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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 107

He took them for granted, without comment, and went deeper. In a world, he asked himself, where human instincts are continually at war with human laws, and where laws, once broken, pursue the offender even more fiercely than they hedged him before, how are any but the more docile spirits to hold their course without calamity? The Puritan Fathers at the same inquiry, which they asked hardly more frequently than Hawthorne, could point in answer to election and atonement and divine grace. Hawthorne had inherited the old questions but not the old answers. He did not free himself from the Puritan mode of believing that to break a law is to commit a sin, or that to commit a sin is to play havoc with the soul; but he changed the terms and considered the sin as a violation less of some supernatural law than of the natural integrity of the soul. Whereas another romancer by tracking the course of the instincts which lead to what is called sin might have sought to justify them as native to the offender and so inescapable, Hawthorne accepts sin without a question and studies the consequences: in the souls of Hester and Dimmesdale, who sinned through love; of Chillingworth, who sinned through malice; of Judge Pyncheon, who sinned through covetousness; of Hollingsworth, who sinned through pride; of Donatello, who sinned, one may say, through chivalry; of Miriam, who sinned through the passion to escape her past; and of Pearl and Hepzibah and Clifford and Zenobia and Hilda, who are only the victims of sin in others. Although Hawthorne of course touches other themes than the consequence of sin, he touched it most importantly. He brought to his representation of the theme sanity without cynicism and tenderness



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