Man’s Relationship with Nature in 19th Century America

In modern times, it is seemingly impossible to locate something natural and untouched by mankind. However, in eighteenth and nineteenth century America, European colonists arrived and settled on land preserved extremely well by its native people. Towns were established in the New England wilderness, including the home of Nathanial Hawthorne’s fictitious character, Hester Prynne, in The Scarlet Letter.

Hawthorne creates juxtaposition between the wilderness around Hester and the town, Boston, that she lives in. The boundaries of Boston represent the intense social restraints implemented by a society obsessed with religion and regulation. In comparison, the forest is a natural environment where Hester is liberated and can be her true self. In one instance, while in the forest, Hester removes the branded letter from her clothing that represents her crime. If she had done such among her peers, she would have been gravely punished.

In the painting, New England Landscape, by Thomas Cole, a prominent church spire is incorporated into New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The image portrays an idealistic viewpoint of the cohesion of the church life and the American wilderness. This differs from The Scarlet Letter, as the corrupt society represented by the Church contradicts the innocence of nature. Hawthorne uses this contradiction to illustrate the fallacy of American idealism depicted in Cole’s New England Wilderness. Both works of art compare man’s relationship with nature, but with different viewpoints as to how coherent this connection is.

New_England_Scenery_1839_Thomas_Cole

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This entry was posted in Art, Honors English III, Nature, Religion. Bookmark the permalink.

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