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Hawthorne at Salem

Hawthorne - Literature

Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil

Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil: Introduction

Material prepared by:
John W. Stuart, Ph.D., Department of English 
Manchester-Essex Regional High School, Manchester, MA
David Donavel, Department of English
Masconomet Regional High School, Topsfield, MA

 

Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site (courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site)
 

It is impossible to read much of Hawthorne without realizing that what interested him perhaps more than anything else about human beings is our capacity for evil, our capacity to act out the part of Satan. His novels and stories are filled with characters such as Ethan Brand of "Ethan Brand," Goodman Brown of "Young Goodman Brown," Reverend Hooper of "The Minister's Black Veil," Dr. Heidegger of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," and Professor Westervelt of The Blithedale Romance who are portraits of human darkness. There is no character, however, who fits the description of a demon more fittingly than old Roger Chillingworth of The Scarlet Letter. In the following passage, Chillingworth speaks of himself and is described in such a way that it is all but impossible not to see that he is a human turned fiend and thus, in Hawthorne's view, in himself a cautionary tale. "But he knew not that the eye and hand were mine! With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence!--the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged!--and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! Yea, indeed!--he did not err!--there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment!" The unfortunate physician, while uttering these words, lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not recognize, usurping the place of his own image in a glass. It was one of those moments--which sometimes occur only at the interval of years--when a man's moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind's eye. Not improbably, he had never before viewed himself as he did now.

Literature Related to Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil

Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site (courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site)

 

Taken in the context of John Winthrop's "Model of Christian Charity", the three passages excerpted here are provocative. It may be that, in a richly ironic way, Hawthorne allows both Young Goodman Brown of "Young Goodman Brown" and Miles

Coverdale of 

The Blithedale Romance

  • Passages from The Scarlet Letter Relating to Ideas of Good and Evil
    • Excerpt from Chapter 8 of The Scarlet Letter relating to Satan The idea that Satan, or the Black Man, lived in the forest was common among Puritans. Here Hawthorne uses that idea and the idea of the prevalence of witches to indicate that a descent into evil is a real possibility for Hester
    • Excerpt from Chapter 10 of The Scarlet Letter relating to Satan The idea that Satan, or the Black Man, lived in the forest was common among Puritans. In this passage Roger Chillingworth is unmistakably linked with the Black Man or Satan.
    • Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Scarlet Letter Here Hawthorne illustrates how Arthur Dimmesdale's guilty misery leads him to discount those healthy intuitions that otherwise would have allowed him to defend himself from the evil machinations of Roger Chillingworth. False in one part of his consciousness, Dimmesdale has no faith in himself and so unwittingly aids his fiercest enemy.
    • Excerpts from Chapter 11 of The Scarlet Letter and "The Minister's Black Veil" Because of his obsession with his secret sin, which is really an obsession with himself, Arthur Dimmesdale can take no pleasure in the world around him. Instead, as Hawthorne emphasizes here, his world is one of phantasms, an interior world pale and inferior to the rich wonders around him to which he has grown blind. Similarly, Reverend Hooper of "The Minister's Black Veil" cuts himself of from the world and literally dims his sight as he hides his face behind what is for him, his parishioners, and the reader a symbol of secret sin.
    • Excerpt from Chapter 14 of The Scarlet Letter relating to Satan Roger Chillingworth readily identifies himself with a fiend in connection with his torturing of Arthur Dimmesdale. Satan is commonly referred to as the fiend.
    • Excerpt from Chapter 20 of The Scarlet Letter Even as he is about to consciously choose flight over confession, Arthur Dimmesdale still cherishes the outward appearance of holiness, a failure Hawthorne describes as "pitiably weak" and which we may understand to be Dimmesdale's deepest descent into hypocrisy.
    • Full text of The Scarlet Letter



  •  
  • Passages from The Blithedale Romance Relating to Ideas of Good and Evil
    • Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Blithedale Romance relating to Satan Hawthorne suggests Westervelt's evil is of a particular Satanic variety. The devil peeping out of Westervelt's black eyes would be the same that visited Adam and Eve in Eden.
    • Excerpt from Chapter 11 of The Blithedale Romance relating to Satan Hawthorne pictures Professor Westervelt much as he has the devil in "Young Goodman Brown." Note that in both stories, these figures carry a stick carved in the shape of a serpent.
    • Full text of The Blithedale Romance



  •  
  • Excerpts from "Young Goodman Brown," The Blithedale Romance, and The Scarlet Letterread in the context of John Winthrop's "Model of Christian Charity"
  •  to witness and reject as demonic the very kind of Christian gathering suggested by Winthrop's address. In the forest congregation in "Young Goodman Brown" and in the woodsy masquerade in The Blithedale Romance, the entire range of human experience is represented as massed in a manner both non-judgmental and, in The Blithedale Romance and nearly so in "Young Goodman Brown," cheerful. Contrast those crowds with the urban one that introduces The Scarlet Letter, a crowd in which both Brown and Coverdale might well feel at ease, and it may be that we can discern in those "devil's" gatherings hints about what Hawthorne values as real human community. (Thanks to Eliza New of Harvard University's English Department for pointing out the happy democratic quality in the forest gathering in "Young Goodman Brown.")



  •  
  • Passages from "Young Goodman Brown" Relating to Ideas of Good and Evil
    • Excerpt from "Young Goodman Brown" related to Satan Hawthorne often used a figure recognizable as the devil to suggest a confrontation with evil or, as in this case, a journey toward evil.

