Essay Three: The Scarlet Letter and the American Experience
Our course ends with Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. This novel provides us with an opportunity to examine the themes of identity and conformity that hearkens back to the beginning of the course while at the same time being a text from the mid-nineteenth century. In your final paper for this course, you should provide an analysis of the novel and what it says about identity. What is Hawthorne’s ultimate message regarding conformity and individual identity? Some specific things that you might consider from the novel as you form your thesis include:
1. Hester’s thoughts on the scarlet letter: “Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman’s frailty and sinful passion” (Hawthorne, 2005, p. 55). Is this ultimately what happens with Hester and her identity? Why or why not? Is Hester ultimately one who conforms? Or is there only conformity on the surface?
2. What does Hawthorne indicate about conformity and individual identity through the character of Dimsdale?
3. Hawthorne mentions in several areas the issue of “man’s law” versus more natural order. Is this an indictment of conformity?
4. Given that the novel focuses on a generation of settlers (even Hester was not born here) what is the larger message about the role of tradition in identity formation? What is Pearl used to indicate, as the one character we see who was born on American soil?
You are encouraged to discuss your working thesis with your instructor early on in the process so that you have a clear and focused thesis and can adequately develop this essay. You might also find the additional essays in our book insightful; if you use any of those in your essay, you must cite those as selections from an edited anthology. You’ll find information on how to do this in the Writer’s Brief Handbook. You should be familiar with this type of reference, having used it with the Norton Anthology selections.
Textual Support: Obviously, you’ll be using examples from the novel primarily, but you’ll may also make connections to earlier works and themes to set up that larger discussion of themes like tradition/newness, human laws and conformity, individuality and identity.
Length: Your essay should have no fewer than five paragraphs (you’ll actually need more) and should be no fewer than 1750-2500 words (approximately seven to ten double-spaced pages in Times New Roman 12 point), not counting the title page and references page. Note that this is a minimum length.
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