Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is considered by many to be the greatest accomplishment of an author hailed as the master of the American short story. It is set in Salem, Massachusetts. In this strictly controlled Puritan town the inhabitants live by harsh laws and fierce prejudices. Hester Prynne, a young wife whose husband is presumed dead, is being publicly humiliated for the sin of adultery. The proof of her sin is her baby girl Pearl. She conceals the identity of Pearl’s father to protect him from the harsh judgement of Puritan law. She however is doomed to spend the rest of her life marked as an adulterer by wearing a scarlet “A” on her chest. Hester’s husband meanwhile has arrived in the colony and taken up practice as a doctor. He makes Hester promise that she won’t reveal his identity to anyone. The book covers a seven year period during which the identity of the father becomes known. It is the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, who is renowned as an especially holy and pious man. Wracked by guilt he starts to show outward signs of serious illness. Hester’s husband under the assumed name Roger Chillingworth moves in and begins taking care of Dimmesdale. Chillingworth soon discovers that the Reverend is Pearl’s father. Dimmesdale however thinks that Chillingworth is simply a doctor. Chillingworth uses his influence to multiply the feelings of guilt in the minister while trying to keep him in physical health, as a form of emotional torture. At the climax of the story, Dimmesdale confesses and dies. Hester and Pearl leave the colony. Chillingworth whose whole purpose was to get revenge from Dimmesdale suddenly finds his life without purpose and dies within a year. Hawthorne used the settings in the book, not only to develop the story, but to make a statement about Puritan Society through the use of allegory.
The Puritans were a people dedicated to perfecting themselves according to a certain set of values that were uniquely Puritan. On the individual level a Puritan would try to reach perfection by living out this series of values. If they did not succeed, as in Hester or Arthur Dimmesdale’s cases, their punishment would be in the fact that they did not live up to the perfection they strived for. The prison, in The Scarlet Letter is proof that Salem is a society striving for self perfection, not only individuals dedicated to perfecting themselves.
Defending Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Defending Prospero in The Tempest
In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the character of Prospero brings about a great deal of debate. Modern literary critics are quick to use him as a poster child for English colonial practice in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Many see him as person who desires complete control of everything around him from the fish-like monster Caliban to his spirit servant Ariel, even his own daughter Miranda. Others believe that Prospero’s sole motive is revenge on his brother Antonio and those associated with the established power in Naples and Milan. Taken out of context, these are reasonable conclusions. However, in the development of the play, it is quite clear that these critics are incorrect. Shakespeare does not use Prospero as the symbol of European expansion westward and although Prospero is quite powerful, he is not a power hungry egomaniac. Instead, Prospero is the very figure of a noble father. He loves his daughter so much that he sacrifices everything to give her the best opportunities for a good life. He is the slave of duty, working for the good of his people. His desire for revenge is also clearly not a motivation as he finds the strength to forgive his brother at the play’s conclusion. Therefore it seems that Shakespeare’s character is not being used to show the dark side of humanity, but rather the nobility of humanity and the model of a seventeenth century father.
When it comes to Miranda, Prospero can never do enough for her. Prospero’s second lines states, “I have done nothing but in care of thee, of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter” (Prospero, I, ii, 19-20). Although this line can be interpreted many ways, even as an outright lie, the assumption has to b…
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