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Farewell to the Masochistic Symbiosis with the Sadistic Superego Paternal Figure: Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter

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Before writing The Scarlet Letter (1850), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64) was hard hit emotionally and economically by the death of his mother and his dismissal from the Custom House. These crises alerted the author to his own abnormal obsession with the family and motivated him to write The Scarlet Letter. In this paper I posit that Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter as an exercise in self-debate, self-criticism, or self-rediscovery. Then I go on to compare the author to the four main characters of the story. Drawing from biographic details and applying the psychological theories of Freud and Fromm, I try to clarify howthe author rediscovered his unknown self and adopted new roles and a new way of life. In his self-therapeutic process, Hawthorne projects his disintegrated selves into the four personages of the story, especially Arthur Dimmesdale, and observes how they behave. Noteworthy is the abnormal symbiosis forged by Chillingworth and Dimmesdale ─ the sadistic yet paternal physician, and the guilt-ridden and therefore masochistic minister. Yearning for domestic bliss but rejected by Hester, who has a baby with the young minister, Chillingworth punishes the cuckolder with insinuating remarks and transforms himself into a satanic man. Yet as a paternal physician, he diligently cares for and loves the emaciated minister. Dimmesdale, meanwhile, is drawn to compulsively fortify himself with the orthodox Puritan doctrine and to confine himself within an illusory realm where he is protected from his own sexual desire. It is reasonable for Dimmesdale to accept Chillingworth's proposal that they live together under thesame roof. The sadistic paternal figure Chillingworth therefore stands before the guilt-stricken Dimmesdale as a proxy of Puritanism, though his association with Indians unmistakably exposes his stance as an irreligionist. Thus, as if exemplifying the psychological theories of Freud and Fromm, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale establish a punishing-punished, controlling-controlled, or sadisticmasochistic symbiosis in a complicit yet unknowing way. Hester, meanwhile, tries to save Dimmesdale and helps him grow emotionally by engulfing him with a womanly love that he childishly denatures into motherly love. Pearl persistently nags Dimmesdale to confess his identity as her biological father, but Dimmesdale defers this confession to the last moment before his death. It follows that neither Hester nor Pearl is efficacious against the symbiosis of Dimmesdale with Chillingworth. Let us compare the mock family members Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl with Hawthorne and his real-life family around him. Here we see a resemblance between the textual figures and the real-life ones. Both Chillingworth and Hawthorne's maternal Uncle Robert Manning evince an authoritative, disciplinarian, paternal attitude. As a mock Puritan God, Chillingworth helps the minister forge his self-tormenting cruel conscience, while Robert Manning implants into the mind / conscience of Hawthorne the Puritan work ethic. Just as the Puritanism represented by Chillingworth is internalized and subsumed by the minister (and emotionally ails him), so the work ethic represented by Manning deprives the author of his willpower to write a work of art, and strikes him with feelings of guilt. Here it is only natural that the immatureminister and author in apprenticeship, both in need of emotional protection, seek out Hester and Hawthorne's mother and elder sister, Elizabeth and Ebe (Elizabeth). Pearl and Hawthorne look alike in their determination to search for a father, though only the former can look forward to a promising future. In what Hawthorne describes as an appropriate realm in writing a Romance, "a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other," Hawthorne exposes his previous infantile self, the self that his father substitute incarcerates in the ferocious Freudian Superego. Hawthorne ridicules himself for having been wholly dependent on the parental figures ─ emotionally on the maternal figures and financially on the paternal figures. Thus, The Scarlet Letter is his proclamation of farewell to his filiopiestic self.

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