Divided paternity : The Scarlet Letter's unstable American father
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This essay seeks to explore the various representations of fatherhood in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Although The Scarlet Letter is Hawthorne’s most-studied text, very little critical attention has been paid to Hawthorne’s rendering of paternity in the story. This essay attempts to fill that void by examining the roles of the many father figures in the novel. I argue that Hawthorne’s anxiety about fatherhood, made manifest by his constant doubling and expunging of father figures, dominates the narratives of both The Scarlet Letter and “The Custom-House,” binding the texts together and providing the framework of the novel. The structure of The Scarlet Letter relies on Hawthorne’s continual introduction of potential fathers for Pearl, auditioning and discarding various paternal models – a process that carries implications both for Pearl, and for American fatherhood. I further contend that the figure of the absent father is a key thematic component of the American Renaissance as a whole, reflecting not only the authors’ personal fears, but also their anxieties about England’s paternal relationship to America – a concern that pervades the text of The Scarlet Letter.