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ENG250Y1 - N. Hawthorne's Scarlett Letter - Lecture Notes.docx

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ENG250Y1 – LECTURE NOTES October 21, 2013 Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlett Letter Reflection Questions: 1) Does the novel privilege secrecy or confession? 2) Who is the narrator of The Scarlet Letter? Is he/she reliable? 3) What is the significance of setting the novel in Puritan America? The Custom House:  Prior to the 1960s, critics argued that the introductory essay was pointless, but since then, critics say that it's essential to understanding the novel  Hawthrone defines his novel as a romance in this essay; its not about capturing reality but what is heightened; preference of allegories  Genre is between myth and meiosis  "moonlight in a familiar room … very object … all these details so completely seem … become things of intellect … nature of the other" o Describes the events of the world in terms of moonlight o "familiar" refers to the quotidian o Becomes slightly threatening too because the room takes on a form of remoteness o Between the real and fairy world o Therefore this novel has familiar and unfamiliar apsects The Notion of the Scarlet Letter:  The "A"'s meaning shifts  Almost a riddle, being deliberately vague, is something but then isn't something  Stands for adulterer  Stands for able: o Hester helps others with her charity o Those she helps sees her then differently  Stands for angel: o When Winthrop dies o Hester sees herself as the protector of Dimmesdale  Stands for artistry o "she possessed an art"; refers to when he sewed the letter onto her clothing o A stand-in for Hawthorne o Gives things an ethereal quality o Expresses herself through the needle to transform what it represents or expresses  Stands for ambiguity o Undermining the authoritative power by transforming the letter's meaning through her art o She uses gold threading to surround the letter, adds her own spin to her punishment o Anne Hutchinson is associated with Hester o Both are identified through their refusal of authority Salem Witches:  Biblical reference in Genesis  1692, girls accused a handful of women of being witches o 156 were accused during this period o Witches were blamed for many things such as physical aliments and dying livestock, anything unknown  There was a notion that witches had to sign their name in blood in a devil's book to help fight in the war against God  Is mentioned in the novel when Pearl discusses the "Black Man" o Even though Hester is an adulterer, she is now associated with witchcraft  Hester refuses to be a part of the community o Chapter 13 "standing alone in the world … knocking on the door" o Hester lives in a cottage outside of the village, she is outside of the scope of the law o Her mindset is separate from the law o Even though she is stigmatized what is more threatening is her freedom, her refusal to be stigmatized  Woman would confess in error  Her alienation ironically bestows her freedom that authority didn't want her to have  To change something theoretically is more important than the physically doing so; paradoxically, doing so theoretically is more real than changing something physically "Shadowy Guest":  Alludes to the elusive guests in the Custom House  Puts Hester in the same light as Hawthorne  Therefore she is punished not because she is a cheater, but because she is compelled to not obey  She is taught this via solitude  Relates to "Self-Reliance", sees herself in nature  Through her art, she is able to change society and that is what is threatening  She is purposefully not repentant of her action  She adorns the letter "A"  The novel starts in a prison and moves towards the marketplace; in prison, evil is present; in the marketplace, evil dissipates  the pact she makes with her husband is associated to the pact with the devil  The names of the characters reflect you they are  Hester keeps wearing the letter because it's associated with her daughter; without it, her daughter is free  Could also wear it to finally atone for her sin  The letter could also be a part of her identity  The letter represents all the things about her, good and bad  Could also be the re-appropriation of the attributes that have negative connotations Nature:  Associated with freedom, laws associated with chains  "Hester's intellect and heart had their home in desert places … taught her much amiss" o Though the solitude taught her much, it also led her astray o The narrator does this to refuse telling the reader whether she is good or bad o "amiss" means not getting the point; Hester does not get the point that society wants to chain her, that she broke the human laws o Ambivalent Truth: truth, authority truth, and individual truth  Dimmesdale and Chillingworth are both allegorical o Dimmesdale focuses on passion, Chillingworth focuses on knowledge o Both wrestle for truth o Live beside a cemetery  Dimmesdale is a hypocrite and Chillingworth becomes vengeful, therefore truth is constricting  Therefore individual truth is favored  Pearl is associated with nature  Pearl's eccentricities give her the power to follow her intuition  Pearl is both narcissistic (the scene when she looks at her reflection in the river) and self- reliant, follows her own truths Foucault and Confession:  The obligation to confess is now relayed through so many different points, is so deeply ingrained in us, that we no longer perceive it as the effect of a power that constrains us; on the contrary, it seems to us that truth, lodged in our most secret nature ‘demands’ only to surface; that if it fails to do so, this is because a constraint holds it in place, the violence of a power weighs i
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