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Evil in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Works

Nathaniel Hawthorne is famous for inculcating the theme of sin in his literary works such as Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil and The Scarlet Letter. In these three short stories, Hawthorne does not directly point out his view towards sin, however, he incorporates it in the plot of the story by means of using symbolisms and situations which are very easy for readers to reflect on. Each story reveals a problem of the moral conscience. Each main character is plagued by an overwhelming guilt brought about by their secret sins.

However, since Hawthorne does not explicitly present his ideas on evil within the texts, it is quite assumable that he sees it as a form of hypocrisy. The concept of hypocrisy is very apparent in the stories of Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil and The Scarlet Letter. In Young Goodman Brown, guilt plagues the character of Goodman Brown as he sets off in the middle of the night onto the dark forest to join an evil ritual. However, the guilt of committing something evil is later stained by the realization that most of the “good people” of his neighborhood including his wife, Faith, are active members of the ritual.

“I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem” (Hawthorne 113). The story itself is the entire representation of a hypocritical society. It is already a symbolism that further emphasizes the hypocrisy of Puritanism. This is already quite common in Hawthorne’s works In the short story “The Minister’s Black Veil”, Hawthorne provides the readers with mystery and cynicism towards Reverend Hooper, the story’s main character. Reverend Hooper was a well-respected minister in a strictly Puritan community until he started to wear a black veil that covers his eyes and nose.

Reverend Hooper “had the reputation of a good preacher, but not an energetic one: he strove to win his people heavenward by mild, persuasive influences, rather than to drive them thither by the thunders of the Word” (Hawthorne 146). However, when he started to wear the symbolic black veil, the Puritan townspeople felt frightened towards this man that they used to adore and trust. In the Puritans’ imagination, the black veil “makes him ghostlike from head to foot […] that seemed to hang down before his heart, the symbol of a fearful secret between him and them” (Hawthorne 151).

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” tells the story of a woman guilty of adultery in a town which is strictly puritanical. Progressively, the woman turns out to be the protagonist who chooses to reveal the identity of the man she had an affair with and at the same time brought her the burden of dishonor. In this Hawthorne piece, Hester Prynn is forced by the town’s ministers to wear the scarlet letter “A” around her neck as a sign that she is a woman who has committed adultery.

It is a garment that she brings around with her everywhere she goes and even threatens the reputation of her child. “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet! ” (Hawthorne 341). These images of Goodman Brown, Reverend Hooper and Hester Prynn have become the images of sin that Hawthorne constructs in his stories. However, they are portrayed somewhat more morally justified unlike the rest of the town who are judgmental but deep inside holds an evil secret.

Evil and sin are all in us regardless of our status and moral principles; therefore, anyone who judges a person of evil is a hypocrite himself. It is clear that Hawthorne aims to criticize puritan society most especially the time of the Salem Witch Trials where almost twenty alleged witches were hanged with spectral evidence as the only proof. Like Goodman Brown, Hawthorne is believed to have also doubted the nature of sin in the society with regard to the same people who judge an evil act as such.

The symbolic use of the black veil and the scarlet letter shows that an evil act of a person is easily judged as evil people and these are what are most likely to be remembered by many despite the good deeds. Works Cited Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown. ” Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales. Ed. Brian Harding. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 111–123. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Minister’s Black Veil. ” Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales. Ed. Harding Brian. Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1999. 144-158. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Ed. Herbert Spencer Robinson. Plain Label Books, 1954

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