The Puritan Revolution of 17th-century in America endorsed an intimate classification of women with domestic life that achieve a wide acceptance throughout the 18th century. Women were thus locked in the “created” domestic sphere while men were busy in the political sphere. However, Anne Hutchinson was a religious dissenter and she challenged the Puritan principle of conformity with religious laws was a symbol of godliness and that the Bible as the sole source of those laws. Nevertheless, Hester was a feminist and she challenged the Puritan belief of women belonging in the “cult of domesticity.”
Up to this time, Puritan women were very restricted to life at home and therefore judged as inferior to men. For example, in my research I found that women were sent to the colonies as “prospective wives” for the settlers and the women lived in homes with married couples where they would receive suitors if they chose (source 1, 24). This exhibits how women did not come to America for the same reason as men did because the men came here for religious, economical reasons, or more. Nevertheless, women were immigrating to America to be the wives of the settlers; this demonstrates that women were expected to live in the household for the rest of their lives. In addition, in The Scarlet Letter, as Hester is standing on the scaffold in the beginning of the book, “a judge, a general, and the minister of the town; all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting house, looking down upon the platform of the spectacle without risking the majesty or reverence of rank and office…(55)” This shows how men are looking down at Hester implying that she is inferior. The reason they stand on a balcony is to protect their “majesty or reverence of rank and office” since they think their reputation will be ruined if they are at the same level as women. Hence, women were separated into a different realm from men and they were “known” to be lower than men are.
The strict standards of Puritan life were attacked by early feminists who were once Puritan. For instance, Anne Hutchinson believed that people under a “covenant of grace” could commune directly with God. This was an outrage for the Puritans because if people can talk to God directly then there would be no need for religion. Puritanism would fall apart because no one would go to church anymore. Furthermore in the scarlet letter, Hester believed that a time will come when “a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness.” This depicts that Hester was a feminist throughout the book and realized that women can be independent. Hester states that she imagined herself to be a prophetess because she had been stained with sin but now she is pure and a “new grave” was built. Therefore, the Puritan religion was giving away to the forces of early feminists.
The Puritan woman’s place in society was in the household. This ideology set the standard for many years. Nevertheless, women such as Hester in the Scarlet Letter and Anne Hutchinson broke free from the “domestic sphere.”
1. Lukes, Bonnie L. Colonial America: World History Series. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2000.
2. Dudley, William, ed. Puritanism: Opposing viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1994.
3. Zeichner, Oscar. “Hutchinson, Anne.” Grolier Encyclopedia. International ed. 1999.
Word Count: 540