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Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts to a family full of Puritan ancestry even including a judge in the Salem witchcraft trials. His books and stories drew heavily from this Puritan history. Hawthorne expresses skepticism about the Puritans in his stories by showing the theme of hypocrisy, sin, and corruption of puritanism. That is also a reflection of his skepticism of America’s perfection in the early 19th-century because he did not believe in absolute faith and thought it could not be trusted fully.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s skepticism about the Puritans in his stories can be seen through the themes of hypocrisy, sin, and corruption. “Young Goodman Brown” displays the dark side of what can appear as good. At the beginning of the story, Goodman Brown believes that the town is pure and solely good, each and every member, just like the Puritan tenets describe. He wholeheartedly trusts that his wife is goodness, and even if he goes on his trip to the forest to a witch’s meeting, they as a couple will live adequate lives to go to heaven upon his return. As he leaves and arrives at the forest, something changes. His mindset of the town is turned upside down. His wife, whom he thought was incapable of sin, and others from the town are at this meeting as well. He presumes since they are all now essentially friends of the devil, sin has no meaning because everyone is sinful. Upon his return to the town, Goodman Brown is not the same as he once was. It is in this experience that Hawthorne displays his most profound criticism of Puritanism. Goodman Brown believes that his experience has forced him to see through the lies of perfect goodness told by his religion. And so he abandons it. Yet the story presents his actions not as a triumph but a tragedy, and Brown lives a life of sadness and anxiety. The story, then, suggests that the true issue is Puritanism and its internal logic, the way that it demands all goodness or none. Such a world is impossible because one who takes it seriously cannot live a perfect life.
To continue, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s skepticism in his stories is almost an identical reflection of his skepticism about America’s perfection in the early 19th century because he did not believe in absolute faith like many other Puritan followers did. Hawthorne seeked reform for an America that solely relied on the Puritans tenets that it was either pure goodness or nothing. He reveals that a sinful nature cannot be covered up even if you believe you were predestined for a pure lifestyle. His thoughts were a person cannot be entirely perfect all the time, which allowed for conflict of beliefs within his own, richly Puritan family.
While Nathaniel Hawthorne was born into a family full of Puritan ancestry, his beliefs did not line up with them. Hawthorne’s stories drew majorly from this history and expresses skepticism about the Puritans in his stories by showing the theme of hypocrisy, sin, and corruption of puritanism. That is also a reflection of his skepticism of America’s perfection in the early 19th-century because he thought it could not be trusted entirely.
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