- Three Approaches to the American Romantic Tradition
Historical contexts such as religion and race are common to American literary studies, and three recent works illustrate how critics vary in their literary approach to the American romantic tradition. Jason Charles Courtmanche takes a structuralist approach to examine how Hawthorne uses the metaphor of the Fall throughout his four major novels. James Frank Walter's more psychoanalytic approach examines how memory is a driving force that unites throughout the American romantic tradition. Though Courtmanche and Walter are more specific in genre and scope, respectively, Theo Davis's book is provocative because it challenges critics to contextualize the meaning of experience in nineteenth- century terms and to take a more formalistic approach to American [End Page 340] literary classics. Furthermore, Davis's study is the most distinguishing of the aforementioned studies because it prompts critics to reconsider the makeup of American literature and culture.
The Fall, according to How Nathaniel Hawthorne's Narratives are Shaped by Sin, is a myth common to Nathaniel Hawthorne's four major novels, yet Courtmanche struggles to fit original sin into a strict typological package with his discussions of The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. In the introduction, however, Courtmanche does clearly explain the significance of Moses as an inspirational figure to Puritans, who believed there was a direct correlation between Moses freeing the Israelites from the Pharaoh's oppression and Puritans escaping the tyranny of the Anglican church. Hawthorne distinguished himself from the tradition of Moses as a mythical figure and looked to the Fall of man for his new American myth. With his sights set on creating an "unorthodox typology" Courtmanche purposes that Hawthorne creates "five main character types," Adam, Even, and Satan, before the Fall, and eventually the New Adam and Eve after the Fall (9). The chapter also briefly outlines Hawthorne's other typologies of plot, setting, symbol, and hermeneutics, which help readers follow how Courtmanche will apply these specific categories to Hawthorne's four major novels.
Out of The Scarlet Letter came one of Hawthorne's categorizations of characters into Eve, Hester Prynne; Adam, Arthur Dimmesdale; Satan, Roger Chillingworth; and a new Eve, Pearl, and this is the subject of Courtmanche's first chapter. Much of Hawthorne's typology is, however, still grounded not only in Puritan mythology but its history. Ann Hutchinson, for instance, is a basis for Hester Prynne's character because she, like Hester, challenged Puritan officials and their perceptions of morality. This discussion was short, however, considering how critics such as Michael Colacurcio label Hester Prynne as a "version of the sexual reformer" (468), who was Hutchinson. Hutchinson and Hester Prynne have much in common as Eve figures because both women question authority figures and are banished from their communities. Hutchinson was put on trial for claiming Puritan ministers misinterpreted Calvinist doctrines and was eventually expelled from her Puritan community. Hester, much like Hutchinson, challenged Puritan leaders in The Scarlet Letter and was ostracized for having an illegitimate child. Hutchinson, therefore, provides Hawthorne with much historical material for his fictional character of Hester.
Courtmanche moves to The House of the Seven Gables in the next chapter, and notes that the New Adam and Eve figures of America, Holgrave and Phoebe, echo sentiments of Hawthorne's words in The Scarlet Letter to "provide nineteenth-century readers with prototypes of how to live a life characterized by 'sacred love' and a 'relation[ship] between man and woman [based] on a surer ground of mutual happiness'" (91). The characters of Holgrave and Phoebe undoubtedly represent a New Adam and Eve by the end [End Page 341] of the novel because they...