Date of Award




Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of English

Content Description

1 online resource (iii, 57 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Ronald A Bosco

Committee Members

Philip B Eppard


Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rappaccini's Daughter, The Birth-Mark, The Scarlet Letter, Body image in literature, Femininity in literature

Subject Categories

American Literature


In three texts by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Birth-Mark," "Rappaccini's Daughter," and The Scarlet Letter, the main female characters share one central trait: a problematic femininity that causes the men in their lives to regard them as something other, and thus suspect. Hawthorne develops this idea of femininity as a defect, and endows these women with actual bodily anomalies in order to explore the ways in which the symbols on the body, or the body itself, invite a variety of interpretation. In doing so, he shows that these interpretations reveal as much or more about the interpreter as they do the object on display. The progression of these texts, from "The Birth-Mark" published in 1843, to "Rappaccini's Daughter" published in 1844, to The Scarlet Letter published in 1850, serves to set the stage for a protagonist who can emerge from her status as a symbolized woman. While in the first two of these texts, subjugation and the loss of an individual perspective occur, in The Scarlet Letter such control is rejected, and the artist figure is born in the character of the protagonist. These texts show how female individuality can be maintained only when one embraces the role of the outsider. It is from this position that the female protagonist looks beyond the dominant male perspective and claims her own version of authority.