       

    • Excerpt from "Young Goodman Brown" related to Satan Hawthorne often used a figure recognizable as the devil to suggest a confrontation with evil or, as in this case, a journey toward evil. Here Goody Cloyse is pictured as a witch meeting up with Young Goodman Brown's companion, the devil himself.
    • Full text of "Young Goodman Brown"



  •  
  • Passages from "The Minister's Black Veil" Relating to Ideas of Good and Evil
    • Two passages from Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil"  These passages dramatize Hawthorne's interest in the Satanic.
    • Excerpt from "The Minister's Black Veil" Sadly, Hooper's veil, which is a figure for his sin, separates him even from Elizabeth who loves him truly as is evidenced by her life-long loyalty. Like Arthur Dimmesdale of  The Scarlet Letter, Hooper lives a lonely, pitiable life even as he is a celebrated minister.
    • Excerpt from "The Minister's Black Veil" In a passage which verges on the humorous, Reverend Hooper becomes frightened when he catches a glimpse of himself in a mirror. The isolating sin typified by the black veil appalls even Hooper and allows the reader some insight into the terrifying loneliness Hawthorne imagined waiting for those who set themselves above others.
    • Full text of "The Minister's Black Veil"



  •  
  • Excerpt from Melville's review of Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse, "Hawthorne and His Mosses," first published in The Literary World, vol. 17, 24 August, 1850. In this excerpt Hawthorne's perspective is linked to influence by the Calvinistic Doctrine of Original Sin. Melville finds this element in Hawthorne to be a source of both strength and mystery.

    Full Text of Preface to Mosses from an Old Manse

    Full text of "Hawthorne and His Mosses" - Review of Mosses from an Old Manse by Herman Melville.


     
  • Excerpt from "The New Adam and Eve" When Hawthorne's imagined pair, the new Adam and Eve, tour Boston, they visit a jail, which, like the entire city, has been emptied of its human inhabitants. In this passage, he makes it clear that Love, a treatment never tried, might well be the antidote to sin. It is helpful to compare this passage with the representation of Mary Goffe in "The Man of Adamant."

    Full text of "The New Adam and Eve"


     
  • Excerpt from "The Man of Adamant" As the man of adamant, Richard Digby spurns the curative water offered by Mary Goffe, who had been a convert to his teachings before his heart turned to stone. Mary's sad, kind charity in the face of Digby's churlishness offers an idea of Hawthorne's idea of spiritual virtue for at the end of the passage Mary Goffe is called a "dreamlike spirit, typifying pure Religion."

    Full text of "The Man of Adamant"


     
  • Excerpt from "The Old Manse" In a passage reminiscent of one of Thoreau's descriptions of Walden Pond, Hawthorne metaphorically suggests that as the Concord river or even a lowly mud puddle can reflect a glorious sky, so the meanest human retains some "infinite spiritual capacity."

    Full text of "The Old Manse"
     

  • Excerpt from "The Procession of Life" While Hawthorne continually demonstrates a fascination with the ways in which human beings can turn themselves into demons, he does, on occasion, offer hints about how we can become angelic. In these two passages, Hawthorne offers visions of virtue at work in the world.
     
  • Excerpt from "The Procession of Life" It would appear that for Hawthorne humility is a precondition for virtue. In this passage, when the Good are called to march in the procession of life, none answer the summons, not because there are no worthy people, but because part of being worthy is the recognition of one's own shortcomings.
     
  • Excerpt from "The Procession of Life" For Hawthorne, to be good is to withhold judgment of others. Were one to take delight in the suffering of another or to imagine that another's crimes were deeds entirely out of the realm of personal possibility, those judgments would be evidence of a tainted spirit. The truly virtuous, for Hawthorne, experience themselves as capable of the most grievous errors.

    Full text of "The Procession of Life"
     

  • Excerpt from "The Great Stone Face" In sharp contrast to the hypocritical Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale of  The Scarlet Letter, Ernest, also a preacher, has a simplicity of heart and mind that make him not only an effective minister, but also incapable of recognizing that he is the redeeming personage for whom he, and others, have waited a lifetime. Where Dimmesdale is all tortured vanity, Ernest is serene humility.

    Full text of "The Great Stone Face"


     
  • Excerpt from "The Antique Ring" In this passage Hawthorne suggests that the human heart, once freed from Falsehood, would shine with the purity of a diamond. As the story suggests, Falsehood can be defeated by acts of unconditional charity or Love.

    Full text of "The Antique Ring"


     
  • Passages from "The May-Pole of Merrymount"
    • Excerpt from "The May-Pole of Merrymount" The image of "Gothic monsters" frolicking around a may-pole and the stern Puritan judgment upon such a scene brings to mind the harsh judgment of Young Goodman Brown when he witnesses what he takes to be a witches Sabbath in the wilderness. In both cases, it is clear that whatever the true nature of the gatherings, the Puritan who comes up then brings to them a point of view darkened by a preoccupation with sin and evil.
    • Excerpt from "The May-Pole of Merrymount" In contrast to the forced mirth of the "Gothic monsters" who comprise the Merrymount crew, Edgar and Edith share premonitions of "care and sorrow, and troubled joy," the products, it seems of the "real passion" they feel for each other. Genuine feeling brings them face to face with the genuine condition of human beings, a condition of mixed pleasure and pain.
    • Excerpt from "The May-Pole of Merrymount" In these contrasting passages, it is clear that if the Puritans, as exemplified especially by Endicott, are grim, iron visaged, and mirthless, the inhabitants of Merrymount are equally discouraging on their side in that their mirth is a matter of policy rather than a matter of the heart and keeps them, in some instances, from real happiness. It appears that Hawthorne suspects doctrinal gloom is as empty as enforced cheer. Neither represents a genuine response to human experience.
    • Excerpt from "The May-Pole of Merrymount" Hawthorne makes clear in this passage that it is religious intolerance that drives Endicott and the other Puritans in destroying Merrymount. The particularly cruel and unsavory quality of Endicott's narrow-minded views is expressed in his willingness to shoot the poor bear.
    • Excerpt from "The May-Pole of Merrymount" The "mutual support" and "pure affection" Edgar and Edith share places them outside both the Puritan gloom and the false mirth of Merrymount. Because they truly care for each other, the pair transcends systems and doctrines and, in the touching willingness of each to sacrifice for the other, we can see hinted the central message of Christianity.
    • Excerpt from "The May-Pole of Merrymount" Hawthorne mitigates his unflattering portrait of Endicott by having that stern Puritan recognize the genuine virtue in Edgar and Edith's affection. He also suggests that their ascent to heaven is a consequence of their mutual support, a variant of their mutual willingness to accept the other's punishment.

