Hawthorne and Kindness

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Through the symbols of the wild rose bush and the prison, Hawthorne advocates for the kindness and pity evident in nature, while demonstrating society’s cruel punishment and judgement is detrimental to the soul. In the centre of town, the puritans built “…the black flower of civilized society, a prison”. Hawthorne uses a metaphor to compare the prison to a repulsive flower, suggesting his emotional appeal that the community’s judgement and intolerance are immoral, and can lead to damnation. In contrast, on the other side of the door lies “…a wild rose bush which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner..”. Hawthorne personifies the roses as offering pity and kindness to the cruelly punished prisoner. Therefore, Hawthorne establishes an emotional argument, that offering pity and compassion exercises morality, as well as highlighting the inherent goodness in humanity.

Indeed, Donald B. Gibson argues that the rose offers pity to a condemned prisoner, thus being a positive side to the relationship between nature and humankind. He suggests that in Hawthorne’s writing “ … nature is responsive to human activity, that some relation exists between nature and morality…”(Gibson). In this way, Gibson can agree that Hawthorne favours nature as a reflection of humanity’s innate goodness and love, therefore suggesting that people can choose moral righteousness by abiding by the values of nature as opposed to the puritan community. Thus, the rose and the prison door aid Hawthorne’s argument that pity and kindness evident in nature are morally just, while the puritan community breeds an evil soul through intolerance and judgement

Through the symbols of the wildflowers and the scarlet letter, Hawthorne suggests that morality is evident in nature’s forgiveness, unlike the brutality and hypocrisy in the puritan community which turns people towards damnation. The scarlet letter has “…the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary and including her in a sphere by herself”. Hawthorne personifies the scarlet letter, by suggesting it can extract Hester from society. He emotionally suggests that society is ethically skewed, evident through the community’s cruel punishment and judgement, which is injurious to the soul. Furthermore, Pearl “…amused herself with gathering handfuls of wild-flowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother’s bosom”.

The act of tossing wildflowers onto the scarlet letter symbolically suggests that nature is repulsed by the scarlet letter’s existence and aims to cover its intolerance with pity and love. Hawthorne’s emotional appeal, therefore, argues that nature’s moral values of forgiveness and compassion will lead to a righteous soul, instead of the puritans commitment to cruelty and sinister which will lead to a damnable soul. Indeed, Janice Daniel argues that Hawthorne uses nature to provide kindness to alienated members of the puritan community. Daniel suggests that Hawthorne “…consistently employs personification of nature as a special narrative device which provides a voice in addition to–or in place of–his own”(Daniel). In this way Daniel would agree that Hawthorne juxtaposes nature’s pity with the society’s cruel punishment, to suggest that humans should follow nature’s example to obtain a moral soul. Thereby, the scarlet letter and the wildflowers aid Hawthorne’s argument that nature’s love and forgiveness reject society’s unethical beliefs, as they foster evil within a person.

Through nature’s manifestations and the scarlet letter, Hawthorne upholds that the values present in the puritan community will result in damnation, as nature’s kindness rejects society’s intolerance and punishment. Pearl “…paused to gather the prickly burs… Taking a handful of these she arranged them along the lines of the scarlet letter”. The placement of the prickly burs on the scarlet letter symbolically suggests that the burs are attempting to harm or dilute the harsh punishment. Hawthorne’s emotional appeal, therefore, argues that morality evident in nature seeks to reverse the inhumane punishments of the society, as brutality and judgement are inimical to humanity.

Additionally, while at the beach “Pearl took some eelgrass, and imitated as best she could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s”. Pearl symbolically places the eelgrass in the shape of a scarlet letter, suggesting that the eelgrass is recreating the scarlet letter with kindness instead of brutality. Therefore, Hawthorne emotionally argues that morality in nature rejects the cruel judgement of the community, as it is infectious to humans. Moreover, as Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold among the townspeople the “…sun, but little past its meridian, shone down upon the clergyman, and gave a distinctness to his figure”.

The sun is personified as it separates Dimmesdale from the community, and symbolically offers him kindness and hope as he approaches punishment. Hawthorne’s emotional argument, thereby, argues that in order to reach salvation humans should redirect themselves towards nature’s kindness, which juxtaposes hypocrisy and brutal judgement evident in the society. Indeed, Daniel also claims that Hawthorne juxtaposes nature’s society with the puritan community, which allows readers to experience both environments (Daniel). Daniel also argues that “Hawthorne’s use of personification hints at nature’s desire to reach out to humans, to make attempts at bringing the two worlds closer together”(Daniel). In this way, Daniel would agree that Hawthorne directs his audience toward nature’s pity and away from society’s judgement in order to create and maintain an ethical soul.

Thus, nature’s products and the scarlet letter justify Hawthorne’s argument that to avoid damnation, humans should adhere to the forgiveness and compassion evident in nature, as opposed to society’s judgement and punishment.


Cite this paper

Hawthorne and Kindness. (2020, Sep 15). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/hawthorne-and-kindness/

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