Puritan Background to Hawthorne

As I mentioned in the meeting on Monday, Hawthorne misrepresents Puritanism in “Young Goodman Brown” and The Scarlet Letter.  In fact, Hawthorne depicts Puritans as the opposite of their actual faith and practices.

Puritans believed that faith is a gift from God: faith is not something you can obtain by your own will.

Puritans believed that “good works” have nothing to do with salvation.

Puritans believed that you cannot earn salvation–it is a gift of God’s (free) grace.

Puritans believed that everyone is born a sinner, and the only salvation is through the perfect righteousness of Jesus (his sinless life, as well as his death).  No “good work” (being good) has anything to do with God freely saving people.  God saves (out of mercy) because He loves.

Puritans believed that Christians are known by their love.  (When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he said to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and might, and to love your neighbor as yourself).

Puritans believed that they must love God and love people.

Puritans believed that if they would not forgive someone, then God would not forgive them either (as in Jesus’s “Lord’s Prayer”).

Puritans believed that daily repentance and prayer shows love to God, and the focus of repentance and prayer is always to make the person to become more like Christ.

Hawthorne does not represent Puritans as having any of their true beliefs.

As I mentioned in Mondays’ meeting, Hawthorne felt guilt that his ancestor Judge Hathorne was the only Salem Witch Trials judge who never repented.  Hawthorne even changed the spelling of his own last name to distance himself from Judge Hathorne.  Interestingly, Judge Hathorne was the only Salem Witch Trial judge who did not do what Puritans were taught to do–pray for God to reveal their sins to them in prayer so that they could repent to live in God’s favor and blessing (not in guilt–as Hawthorne represents Puritans).

By the way, tens of thousands of witches were killed (by non-Puritans) in England, Germany, and other European countries, but only 19 were killed by the Puritans in Massachusetts.  Hawthorne helped to embellish the myth that the killers of witches were Puritans.


About Denny Bowden

Resident of Volusia County since 1960 Member of Halifax Historical Society since 1986 English teacher (1970-1989), Mainland HS, Spruce Creek HS District/County-Level Teacher-on-Assignment (1989-2009) Ph.D. in Literature and Literary Theory, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Member, Coquina Presbyterian Church, Ormond Beach, FL
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