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A Study in Human Imperfection - An Analysis of the Ethics in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter 
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of English.
2015 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

In 17th century America, the Puritans of New England established a colony, in present-day Boston, by the name of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The historical setting of this Puritan colony forms the setting in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850). The novel addresses the ethical challenges that arise with the norms of the fictive Puritan community that encourage a blind adherence to Puritan norms. As I argue, the novel demonstrates that the Puritan idea of the perfect man, governed by the idea of “a utopia of virtue and happiness,” cannot be fulfilled due to the ethical complexities of the characters. This essay is an analysis of the moral competition between the three main characters in the novel, using ethical criticism as a means to reveal the ethical effect of the novel.

            The essay includes an account of Hawthorne’s historical sources for the novel, focusing on the sources for the three main characters. This essay thus considers the socio-historical Puritan background as a source for the fictive Puritan community. The essay is divided into three major sections, the first examining Roger Chillingworth’s ethics of revenge, the second Arthur Dimmesdale’s ethics of guilt, and the third Hester Prynne’s ethics of freedom. I thus analyse the ethical development of Roger Chillingworth, Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne in contrast to Puritan orthodoxy. As I argue, the novel emphasizes the very nature of the characters’ imperfection—the notion that the good cannot exclude the bad. The reader, too, is faced with ethical dilemmas in the act of reading, as I demonstrate in the essay.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. , 22 p.
Keyword [en]
Ethical criticism; Puritan norms; Revenge; Guilt; Freedom.
National Category
Languages and Literature
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-118034OAI: diva2:819391
Available from: 2015-06-16 Created: 2015-06-10 Last updated: 2015-06-16Bibliographically approved

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Sekic, Naida
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