      Full text of "The May-Pole of Merrymount"

  • Passages from "My Kinsman, Major Molineux"
    • The "little metropolis of a New England colony" Robin enters at the beginning of "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" is a nightmare of moral and physical darkness in which his innocence is an affront to most of the townsfolk and an opportunity for others. His inquiry after his kinsman, Major Molineux, offends in turn the man of authority, the innkeeper, and the night watch who threaten him with either time in the stocks or arrest. Of those who appear to befriend him, the prostitute and his companion at the story's conclusion seek instead varying versions of exploitation. Robin successfully avoids the blandishments of the "dainty little figure" but is no match for the urbanity of the figure he meets later on whose interest appears to be first witnessing the young man's loss of innocence and then recruiting him for citizenship in the dark city to which Robin has traveled.
    • Excerpt from"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" In the culminating moment of the tale, it is as if all the forces of the "little metropolis" are joined both in ridiculing Major Molineux and in inviting Robin's complicity. That he does not resist, that he's overcome with "a sort of mental inebriety," which leads to his spontaneous and heartfelt shout of laughter which was the loudest of all, allows the reader as well as Robin's urbane companion to understand that Robin has chosen to ally himself with the mob of fiends.
    • Excerpt from"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" Robin's recollections of "domestic worship" at his rural childhood home serve as sharp contrast to the urban dangers that surround him in the metropolis of his kinsman. That the latch falls into place as he would enter that home suggests not so much that Robin has been excluded, but rather, as his spontaneous shout at the end of the tale hints, he may have chosen the realm of fiends over his past life of innocence.
    • Excerpt from"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" In this passage, Hawthorne makes clear that whatever Major Molineux's political sins may have been, those who take such delight in "trampling on an old man's heart" are themselves far greater sinners in that their behavior makes them "like fiends."
    • Excerpt from"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" In his confrontation with the apparent leader of the party that tars and feathers Major Molineux, Robin encounters a character painted in such a way as to seem like two fiends combined into one, a clear suggestion that whatever the reasons may have been for punishing Robin's kinsman, the punishers were themselves evil characters.
    • Excerpt from"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" In contrast to the sylvan place of worship Robin remembers from his home, this urban church, abandoned in the darkness of the night, may derive its sanctity from the absence of "impure feet within the walls." The suggestion is that those who comprise the band of fiendlike rebels are the very ones who would destroy the holiness of the place.
    • Excerpt from"My Kinsman, Major Molineux" The word "shrewd" is used in reference to Robin no less than eight times throughout the tale and, since whatever else "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" might be, it is surely a tale of the confrontation of unsophisticated innocence with urbane experience, the repetition is worth examination. While there are, no doubt, numerous possible interpretations of the use of the word, one must be that Hawthorne is suggesting by its repetition both that Robin is not shrewd at all, a fairly plain irony, and that, if he is, his shrewdness consists of a shallow regard for his own welfare, a quality that makes him a good candidate for membership of the nightmare metropolis he visits

      Full text of "My Kinsman, Major Molineux"




  •  
  • Passages from "Lady Eleanore's Mantle"
    • Excerpt from"Lady Eleanore's Mantle" Here Jervase Helwyse, in an attempt to draw his beloved Lady Eleanore back inside the circle of human sympathy, pleads with her to drink from the communion vessel from the Old South Church. She refuses, but the connection between the religious communion rite and the possibility of salvation is made explicit.
    • Excerpt from"Lady Eleanore's Mantle" Here Jervase Helwyse, in an attempt to draw his beloved Lady Eleanore back inside the circle of human sympathy, pleads with her to drink from the communion vessel from the Old South Church. She refuses, but the connection between the religious communion rite and the possibility of salvation is made explicit.
    • Excerpt from"Lady Eleanore's Mantle" These contrasting passages suggest that if aristocracy, and those who admire it, will not recognize in the course of ordinary life that we all share "human sympathies," then we will make that discovery when we share the human miseries to which we are all susceptible. It is as if Hawthorne is making clear that while social excesses may be distributed unequally, physical pain is not and it is that which binds us to each other at last.
    • Excerpt from"Lady Eleanore's Mantle" In these remarkably provocative passages, Hawthorne suggests that pride is tantamount to death. In the first the maddened Jervase wants to see Lady Eleanore one more time and proclaims, "she and death sit on a throne together." In the second the connection between the mantle that both enhances her beauty and contains the small pox and the haughty scorn she feels because of that beauty is made explicit. It is as if the pestilence that ravages Boston is the pride. The people believe that her "pride and scorn evoked a fiend" and so Hawthorne underscores the terribly destructive power of Lady Eleanore's sin.

