Charlotte Temple vs The Scarlet Letter: Compare & Contrast
For as long as we endeavor to exist in this sort of reality, people are bounded one way or another. As perplexing as it may sound, early human race thrives on restrictions that they themselves created to promote peace among themselves. As the generations passed, such limitations had been subjected to some changes. Some were removed while others were simply modified in order to suit the changes occurring in time. Thus, there are those that had withstood time and included in the role that men and women had appointed themselves with since the beginning of our ancestry. Certain aspects pointed out that these women serve as the perpetual anchor, emotionally speaking, in the family; standing firmly by their partners and continue lending their support – being the mistress of the house. Hence, it is just apt to find distinctions on the roles of women in the passages “Charlotte Temple: A Tale of Truth” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Although these books tackled on women and how they handle their predicaments, certain similarities seemed to be more profound compared with the differences that some scenes evoked.
WOMEN’S ROLE IN 16TH-18TH CENTURY
FOLLOWING THE MOTHER AND HUSBAND
Hidden in the following passages of the books, both had been written on the sixteenth to the turn of the eighteenth century, where society clearly played such a constricting role in the lives of women, both young and old. According to Barton, this was the time where most people in society were depicted as uncaring and dominant in their ways (26). Women were considered of lower status compared to their male counterparts. Thus, their roles had been reduced to being of meek obedience to those in authority such as the parents and/or husbands. In this period, daughters of influential families were pampered and sheltered from the harshness of life. They were schooled to what is considered proper and were religiously guarded; else, they may be led astray. Thus, once reaching the marriageable age dictated by society and paired with a “suitable” partner chosen by the parents, these innocent females are married off. As vividly described by Newton:
Her life centered there, the woman is assured that her roles of mother and wife have both importance and power and that the domestic sphere, in fact, allows her to fulfil her highest nature and function. Although she has the important responsibility of her children’s moral/gender education and spiritual well-being, her role also includes being a complement to her husband and a fit companion. (144)
The statements were clearly delineated on the passage “Charlotte Temple: A
Tale of Truth” where her parents had indulged her, sent her to a proper school and had plans to find a fitting husband who will provide for her. Conversely, such plans had never materialized. Charlotte was duped and had forced to elope. Instead of a proper marriage befitting her background, she was subjected to cruel deceptions and a series of betrayals by those surrounding her. At this point, the weakness of females was apparent. She let the events weaken her resolve. On the other hand, although not overly emphasized in the book “The Scarlet Letter,” Hester had also followed the path planned by most parents. She was raised by decent and God-fearing people and had eventually married an older scholar. She had been obedient and loyal. Society and vulnerability had lent a hand on the eventual marriage which later resulted in disgrace. Unlike Charlotte, who gave up easily, Hester showed a kind of strength that was quite remarkable in that century. Standing straight on her resolve, she never once wavered from the decision she had made and vowed to keep. Such steadfastness was absent in Charlotte for most of the decisions she made.
As part of how society works, once ostracized, innocent and immoral females alike can be marked as “soiled.” Even a sensible female, who had once acted according to the dictates of both the church and society, can be treated harshly. Newton emphasized that feminine qualities … amount to natural weaknesses that lay the woman open to danger (145). Without the most rigid kind of discipline and control, the woman of sensibility will naturally behave improperly and fall prey to temptation, to ridicule, and worst of all, to the persuasive rhetoric of the seducer. As were the case of Charlotte and Hester, they made mistakes that led to further damage. Both had compellingly done some things considered grave misconduct in the eyes of the society at large. One heroine had eloped and the other committed adultery but both suffered the same fate. They were shunned off by people wherever they go and treated as though they carry serious diseases. The people surrounding them ignored them for the most part and sneer at them at times. All of these they endured, as a part of punishments for their indiscretion. Hester, an adulterous female, was punished by being made to stand on a scaffold, under the scrutiny of the eyes of the public (Gilmore 121). As with Charlotte’s case, fate had dealt a bad hand on her life, killing her before she achieves absolution by her family.
BEING A MOTHER
In the role of being a mother, both heroines had this type of experience and had dealt with it differently. Both loved and cherished their offspring. Charlotte, on one hand, was not given a chance to see her child grow and mature before death took its toll. Although during the late pregnancy stage, she had fought hard to ensure food and shelter to herself and the baby inside the womb. As was the case with Hester, a strong will had made her withstand the relentless eyes of the people upon her and her daughter. Although unlike Charlotte, Hester had some turnabout of events as the years passed. According to Battan, the disgrace that drove to people to disdain and hostility had turned transformed into something that was akin to grief and regret, interposed with admiration and respect (601).
Lastly, women in those times were not all innocents and ignorant of reality. Unlike the heroines of both the passages, some women on the scenes were depicted as behaving the opposite. Those sheltered by their parents may follow their examples but some do really have a mind of their own. These types tend to do what they want, to the extent of hurting and destroying other lives, just to get what they want. Some play tricks and schemes in order to get what they want. All these attributes fit the role played by Mademoiselle La Rue, who served as a chaperone to Charlotte when she was still in school. She portrayed a side that is negative and contradicts with the meek roles displayed by most women. She used her wiles and manipulated people. Her selfishness and greed cost Charlotte her future. As with the other women in “The Scarlet Letter,” they displayed little or no sympathy for the plight of Hester. Their reactions were those of delight upon seeing one of their own sufferings and abuse. Thus, it is quite safe to say that a number of women at those times were never hesitant to employ the “weakness” that men usually fall for.
All in all, roles set by society had certain standards. These may differ across the lifetime but the rules are basically the same. Where before, a female was considered a simpering miss and can easily be dictated by an authoritarian figure, such cannot be applied now. Simply speaking, the role of women in society only deals with three parts: an obedient offspring, a supportive wife, and a dedicated mother. All these constitute a good person. Where one may be missing among these, a female can be considered a “failure,” one that can be forever condemned to a life’s torment and misery. Another point that should be looked into is the character of a person. Each one of us deals with the same situation in various ways. We think differently, and thus, we act according to what we believe is reasonable in our situation. This can be considered a major factor in analyzing both books. The heroines were in similar positions, had conducted shamefully, but they countered their predicaments in a different manner. One had wilted while the other endured. Indeed, no matter what the dictates of society are on the roles we must play, each one of us is still given the option to obey or not – knowing the verdict we place ourselves afterwards.
Barton, Paul. “Narrative Intrusion in Charlotte Temple: A Closet Feminist’s Strategy in an American Novel.” Women and Language 23.1 (2000): 26. Print.
Battan, Jesse F. “You Cannot Fix the Scarlet Letter on My Breast!: Women Reading, Writing, and Reshaping the Sexual Culture of Victorian America.” Journal of Social History 37.3 (2004): 601. Print.
Gilmore, Michael. “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Scarlet Letter and American Legibility.” Studies in American Fiction 29.1 (2001): 121. Print.
Newton, Sarah Emily. “Wise and Foolish Virgins: “Usable Fiction” and the Early American Conduct Tradition.” Early American Literature 25.2 (1990): 142-146. Print.