Hawthornes works

Hawthorne is widely regarded as the father of the American novel, a form of literature in which characters and plot are developed in a series of interrelated events. In his first published story, "The Hollow of the Three Hills" (1830), he explored guilt and sin and included a witch in his plot. Many of his other stories addressed these same themes, often incorporating witches or an encounter with the occult (conjuring of supernatural forces). In "Young Goodman Brown" (see primary source entry) an upright Puritan man becomes permanently disillusioned with the world after he sees his wife participating in a witches' Sabbath in the forest.

The Scarlet Letter is the most widely read of Hawthorne's works. Set in seventeenth-century Salem, the novel explores the issues of forbidden pleasure and sin. Puritan officials have forced the main character, Hester Prynne, to wear a red letter "A" as a sign that she committed adultery (had sexual relations with a man who was not her husband) after she had a baby daughter out of wedlock (without being married). Hester's struggle becomes even more painful when her husband, who has taken the false name of Roger Chilling-worth, returns to Salem after an absence of several years. Learning that Hester's lover is a Puritan minister named Arthur Dimmesdale, he forces Dimmesdale to make a public confession. As the story unfolds, Hawthorne shows that Hester's surrender to passion is less troubling than the sins committed by the Puritans, who are represented by Chillingsworth and Dimmesdale. For instance, Chillingsworth is self-righteous and vindictive, while Dimmesdale is tortured by guilt and shame. Hester is eventually able to rise above adversity because she is true to the natural human spirit, but the two men ruin their lives by accepting repressive Puritan moral codes.

Literary scholars note that The Scarlet Letter and Hawthorne's other tales continue to appeal to modern readers because the author vividly depicted the era of the witch-hunts and the Salem trials. Yet his work also transcends the troubling legacy of America's Puritan past by providing an imaginative testing ground for the human struggle with the forces of evil.

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