      Full text of "Lady Eleanore's Mantle"




  •  
  • Passages from "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"

  • At first a puzzling tale, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" appears to show us that age brings no wisdom, only fatigue. Heidgger's demonstration with the rose shows he already knows that the water will rejuvenate his friends. The experiment must be, then, an inquiry as to whether these four would employ the lessons they gained as they aged. They don't, despite his warning, and the doctor concludes that he wants no part of the water, presumably, to save him from a repetition of the mistakes he himself made when young. What are those mistakes? A careful reading of the description of his study offers some intriguing clues, and one sees that, while the doctor's four friends are certainly beset with serious faults, none is as dark as those of the doctor himself.
    • Excerpt from "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" In this complicated passage, the contents of Dr. Heidegger's study reveal his interests, past, and proclivities. As much sorcerer as physician, Heidegger is yet another of Hawthorne's characters whose intellectual pride leads them astray. That he dabbles in the dark arts makes his character questionable. It is, however, the suggestion, inherent in the story's title, about his relationship with his lover, Sylvia Ward, that demonstrates the true darkness of the old man's spirit.
    • Excerpt from "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" That Dr. Heidegger does not himself partake of the drink he offers his friends is one of the indicators that he separates himself from others, remaining aloof, a cool observer of experience rather than full participant in it. In this he reminds one of Hawthorne's other famous Doctor, Roger Chillingworth, of  The Scarlet Letter who carefully scrutinizes the agony Arthur Dimmesdale's experiences as a result of Chillingworth's manipulations.
    • Excerpt from "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" In this passage Dr. Heidegger scolds his friends for not having used the lessons they learned in aging to prevent them from being foolish once they regained their youth. While Heidegger's observations of the four are accurate, the passage leads the reader to wonder what shortcomings beset Heidgger when he was young.
    • Excerpt from "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" Here the doctor warns his friends about the potential "sin and shame" they risk by drinking the rejuvenating water he offers them.
    • Excerpt from "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" That Hawthorne provides such a detailed account of the youthful failures of Dr. Heidegger's four friends not only sets up our understanding of their return to these bad habits, but also prompts us to wonder what Dr. Heidegger's own failures might have been.
    • Excerpt from "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" In this passage we see the subjects of Dr. Heidegger's experiment revert to their sinful ways. It is this reversion that teaches the doctor to scorn the water of the Fountain of Youth and leads the reader to the amusing, if discouraging idea, that we do not gain wisdom with our years.

      Full text of "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"

Original Documents Relating to Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil

  • In these excerpts from Cotton Mather's The Wonders of the Invisible World, 1693, he presents his understanding and explanation of the events of Salem's witchcraft episode.

     

  • Excerpts from Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana (Boston, 1702).
Plate II, Adam and Eve, Derby Family Bible, Universal Bible, 1759 ed.
Plate II, Adam and Eve, Derby Family Bible, Universal Bible, 1759 ed.
Print of Adam and Eve as Their Disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden Brings Sin and Death into the World, the Original Sin Precipitating the Fall of All Humanity (courtesy of Salem Maritime National Historic Site)
Genesis, Chapter 3, Verses 17,18, and 19 from Derby Family Bible
Genesis, Chapter 3, Verses 17,18, and 19 from Derby Family Bible
The scriptural passage serves as a source for the Calvinistic Doctrine of Original Sin whereby all descendants of the Original Sinners, in other words all humanity sprung from Adam and Eve, are presumed to share the defect of the parents, the inherent tendency to go against God and serve sin. The Doctrine serves as the premise for people's need to seek salvation from their evil nature by confessing their state and seeking salvation through rebirth in the Savior, Jesus Christ.  (courtesy of Salem Maritime National Historic Site)
Title Page of Cotton Mather's  <I>The Wonders of the Invisible World </I>
Title Page of Cotton Mather's The Wonders of the Invisible World 
Cotton Mather's defense of the Salem Witchcraft Trials portrayed those involved as caught in a battle between the forces of good and evil in the New World.

