Date of Award

5-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

College/School

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Department/Program

English

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Monika Elbert

Committee Member

Jonathan Greenberg

Committee Member

Daniel Bronson

Abstract

Nathaniel Hawthorne is an author who has caused much intrigue, especially among feminist critics, some of whom deem him to be misogynistic and wholly supportive of the patriarchy in his texts. Evidence for this has been cited in his choice of the demure and quiet Sophia as his wife, although it is known she was amongst many close women in Hawthorne’s life, most of whom were more outspoken female contemporaries like Elizabeth Peabody and Margaret Fuller. Additionally, the assertion that Hawthorne’s writing contains misogynistic undertones is oftentimes supported by the plight of his female characters, who often suffer from painful heartbreak and unendurable social struggles at the hands of a more powerful and dominating patriarchal structure.

However, upon analysis of his personal relationships with the aforementioned feminist icons of his day, along with examination of Hester Prynne, of The Scarlet Letter, and Zenobia, of The Blithedale Romance, Hawthorne ultimately emerges as a pro-female writer who is not criticizing strong women, as some might assume from a surface reading of his work, but championing their cause, while exposing and critiquing the cruel patriarchs who stand as a roadblock to their success.

This thesis will argue that Hawthorne was a writer who used his knowledge of both feminism and the patriarchy to take a stand against the oppression ot strong women, and that this stance is primarily shown in the characters of Hester and Zenobia, who, while faced with patriarchal challenges on both personal and communal levels, both triumph in the end. The victories of these women are achieved through their strength, independence, and courage to wield truly progressive outlooks and participate in subsequently progressive behaviors as a means toward reformation. As stated by Nina Baym, the author who created these feminine paragons was undeniably pro-female.

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