colonies, especially his native Massachusetts, ran deep. Hyatt H. Waggoner, author of Nathaniel Hawthorne writes,"Salem was part of him for good or evil."
As a historical romance, The Scarlet Letter evinces Hawthorne's historical concerns; tying these concerns to real characters such as Goody Cloyse and Deacon Goodkin assisted Hawthorne in his efforts to create what he called an "authentic" past. In his essay "The Custom House" that prefaces the novel, Hawthorne expressed an ancestral guilt that he had inherited from Judge Hathorne who sentenced several persons guilty of witchcraft. Because he felt that the nation both enabled and impeded the lives of its constituents and the telling of its histories, with the creation of this "authentic" past, Nathaniel Hawthorne hoped to lend his novel historical importance that would serve to give insight into the past as well as into the very nature of the human soul.
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