Images Related to Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil

Plate II, Adam and Eve, Derby Family Bible, Universal Bible, 1759 ed.
Plate II, Adam and Eve, Derby Family Bible, Universal Bible, 1759 ed.
Print of Adam and Eve as Their Disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden Brings Sin and Death into the World, the Original Sin Precipitating the Fall of All Humanity (courtesy of Salem Maritime National Historic Site)
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
The story of the seduction of Adam and Eve by Satan in the Garden of Eden was common knowledge to residents of Hawthorne's Salem. This fireback shows the snake entwined about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and is a dramatic representation of the relationship of men and women to evil and to their acquisition of original sin. (courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site)
Arthur Dimmesdale
Arthur Dimmesdale
Fig. 4. Wood engraving by Barry Moser for the Pennyroyal Press from the January 1991 edition of the Essex Institute Historical Collection, vol. 127, no. 1; originally printed in 1984 edition of The Scarlet Letter(New York: Harcourt Brace and Jovanovich, 1984)Referring to the image in the 1984 HBJ edition, Dr. Rita Gollin, author of the essay "The Scarlet Letter," points out that "Mosler's images play an active interpretive role in this edition, particularly this final image showing Arthur Dimmesdale with his eyes downcast and the scar of an "A" clearly visible on his chest" (28). (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Hester on the Scaffold
Hester on the Scaffold
This image appears in the January 1991 edition of the Essex Institute Historical Collection, vol. 127, no. 1. It is a reprint of the illustration by Mary Hallock Foote from the 1878 edition of The Scarlet Letter published by James R. Osgood. Dr. Rita Gollin, author of the article in the EIHCentitled "The Scarlet Letter" which features this image, notes that "[w]hile Foote was not the first to illustrate the novel, her portraits of Hester are unusual in their reality, dense detail, and centrality to the composition" (17). (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
\"The Eyes of the Wrinkled Scholar Glowed\" from chapter entitled \"The Interview\" of <I>The Scarlet Letter</I>
"The Eyes of the Wrinkled Scholar Glowed" from chapter entitled "The Interview" of The Scarlet Letter
Chillingworth is called to prison cell as healer to aid Hester and her ailing Pearl in this illustration from the 1878 edition of The Scarlet Letterpublished by Charles R. Osgood & Co. in Boston. Illustration drawn by Mary Hallock Foote and engraved by A.V.S. Anthony. (87)  
The Leech and his Patient from the chapter of the same name in <I>The Scarlet Letter</I>
The Leech and his Patient from the chapter of the same name in The Scarlet Letter
Illustration from the 1878 edition of The Scarlet Letter published by Charles R. Osgood & Co. in Boston. Illustration drawn by Mary Hallock Foote and engraved by A.V.S. Anthony. (165) 
\"He gathered herbs here and there\" from chapter entitled \"Hester and Pearl\" in <I>The Scarlet Letter</I>
"He gathered herbs here and there" from chapter entitled "Hester and Pearl" in The Scarlet Letter
Illustration from the 1878 edition of The Scarlet Letter published by Charles R. Osgood & Co. in Boston (213) 
Chillingworth,--\"Smile with a sinister meaning\" from chapter entitled \"The New England Holiday\" in <I>The Scarlet Letter</I>
Chillingworth,--"Smile with a sinister meaning" from chapter entitled "The New England Holiday" in The Scarlet Letter
Illustration from the 1878 edition of The Scarlet Letter published by Charles R. Osgood & Co. in Boston (287)  
Cotton Mather
Cotton Mather
Portrait of Cotton Mather from Perley's History of Salem, Massachusetts. (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Portrait of Cotton Mather (1663-1723)
Portrait of Cotton Mather (1663-1723)
Cotton Mather was one of Puritan New England's most influential ministers and leaders. He was famous for his writings, histories such as Magnalia Christi Americana and those that helped stir up support for the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. He also promoted learning and early scientific knowledge in New England. He worked for acceptance of the smallpox vaccine and wrote a treatise on medicine called The Angel of Bethesda.  (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
The Black Man of the Forest with His Familiar
The Black Man of the Forest with His Familiar 
Illustration from Chap-Book of the 18th Century by John Ashton (L.Chatto and Windus,1882). Witches were thought to own or associate with strange animals and evil creatures called "familiars." These are described in many of the original documents of the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria. (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Detail from the Witches' Sabbat on the Brocken.  From the Douce Collection, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Detail from the Witches' Sabbat on the Brocken. From the Douce Collection, Bodleian Library, Oxford.
The witches' sabbath or sabbat was, according to European tradition, a meeting of devil worshipers that occurred late at night and went on until dawn. The meeting could include blasphemous parodies of Christian rites (a Black Mass), licentious orgies, initiation rites for new members in a coven, or secret conspiracies against established law and order--all assisted by the Evil One, Satan or the Devil. Often depicted as orgies of gluttony and lust, sabbats were nightmarish events attended by all manner of hellish creatures and demons. The Devil often appeared as a goat or a ram, if not a mysterious “black man.”  (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
\"Snow Image,\" frontispiece illustration by Frederick Church from vol 3, <I>The House of the Seven Gables and The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales</I>
"Snow Image," frontispiece illustration by Frederick Church from vol 3, The House of the Seven Gables and The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales
In contrast to the somber gravestone images with which Hawthorne would have been familiar, this image by Frederick Church, which served as the frontispiece illustration from volume 3 of the 1883 Riverside Press edition of The House of the Seven Gables and The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales captures and innocent spirit that occasionally appears in such pieces as "The Snow Image" and "Little Annie's Ramble." Romanticized and whimsical, the drawing points us to one possible version of Hawthorne's idea of goodness. (courtesy of Halldor F. Utne)
Portrait of Samuel Sewall (1652-1730) by John Smibert (1688-1751)
Portrait of Samuel Sewall (1652-1730) by John Smibert (1688-1751)
 (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)

Critical Commentary Related to Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil

Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site (courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site)
 
  • Excerpts from Margaret Moore's The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne (courtesy of the University of Missouri Press) 
    Hawthorne's Salem background with the Doctrine of Original Sin is developed through excerpts from the scholarship of Margaret Moore's The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

     

  • In Elizabeth Goodenough's "'Demons of Wickedness, Angels of Delight': Hawthorne, Woolf, and the Child" in Hawthorne and Women, edited by John L. Idol, Jr., and Melinda M. Ponder, another reference to Hawthorne and Original Sin appears. (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press)
  • Excerpts from Melissa McFarland Pennell's Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne 
    In this excerpt Pennell refers to Original Sin and the title character of Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil". (courtesy of Greenwood Press)

     

  • Excerpt from Anthony Trollope's article "The Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne," The North American Review. Volume 129, Issue 274, September 1879 
    British novelist Anthony Trollope offers a view of Hawthorne reminiscent of Melville's reference to Hawthorne's "blackness". Both Melville and Trollope found a quality in Hawthorne's stories that was deep and spiritual and transforming.
    Full text of article available online at: American Memory Project [note: this online article has numerous typos as it has not yet been edited from the OCR version]

     

  • Excerpt from "Bourgeois Sexuality and the Gothic Plot in Wharton and Hawthorne," by Monika M. Elbert. In Hawthorne and Women Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition, edited by John L. Idol Jr. and Melinda M. Ponder (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press
    Here Monika M. Elbert offers some explanation as to why Hawthorne would have concerned himself with those who live on society's outskirts. The groups she cites share the experience of having wickedness ascribed to them and so, whatever faults they may have either as individuals or as members of a specific group, they nonetheless serve to reveal, in the treatment of others toward them, Hawthorne's sense that the judgment of others is itself the profoundest evil.

