Déjà Vu in Literature

Certain connections can be made between novels regarding characters, plots, and motifs. In Thomas Foster’s book he illustrates these similarities in chapter five entitled “Now, where have I seen her before?” This chapter describes how often times authors are inspired by other works and use existing story lines to create their books. Such a connection is found between The Scarlet Letter and The Age of Innocence. Both novels include female main characters that defy the norms of their society. Hester is trying to escape her previous life and her husband, but is shunned by the society for doing so. Throughout the book, Hawthorne uses Hester to reveal Puritan norms in New England such as double standards and principles. Hawthorne writes, “Throughout them all, giving up her individuality, she would become the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody the images of woman’s frailty and sinful passion,” (494). This passage describes how the community looked down upon Hester because she did not conform to their customs. Being an outcast, Hester is able to keep her “individuality” even when everyone is telling her to become someone else. Similarly in The Age of Innocence, Ellen has the same pursuit because she is also trying to escape an unhappy marriage. Once again, the entire society is condemning her for trying to get a divorce because it is not customary. Ellen is rejected for this, and eventually her family convinces her to stay married. This is seen in a conversation between Newland and Ellen; Newland begins, “Sincerely, then-what should you gain that would compensate for the possibility-the certainty-of a lot of beastly talk?” Ellen responds, “But my freedom-is that nothing?” In this dialogue, Wharton is stating that in order to fit in to New York society, one must give up their individuality and imitate the strict guidelines that govern their lifestyle. Ellen is trying to create a new life, but in order to do so she has to break free from these customs. Her family is not supportive of her desire because they fear the effect on their own status. Both authors use these characters to exhume society’s flaws. Ellen and Hester are used to illuminate the rigid expectations and customs with the hope that readers will be made aware of these defects and will be inspired to make a change.

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