In "Hawthorne and 'the sphere of ordinary womanhood,'" Ponder also looks at
the experiences of Hawthorne's mother and how they influenced his shaping of
Part of the powerful intensity of The Scarlet Letter comes from Hawthorne's
almost uncanny portrayal of the strength and waste of Hester's deep love for
a man and for her child, a portrayal that no doubt draws on his relationships
with two women-his mother and Margaret Fuller. Gripped by powerful emotions
at the time of his mother's death, he dramatized a life in some ways like hers.
Her first child, Ebe, had been conceived when she was unmarried, several months
before her marriage to Hawthorne's father. Like Hester, she had observed society,
Salem, from the outside; impoverished by widowhood, she was unable to participate
in the social life around her, withdrawing to Maine where she had more control
over her daily life in a house built for her and her children. It was there
that Hawthorne had played as a boy by a brook, Dingley Brook, and sadly observed
to his sister in a letter that his mother had begun to wear a "cap" just as
Hester hides her beauty until the Brook scene. As Nina Baym suggests, "What
one senses here--though how opaquely!--is Hawthorne's tentative engagement with
the subject of men and their mothers, his suggestion that the relation between
men and their mothers was the deepest and most central core of their lives.
The great liberation of The Scarlet Letter comes not only from its
celebration of a woman, but of a woman who is centrally a mother" (75).