illustrated portrait of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Did Nathaniel Hawthorne share his contemporaries' views on guilt, sin, crime, and adultery?

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People during Hawthorne's lifetime were still somewhat Puritanical, despite the fact that Puritanism itself was no longer popular. Most people felt that guilt and sin were things to hide and that crime and adultery were morally reprehensible actions. Based on his writings, however, I think Hawthorne took a somewhat different view. In texts like The Scarlet Letter and "The Minister's Black Veil," Hawthorne advances the idea that everyone sins and no one is immune, so we ought to be honest about our sinfulness rather than try to hide it. When we hide our sinfulness, we make other people believe that everyone but they are sinless, and this makes everyone more apt to hide their sinfulness, perpetuating the cycle. If we are all honest, instead, then we can support and help one another to be better people. However, we lose this opportunity to gain such support and assistance by continuing to try to hide this part of our very natures.

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Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in 1804 and died in 1864 in Salem Massachusetts. His family had strong ties with Puritanism. And one of his relatives was actually involved in the Salem Witch Trials. As for Hawthorne's cultural milieu, I would say that it was very Christian, especially if we compare it to Massachusetts today. Also this was the time of the Second Great Awakening. In this context, people had a strong view of sin, as something morally reprehensible to God. They also shunned things such as adultery. They would even be against things like lust. Many contemporaries would have similar views, especially issues such as adultery. This would be the case up to the mid 1950s. For a good contemporary preacher, see Charles Finney.

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