Skip to content

Dissenting Puritans: Mythological Resignification in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "The Scarlet Letter"

Michael Rodegang Drescher

Pages 427 - 441



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

Creative Commons License

The present article is devoted to the analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s "The Scarlet Letter", particularly to the text’s inherent work-on-myth and its implications regarding the parameters of citizenship and belonging in the antebellum period. The investigation is two-fold. The article first engages in a detailed, textual analysis of a transformative semiological process, "mythological resignification", i. e., the reworking, rewriting, and transformation of a given culturally foundational mythological narrative. In this case, the myth of America’s Puritan forebears and founders is at the heart of the text, its resignification suggesting alternatives to traditional readings of the nation’s Puritan and theocratic past. The textual analysis is followed by a discussion of how the text’s work-on-myth comments on the negotiation of citizenship. Hawthorne’s text contextualizes, adapts, and transforms the Puritan myth for a democratic antebellum situation and, via its mythological resignification, suggests parameters as well as practices regarding national identity in the revolutionary nineteenth century.

Keywords: civic myth; citizenship; democratization; dissent; Antebellum literature

1 Auerbach, Erich. Scenes from the Drama of European Literature. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984. Print.

2 Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. Print.

3 Bercovitch, Sacvan. The American Jeremiad. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 2012. Print.

4 ---. The Office of the Scarlet Letter. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1991. Print.

5 ---. The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America. London: Routledge, 1993. Print.

6 Blumenberg, Hans. Arbeit am Mythos. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1979. Print.

7 ---. Work on Myth. 1985. Trans. Robert M. Wallace. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1988. Print.

8 Boudreau, Kristin. “Hawthorne’s Model of Christian Charity.” The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Leland S. Person. New York: Norton, 2005. 338-68. Print. A Norton Critical Edition.

9 Choate, Rufus. Addresses and Orations of Rufus Choate. 6th ed. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 1891. Print.

10 Cohen, Jean, and Andrew Arato. Civil Society and Political Theory. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1992. Print.

11 Colacurcio, Michael J. “Footsteps of Ann Hutchinson: The Context of the Scarlet Letter.” The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism. By Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed. Leland S. Person. New York: Norton, 2005. 304-31. Print. A Norton Critical Edition.

12 Drescher, Michael. Poets of Protest: Mythological Resignification in American Antebellum and German Vormärz Literature. Bielefeld: transcript, 2017. Print.

13 Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. Leland S. Person. New York: Norton, 2005. Print. A Norton Critical Edition.

14 Hollinger, David. Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. New York: Basic, 1995. Print.

15 Lévi-Strauss, Claude. “The Structural Study of Myth.” The Journal of American Folklore 68.270 (1955): 428-44. Print.

16 Male, Roy R., Jr. “‘From the Innermost Germ’: The Organic Principle in Hawthorne’s Fiction.” ELH 20.3 (1953): 218-36. Print.

17 Miner, Earl Roy. Literary Uses of Typology from the Late Middle Ages to the Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1977. Print.

18 Morford, Mark, and Robert Lenardon. Classical Mythology. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

19 Thomas, Brook. “Citizen Hester: The Scarlet Letter as Civic Myth.” American Literary History 13.2 (2001): 181-211. Print.

20 ---. Civic Myths: A Law-and-Literature Approach to Citizenship. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2007. Print.

21 Wallace, Robert M. “Translator's Introduction.” Work on Myth. By Hans Blumenberg. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1988. vii-xl. Print.


Export Citation