Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


O'Neill, Bonnie Carr

Committee Member

Little, Matthew

Committee Member

Claggett, Shalyn R.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Graduate Thesis - Open Access



Degree Name

Master of Arts


College of Arts and Sciences


Department of English


This study offers a transhistorical reading of Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, Sylvester Judd’s Margaret, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I identify how each novel addresses the need for social reform in nineteenth-century New England by tracing the root of social injustice to the Puritan ideological legacy. These novels address social injustices by not merely using New England’s past as a catalyst, but in identifying their origin in New England’s Calvinist, Congregationalist past. These novels furthermore reflect the theological debate between Calvinists and their Unitarian and Transcendentalist opponents in the early nineteenth century. Each novel offers a challenge to the Calvinist view of humanity with one that perceives humanity as morally improvable and fully capable of discerning what is moral independently of socially-imposed moral concepts. Ultimately, these novels suggest the vital role a society’s perception of human nature has in its ability to enact and ensure justice for its constituents.