     

  • Excerpt from "The Scarlet Letter as Pre-Text for Flannery O'Connor's 'Good Country People,'" by John Gatta in Hawthorne and Women Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition edited by John L. Idol Jr. and Melinda M. Ponder (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press
    John Gatta suggests that one of the ironies of The Scarlet Letter is that it is the torture Roger Chillingworth inflicts upon Arthur Dimmesdale that, in the end, leads the minister to his saving confession. Of particular interest here is Gatta's notion that Chillingworth's work is effected by breaking down Dimmesdale's "psychic defenses," that arrogance that kept him from confession in the first place.

     

  • Excerpt from "The Scarlet Letter as Pre-Text for Flannery O'Connor's 'Good Country People,'" by John Gatta in Hawthorne and Women Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne Tradition edited by John L. Idol Jr. and Melinda M. Ponder (courtesy of University of Massachusetts Press
    In a passage that strikingly places open hearted charity in direct opposition to "observation from an insulated standpoint," John Gatta connects Hawthorne himself with both of these contradictory impulses and so places him solidly in the Christian tradition.

     

  • Excerpt from Understanding The Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Claudia Johnson (courtesy of Greenwood Press)
    Claudia Johnson reminds us that on January 14, 1697, five years after he was an eager advocate of hanging accused witches in Salem, Samuel Sewall apologized for his role in that shameful episode. She notices some strong similarities between Sewall's apology and Dimmesdale's confession, similarities that may reveal the bad faith that marred the spirits of both the historical and fictional characters.

     

  • Excerpt from Understanding The Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Claudia Johnson (courtesy of Greenwood Press
    Dimmesdale's decision to flee Boston with Hester and Pearl and so forever turn his back on confession--the single way he may redeem himself--is, according to Claudia Johnson, tantamount to his yielding to witchcraft.

     

  • Excerpt from Understanding The Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Claudia Johnson (courtesy of Greenwood Press
    Claudia Johnson makes it clear that Dimmesdale is not merely weak, but that his ambition places him among the ranks those who commit the sin of pride, that is among those who think of themselves before all others.

     

  • Excerpt from Understanding The Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Claudia Johnson (courtesy of Greenwood Press)
    Claudia Johnson makes it clear that Dimmesdale's "dishonorable half-measure at attempting to confess" are in the end simply more cause for the devil to rejoice in his fall.

     

  • Excerpt from Melissa McFarland Pennell's Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne (courtesy of Greenwood Press
    Melissa Pennell points out that Dimmesdale's hypocrisy is so deep and so well preserved by him that, even when he attempts to shed his false self and reveal the truth, many fail to believe he has sin. Thus the scrupulous construction of his seven-year lie robs him of the very relief he seeks in giving it up.

     

  • Excerpt from Melissa McFarland Pennell's Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne (courtesy of Greenwood Press)
    In this passage, Melissa Pennell shows how Hawthorne makes use of names inThe Scarlet Letter to indicate the moral status of his characters.

Websites Related to Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil

 

Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site (courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site)
 

 

  • Excerpt from Anthony Trollope's article "The Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne," The North American Review. Volume 129, Issue 274, September 1879 (courtesy of Library of Congress and Cornell University Library; the American Memory Project)
    British novelist Anthony Trollope finds a quiet drollery even in the darkest passages of Hawthorne's work and suggests that even our deepest sufferings are not so important as to elevate us above others. If Trollope is correct, this might be due to Hawthorne's modest unwillingness to exalt anything, even sin and its suffering, to a place where it might invite pride. 
    Full text of the article is available online at: American Memory Project 
     
  • Khan, Jemshed A. “Atropine Poisoning in The Scarlet Letter.” NEJM 311 (6):414-6. Boston: Massachusetts Medical Society, 1984. Rpt. in CSA Bulletin. Ed. Audrey Shafer, MD. April-June, 2003: 49-55. 
    This article in the online California Society of Anesthesiologists Bulletin by a Harvard trained physician argues that Chillingworth may have used atropine to poison Dimmesdale and that the drug, not just Dimmesdale’s guilt, explain some of his unusual behavior.

Explore Activities Related to Hawthorne and Ideas of Good and Evil

Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site (courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site)
 

1. Take some time to look carefully at the images associated with Hawthorne's Framework of Faith and those images associated with Hawthorne's Ideas of Good and Evil. Imagine you are a young person who is highly educated, deeply sensitive, and steeped in the history of your town and of your family's place in that history. What might the effect be on such a person to live surrounded by the images you see? Write a journal entry or a short autobiographical sketch as if you were Nathaniel Hawthorne or someone like him.

Other Website pages which might assist with this activity are:

2. Students interested in exploring Hawthorne's understanding of the darker human possibilities might consider comparing some of his and Melville's "eager sinners," Roger Chillingworth of The Scarlet LetterEthan Brand of "Ethan Brand,"and Melville's John Claggart of Billy Budd, Sailor. How do these characters differ from Arthur Dimmesdale of The Scarlet Letter and Reverend Hooper of "The Minister's Black Veil"? And how do they all compare to Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter who was in Puritan Boston and remains in the minds of many to this day "the type of shame" as Hawthorne observes in Chapter 5?

