With a theme so trivial and controversial in both Hawthorne’s time and modern times, it is no wonder as to why Hawthorne’s own beliefs and intentions are often questioned by snarky English teachers and helpless students alike. While there are no sex scenes or even explicit allusions to the adultery at hand, The Scarlett Letter is still considered to be a book too taboo for some. Our current society’s sexual antiquities never cease to amaze me, but I suppose bringing Hawthorne’s notions into the light of speculation could help open the eyes of readers to our society’s minimal deviations from the Puritans’ archaic sexual aphorisms.
While Nathaniel Hawthorne had to have had some intrinsic motivation to write a book so blasphemous for his time, I think it could be said that the two critical viewpoints of him opposing or condoning Hester and Dimmesdale’s could both be upheld by the novel. Yes, I could ramble on for pages and pages with arguments and counterarguments pertaining to Hawthorne’s plausible condemnation, but I truly think that Hawthorne condones Hester and Dimmesdale’s adulterous sin. After Hester tells Dimmesdale of her associations with the devilish Roger Chillingsworth, Hawthorne writes of “the sympathy of Nature—that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth—with the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether newly born or aroused from a death-like slumber, must always create a sunshine filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world” (A Flood of Sunshine). Obviously, when looking at this passage, Hawthorne seems pretty open to the love re-explored by Hester and Dimmesdale. One thing to point out here, which I think is interesting, is that Hawthorne capitalizes the word “Nature” unnecessarily in this passage, perhaps subliminally suggesting the adultery at hand to adept readers. That’s what I got from it at least. Anyways, he considers this love to be so important that the human and godly laws punishing the two suitors are overridden by the power of the nature of their sin.
Similarly, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes of human nature earlier in the book, saying that “except for where its selfishness is brought into play, it loves more readily than it hates. Hatred, by a gradual and quiet process, will even be transformed to love, unless the change be impeded by a continually new irritation of the original feeling of hostility” (Another View of Hester). Hawthorne is acknowledging that we are meant to love and not hate! Yay! Most of our generation still hasn’t figured that out yet. It’s too bad he was born in the wrong century (but perhaps we all are too). This is really that point that makes me think he condones their relationship. It’s almost puzzling: How could he, a man of such a conservative time, be so assimilated with the natural tendencies of humans, when so many of our own comrades today are still so antiquated? Yes, it’s quite possible that the only reason I think Hawthorne condones the sex is because he seems so in tune with human nature, but how could we not acknowledge this pivotal attitude? That’s huge for his time!
If Hawthorne was trying to make this a novel ridden with the theme of sex is bad, you’ll die if you do it sort of thing, then Mean Girls would be in a serious copyright infringement ordeal by now. Plus, the Bible was already written for that. The Scarlett Letter would not be so popular today if Hawthorne was simply agreeing with the thoughts of his time. As much as the old English style syntax plagued so many of our brains, I guarantee it would have been a much harder read if Nathaniel Hawthorne was predictable in his nature.