Comparing Scarlet Letter And Walt Whitman's Song Of Myself

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Hester’s exclamation in chapter 17 of The Scarlet Letter, “What we did had a consecration of its own!” (Hawthorne, 1992, p.236), attains particular significance when it is considered within the novel’s American Renaissance context. Consecration refers to sacredness; a theme which also surfaces also in Walt Whitman’s poem Song of Myself and. I am going to argue that both Hawthorne and Whitman present sacredness in their works in ways which would have been controversial within their Nineteenth Century context; both writers complicate and offer their own propositions of what should be considered sacred. This is because their writing interacts with a central theme of the American Renaissance, which I have identified as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s concept…show more content…
Brodhead (1967) argues that Hester is radical because she possesses “stoic dignity, antinomian rebelliousness, non conformity [and] powers of moral reimagination (cited in Barlowe 1997, p. 197). Hester begins her stoic rebellion with her decoration of the scarlet letter. It is described as being made of “fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread” (Hawthorne, 1992, p.71): Hester made the scarlet letter beautiful. In its description, Hawthorne’s inclusion of alliteration with the words “fantastic flourishes” gives an almost poetic quality to depiction of the letter. It is undeniably an act of subversion, to make something that is supposed to symbolise sin so beautiful. This is noticed by one of the towns women in the crowd, who shouts that her rheumatic flannel would make a fitter letter ‘A’ (1992, p.73). Hester takes this first rebellious act – of turning the scarlet letter into a small work of art – and uses her skill in needle work to become self- reliant. This allows her, against obvious difficulties, to provide for herself and her child. To bring this back to Emerson’s thinking, self- reliance is partly defined in the essay as breaking and defying tradition: “the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton, is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought” (Levine and Krupat, 2007, p.1163). Hester is dissenting from tradition and from the expectations of her society when she provides for herself. She is defying traditional notions of femininity by surviving without being reliant on a male breadwinner. Though her society try and suppress her by isolating and making a spectacle out of her, Hester is still able to ensure her survival. Her skill at needlework is so strong that it even results in a partial reassignment of the

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