3. One of the most intriguing and, at the same time, frustrating aspects of studying Hawthorne is his ambivalence toward many of his characters. Few of Hawthorne's people are purely good or purely evil and even old Roger Chillingworth's dark character is moderated by his handsome death gift to Pearl. Some insight into the nature of that ambivalence may be gained by scrutinizing Hawthorne's representation of Ann Hutchinson Ibrahim's mother from "The Gentle Boy" , Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter, especially the scene in Chapter 2 where she is first seen on the scaffold.

4. A Research Topic and Preliminary Writing Question on Ideas of Good and Evil

The following makes for a rich topic of investigation as a research project: Ideas of Good and Evil in Works by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville. (Alternatively, the topic can be adapted to one of the two, rather than both authors.) If students can begin to explore this topic by reflecting upon works they already know by Hawthorne and Melville, then they have a solid head start. Two Hawthorne in Salem website articles that are also helpful in this context are “Christian Imagery in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter” in the Scholars’ Forum section of “Faith and Religion”/“Ideas of Good and Evil” and “Echoes of Hawthorne in Melville’s Billy Budd” in the Scholars’ Forum section of “Hawthorne and Melville”/”Literary Links.”

As a preliminary to research, students familiar with The Scarlet Letter and Billy Budd can write detailed paragraphs or brainstorming lists in response to the following question: What are some examples of ways that Hawthorne and Melville identify what they consider to be good, right, or virtuous and bad, wrong, or virtueless in their novels The Scarlet Letter and Billy Budd? The following paragraphs provide some responses to consider for this wide-ranging question:

Hawthorne begins the narrative portion of The Scarlet Letter by calling the dissenter Anne Hutchinson “saintly” and by ascribing a merciful tenderness to a wild rosebush that, according to legend, had grown in her footsteps. From this early point in the novel, therefore, and especially as it reinforces “The Custom House” introduction, the reader can see that Hawthorne values freedoms of speech and worship and those courageous enough to champion them in the face of intolerant regimes like those of the Massachusetts Puritans. The use of the rosebush, moreover, infuses Hawthorne’s prose with a typically Romantic reverence for nature. The evident implication is that “speculating” about religious questions, as Anne Hutchinson had and as Hester Prynne does, is natural and good; but exiling and silencing them is against nature and thoroughly wrong.

Other attributes admired by Hawthorne are Hester’s service to her community, her charitable actions, and her longsuffering attitude in atoning for her sin. Clearly he values unselfishness, kindness toward those in need, humility, and bravery.

Much of what Hawthorne admires can also be shown indirectly by identifying those things he faults. Among the admired are the following:

  • tolerance
  • compassion
  • romantic love
  • loyalty
  • industriousness
  • forgiveness
  • individualism
  • flexibility
  • acceptance of mystery and limits of human knowledge

All of these are to some extent violated in Hester’s world in The Scarlet Letter.

In “The Custom House,” Hawthorne shows shame for his family’s roles in the Puritan persecutions of Quakers and alleged witches. To the novel’s character, also a historical figure executed as a witch, Mistress Hibbins, he ascribes mental illness, thus suggesting that Puritans intentionally exterminated the infirm, as would nazis in the century succeeding Hawthorne’s. Certainly, intolerance and cruelty qualify as forms of evil in The Scarlet Letter.

The marketplace women who shout for Hester Prynne’s death exhibit a heartlessness that Hawthorne also condemns. It is clear that those women lust for the blood sport of a public execution much more than they care about any fellow female’s sins of the flesh. Scapegoating, therefore, is also an evil that the novel dramatizes; and in fact any example of objectifying human beings in order to treat them as subhuman for any purpose is clearly frowned upon by the author. Roger’s mind games with Arthur and the Boston brats’ harassment of Pearl are further examples.

The heart and the heartless are indeed key components of the novel. The chapter entitled “The Interior of a Heart,” for example, goes far to redeem Arthur Dimmesdale from his contemptible hypocrisy by showing the reader the weight of guilt the minister carries within; and, when it is clear that his and Hester’s passion derives from a love far deeper than could ever have existed between Hester and Roger, Arthur is all the more forgivable and pitiable, especially in contrast with tormenting, heartless Roger. With his hand frequently over his heart, it is fair to say that Arthur is worn down by acute heartache until a final burst of defiance leaves him stricken as if from heart failure. Loving his faith and the career he has built on it, he is torn mercilessly by the even stronger but forbidden passion he possesses for Hester Prynne.

As Hawthorne’s fiction exhibits exaltation of strong women, Melville’s possesses glorification of a group of free-spirited men -- sailors. He finds them generally far preferable to the kind of people who tend to be corrupted by too much time on land – those wicked landlubbers! He shares the widespread admiration for the fine physical specimens he terms “Handsome Sailors,” but such men are more than just comely. They are also skilled and graceful in their professions, and their good nature makes them approachable and well-liked by many. They do not seem to have axes to grind, nor do they resemble goon squad leaders who rise to prominence by means of belittling others. They are open and refreshing, more than just regular guys, in fact -- endearing ones. All of these attributes certainly belong to one Handsome Sailor –- the title character in Billy Budd.

Billy is not without defect – but then who is? Unfortunately, he is beyond ignorant – completely illiterate and painfully naïve. Melville is certainly not championing these qualities; his leading figure in Moby-Dick, for example, is the very bright, articulate, and observant Ishmael, certainly as sympathetic a character as Billy but definitely no dummy! It is Billy’s inability to articulate anything at all in moments of stress that ultimately serves as his tragic flaw and brings about his downfall.

Beyond defects and weaknesses, however, Billy Budd points to qualities and behaviors that the author clearly abhors and views as evil. Claggart provides examples of most of these: his gross misuse of authority to settle imagined scores rather than serve the good of the whole ship; his disregard for truth as he encourages his henchmen to frame Billy and tell their boss what they think he wants to hear without the interference of accuracy; and his malicious, wanton hatred of the fine and good qualities in the young man he secretly admires but perversely seeks to destroy. Thus Melville seems to say that those who abuse, lie, kill, and destroy are those who serve the devil.

