Compare and Contrast Essay on John Steinbeck’s View of Humanity vs Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Views

John Steinbeck, born in 1902 and brought up in an Episcopalian background in Salinas, California, was right from the beginning a deeply spiritual person – on a highly intellectual plane. He was spiritual but not religious – he married three times. His portrayal of women in his works was also colored a great deal by his own life, having been born the only boy with three sisters (Liang, 5). His belief, right from this early time in his life was that all humanity deserved a chance or a fair chance at that at success, a concept that he exploits in his writing. He believed that it was his duty to fight any idea, religion or thought that limited or destroyed the individual an individual thought. And he was always skeptical of the place of religion, feeling that the church and zealous churchgoers can stifle the soul of the individual. He even during his years of growing up took off on a restless spiritual quest that covered most of the major faiths from Hinduism to Jugianism and holistic thinking (Shillinglaw 86). He viewed life as a continuous internal struggle between good and evil (Tuffley par. 1).

In his speech while accepting his Nobel Prize for literature in 1962 he reflected that humanity had passed through the confusion and that only the human heart in conflict with itself was worth writing about. He believed that every man was capable of improvement, perfectibility even and that there was always good that could be found in all humanity. At this speech he also expounded upon his belief that man had finally understood and conquered the ideals that had been attributed to the Godhead and that he was on the brink of not only understanding his purpose but that he was able to achieve the notion or status of perfectibility.

His feeling was that man always had a chance at breaking through and in his book, Cannery Row he saw such a “breaking through” by the vision of the Chinaman’s eyes or the Doc’s discovery of the drowned girl in the tide pool. Nathaniel Hawthorne on the other hand was born and brought up as a Puritan and this colored a great deal of his writings. He was a deeply spiritual Puritan but spent a lot of his time and a lot of his writings pushing the envelope or seeing the limits to which Puritanism could be pushed. He did not fully agree with the Puritans belief of predestination but actually believed that sin was an individual matter and that one may, upon full repentance, actually be “educated” through sin. For the Puritans, one person’s sin led to a collective societal guilt and need for repentance and that was their basic doctrine (Thomson 23).

Hawthorne used his character in the Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale to show the conflict between the Puritans belief of predestination and the more romantic notion of individual redemption. In Dimmesdale, Hawthorne shows his sympathy with the non-Puritan approved belief of redemption, not by grace but by deeds and works (Hunt par. 49). The character of Hester is one through whom Hawthorne also shows a great deal of the conflict that is caused by the Puritan thinking. He shows her as a person who is not only openly rebelling from the Puritan view but also one who, by maturing and through a lot of experience eventually mellows down in her rebellion against the Puritan thought and doctrine. She works to achieve her redemption by presenting her works as a means to salvation, completely opposite of the prevailing Puritan view and practice. Her pursuit of individualism instead of the collective spirit of the Puritans also stands out and in a way Hawthorne shows his admiration and romantic preference or at the very least admiration for that line of thought (Thomson 46).

Despite all the differences, there were certain themes that show similarity in their treatment of humanity for these two authors. They both depicted women in a rather negative way. Steinbeck has been criticized for not having many “rounded” women characters and those that he depicted were always shown as prostitutes or women of loose morals, fact that many have blamed on his upbringing and life while growing up. In Hawthorne’s case, his depiction of women was that of traditional females full of natural goodness but somehow lacking in intellectual prowess that the men possessed. In Hawthorne’s case the blame may be partly due to the deeply Puritan religious thought and their subjugation of women (Liang 161). Both writers also were so immersed in their obtaining social and especially religious set up that they could not write anything that was outside the ambit of their religious upbringing and grappled with the interplay of secular and religious or spiritual themes in all their writings.

Works Cited
Hunt, Lester H.Hawthornes Theory of Moral Sentiments:. N.p., 2008. Web. 2 May 2013.
Liang, Shu-fang. Critics Views on the Female Characters in John Steinbecks Works. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2013.
Shillinglaw, Susan. John Steinbeck’s “Spiritual Streak”. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2013.
Thomson, Lehtie C. “A Moral Wilderness”: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter . N.p., 2011. Web. 2 May 2013. .
Tuffley, David. John Steinbecks View on Personal Ethics. N.p., 2004. Web. 2 May 2013.
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