Paige Hudson Midterm Exam
English 349 Draft 1
Professor Mark Miller
4 March 2018
A Satisfying Criticism of The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is a staple in American literature that is taught in almost every high school English classroom. It is important because it opens a discourse about actions with consequences, sin, and guilt—as well as the trials and troubles of the human heart. The novel is discussed widely throughout the country by scholars, pupils, and critics alike, all of whom have a different perspective on the novels successes and failures, based on varying points of view.
Our classroom deliberated six of these perspectives, and some made more sense than others. In my opinion, the most successful reading was done by Michael Ragussis in his deconstructive essay, “Silence, Family Discourse, and Fiction in The Scarlet Letter,” and the least successful was Lora Romero’s combined perspectives essay, “Homosocial Romance: Nathaniel Hawthorne.” I believe these essays’ success depended on the reading of the novels rather than the author himself, because the impact a novel has on me hinges on more on content than context. These essays will be rated in order from most successful to least successful, in some form of subjective hierarchy.
Ragussis’s essay was particularly convincing to me because of the way he considers the story, evaluates the characters, and the reasons they performed the actions they did. Ragussis studied these components very successfully through the lenses of silence and obscurity. The power of deconstruction lies in the relationship between the text of the source and its meaning, and its examination of that which is often overlooked, which was very well conveyed in this essay. Ragussis was the only critic in the group that we read that addresses Hester denying Pearl’s existence as her child, as well as the fact that the ‘A’ could have stood for “Arthur” just as well as it could have stood for “adultery,” which gives away the point of the book: the whodunnit question. In fact, he comments that the first two letters of the word “adultery” were Dimmesdale’s initials.
Ragussis also argues the oedipal relationship between Hester, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth far more successfully than Joanne Feit Diehl in her psychoanalytic essay, because not only did he compare Dimmesdale to Oedipus because he was in love with the mother figure (Hester), but because Dimmesdale was also a knowing “criminal and a hypocrite” (Ragussis, 325).
Dimmesdale was compared to a child because of his inability to speak using his own voice—either someone must speak for him (Hester), or he would speak for someone else. The only time he breaks this pattern is when confesses at the end, and even then, he does not confess in a straightforward manner: “But there stood one in the midst of you, at whose brand of sin and infamy ye have not shuddered! ... It was on him!” (Hawthorne, 195). This use of third person only confirms the...