In 1630, the Puritans made their initial voyage to America, they possessed high goals and ideals in the hope that their future settlement at Massachusetts Bay would become a “city upon a hill”. The utopia settlement envisioned by the Puritans was supposed to serve as an example for the rest of the world in what proper living was. In Anne Bradstreet’s poem ‘The Prologue’, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’ specifically ‘The Custom House Chapter’, the authors suggest that whatever Utopia is established, there always will be underlying controversial complications. In ‘The Prologue’, Bradstreet discusses the struggles of being a woman in a Puritan society. She realized that a Puritan society was very patriarchal, and that women were not supposed to speak their mind and have strong opinions. With this literary work she acknowledges her role as a lady in society though she doesn’t believe it. Hawthorne on the other hand, suggests in ‘The Custom House’ chapter of The Scarlet Letter that whatever Utopian society is established, there always will be death, and there always will be crime, that this is just part of being human. Hawthorne was not a Puritan, but he had deep bonds back to this religion, and through the chapter ‘The Custom House’, guides the reader to thought provoking questions. Is sacrificing personal happiness to come home a noble act? Who sets the boundaries of what is right and what is wrong if towns are being governed by moral laws? Both authors use their work to describe a time when Puritans who first settled in Massachusetts in the 1600s founded a colony that concentrated on God’s teachings and their mission to live by His word and also show the flaws within that society.
Anne Bradstreet discusses in ‘The Prologue’, the struggles women were faced with in a Puritan society but also shows her recognition of men’s supposed superiority in that time period with this line: “Men can do best, and women know it well” (Bradstreet, 40). Regardless of her acknowledgement of her role in society, she used her poetry to convey her feelings and opinions about it through honesty and humour. Bradstreet lived in a time where women were meant to keep quite and tend to the children and home. The poem fulfills the same function by providing an insight to the readers of what the prominent theme of her work will be and what she will restrain from writing: “To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings, / Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun, / For my mean Pen are too superior things” (Bradstreet, 1-3). She began by highlighting the worth of her penmanship but also maintained humility in her tone. Bradstreet successfully questions and defies the patriarchal literary tradition in The Prologue along with subtly disturbing the expectations and assumptions of a Puritan woman. Thus, somehow managing to seek out a middle space between the conditioning and her transparent point of views.
‘The Custom House’ passage introduces the narrator, and in so doing positions the reader to understand the perspective from which the story will be told from. The purpose of this chapter is to get background information on the story to give a starting place for readers. His family background is a vital role to him because it of partial reason to how and why he lives as he does. “This old town of Salem—my native place, though I have dwelt much away from it both in boyhood and maturer years—possesses, or did possess, a hold on my affection, the force of which I have never realized during my seasons of actual residence here” (Hawthorne, 14). He feels connected and tied to the land of his forefathers giving him purpose and reason yet he feels like he’s not living up to their legacy. It is being told many years later by someone completely removed from the story. Hawthorne’s introductory essay functions as a preface but, more specifically, accomplishes four significant goals: outlining autobiographical information about the author, describing conflict between the artistic impulse and the commercial environment, defining the romance novel, and authenticating the basis of the novel by explaining that he had discovered in the Salem Custom House the faded scarlet A and the parchment sheets that contained the historical manuscript in which the novel is based. Hawthorne also previously worked as a customs officer, but has lost his job due to political changes, as well also had Puritan ancestors whose legacy he considered both a blessing and a curse. Moreover, Hawthorne sets himself up to parallel Hester Prynne in significant ways and just like Hester, the narrator spends his days surrounded by people from whom he feels alienated.
Although both works share the idea that with every emerging society, controversial complications are bound to arise, both authors write their stories with different personal controversies. Bradstreet is faced with fact that she is a woman, and no matter what she writes she will never be taken seriously. She will always be compared to a man, “For such despite they cast on female wits. /If what I do prove well, it won’t advance, /They’ll say it’s stol’n, or else it was by chance” (Bradstreet, 28-30). Even when she writes great poems, people wont believe that its true talent, in these lines she is compared to men, told that her work is a fluke or stolen. Hawthorne himself worked as a customs officer, so there’s more than a hint of autobiography here. The narrator is chief executive of ‘the Custom House’, a place where taxes are paid on imported goods. It’s clear from the unflattering description he gives of his colleagues—’wearisome old souls’—that he doesn’t have much time for them. This would appear to indicate that in the intervening centuries since Hester Prynne passed away, nothing much has changed about Salem.
Conclusively, both these works explicitly outline the authors perspectives on the developing society but from different stand points. Bradstreet’s poetry makes us recognize her as a confident female poet who produced work that boasted of her experiences and by giving them value in a society that silenced it diligently. She presented her strong sense of self along with her resilient struggle for self-assertion through subjectivity and creativity. ‘The Customs House Chapter’ discusses the theme of isolation. His isolation from his coworkers suggests separation will occur in the novel, and there are parallels between him and his heroine, whose artistic, passionate soul separates her from the other Puritans. Of course, while the loss of security was irritating, Hawthorne had not been entirely happy at the Custom-House as a result his long days there prevented him from focusing on the work he desired to do: writing. Even through completely different states, the authors conceive their place in the world by preserving through their societies.