Then there is Captain Vere – the really complicating factor in the story. On the surface, he is an affable, if remote fellow; but clearly Melville finds him to be the last person who should ever have been entrusted with naval leadership in wartime. The bad in Vere is essentially a rigidity of vision, whether from a fundamental meanness or stupidity Melville never says, but certainly Vere does not and evidently could not rise to levels of grace in the face of adversity. Instead, he resorts to what he understands as the letter of the law, even though he knows he employs it in the service of lies and against virtue. Billy may ask God to bless Captain Vere, but Melville makes clear that he, most of the rest of the crew, and probably the novel’s readers as well have other, much less favorable wishes in mind for the severely limited captain.

Following such preliminary writing on the topic of good and evil in Hawthorne’s and Melville’s works, students should be ready to formulate thesis statements. Based on the preceding paragraphs, for example, a thesis could be worded as follows: Hawthorne and Melville share Romantic views of good and evil in their fiction. Both men’s interest in nature and ways that civilization corrupts the natural could help develop such a theme. Whatever direction the student might take, however, s/he clearly benefits from background reading and writing thoughts about it in advance of documenting research ideas with specific citations from sources.

Lectures and Articles Related to Hawthorne and Good and Evil

Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site
Adam & Eve Fireback at the House of the Seven Gables Historic Site (courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site)
 

Full text of Anthony Trollope's article "The Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne," The North American Review. Volume 129, Issue 274, September 1879 (courtesy of Library of Congress and Cornell University Library; the American Memory Project)
 

"Christian Imagery in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter," by Dr. John W. Stuart, prepared for the Hawthorne in Salem Website, November 2002 
 

"Thomas Morton and 'The May-Pole of Merry Mount,'" by Professor William R. Heath
Mount Saint Mary's College, 1997. Introduction by Hawthorne in Salem Website Contributor John W. Stuart, Ph.D.

Professor William Heath's 1997 essay "Thomas Morton and 'The May-Pole of Merry Mount'" provides insight into Hawthorne's use of the New England past for the imaginative world of his fiction, and it examines Hawthorne's ambiguities in regard to Puritanism that are evident in the short story "The Maypole of Merry Mount" and more fully developed in the novel The Scarlet Letter.

Heath vividly chronicles the history of Thomas Morton, the cavalier settler who erected a maypole and termed its location "Meriemounte" on the outskirts of Separatist Plymouth Colony. Morton's defiant actions against the Calvinists earned him multiple imprisonments and banishments, and Heath remarks with some surprise that Hawthorne chose to ignore this colorful individual entirely and replace him in the story with a vague priest with the acknowledged misnomer of Blackstone. Perhaps Morton's character was simply more complicated than the figure of unbridled merriment that Hawthorne envisioned for his "sort of allegory."

As Heath observes, Hawthorne shows an overriding interest in the conflict between Puritanical humorlessness and the joys inherent in holiday festivities that trace their origins to the earliest human communities. When the story's narrator observes, "Unfortunately, there were men in the new world of a sterner faith than these Maypole worshippers," he seems to speak from a very different side of his mouth than when he concludes, "They went heavenward, supporting each other along the difficult path which it was their lot to tread, and never wasted one regretful thought on the vanities of Merry Mount." Just as The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne embodies both heroine and fallen woman, the revelers of Merry Mount represent the paradox of joy in the face of grim reality, well paired by Heath with the ancestor of ancient Greek tragedy, the frenzied Dionysian rites of comus. As in The Scarlet Letter, "The Maypole of Merry Mount" voices some Puritan ideals while confounding them by the evidence of the narrative. Heath further enlightens by exploring these contradictions with Freudian analysis.

Heath understates Hawthorne’s negative depiction of Puritans, however, when he observes, “The revelers can only sing and dance, while the Puritans can only work and pray.” In fact, readers will find little if any work or prayer in the story’s Puritans. A more accurate summary of their actions would conclude, “The Puritans can only punish and destroy.” Heath overstates Hawthorne’s animus toward pagans, moreover, when he characterizes the story as “a meditation on the danger of ‘merriment’ out of control.” Although Hawthorne suggests faults in the extremes of both paganism and Puritanism, in the end he simply champions love, interestingly the essence, many would contend, of the entire Christian message, and much farther from the harsh theocracy imposed by Puritans than the sort of “Golden Age” revisited in Merry Mount.

In fact, Hawthorne’s Merry Mount revelers are lighthearted, tolerant, and mutually supportive, in sharp contrast with the story’s malevolent Puritans, whose Governor Endicott so strikingly resembles the savage characterization of Cotton Mather in Hawthorne’s “The Duston Family”: “an old hardhearted, pedantic bigot.” Even when Endicott seemingly softens toward “The May-pole of Merry Mount’s” captured newlyweds, he makes clear that he will spare them of punishments only because they could prove useful to their captors. Initially enemies to the Puritans, the newlyweds exhibit such a deep love that they can accept Puritan indoctrination without complaint as long as they remain together.

Despite ambiguous elements in Hawthorne’s fiction, therefore, readers should not permit the “trees” of faulty hedonism to obscure the “forest” of Puritan cruelty, which clearly outweighs any foibles found in Merry Mount.

“The Ideal Identity: Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Loss of Native American Culture,” paper delivered by Greg Stone, Dept. of English, University of Tulsa, at the conference of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society, in Concord, MA, June 12, 2010.