Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was a popular American author known for his stories about sin, pride and guilt, inspired by his own guilt over his ancestors' involvement with the Salem witch trials, as well as the persecution of the Quakers. In particular, his short story "Mrs. Hutchinson" draws on these themes.
Anne Hutchison is a smart, talented woman who has religious thoughts that are considered daring. She travels to Massachusetts in the early 1600s, where she begins sharing these thoughts, much to the anger of the town's residents, who think her claims are heresy. She shares her beliefs that the religious leaders of the town have led the residents astray. As Hawthorne states in the story, "The woman tells them, (and cites texts from the Holy Book to prove her words), that they have put their trust in unregenerated and uncommissioned men, and have followed them into the wilderness for naught. Therefore their hearts are turning from those whom they had chosen to lead them to Heaven, and they feel like children who have been enticed far from home, and see the features of their guides change all at once, assuming a fiendish shape in some frightful solitude." Mrs. Hutchison is then called to stand before the supreme civil tribunal. The religious leaders of the tribunal question her claims, and she responds with confidence, backing up her assertions with examples from scripture. The leaders find it difficult to top her, and though some come to her defense, it's ruled that must no longer share her opinions and beliefs. She is sent to Rhode Island. There her husband dies and she feels uneasy toward the people of Rhode Island. Instead, she, with her family, forms a small colony where she becomes the leader. Her life ends tragically when she dies during an evening prayer.
Anne Hutchison, the main character of the story, is portrayed as a strong woman with strong convictions that the townspeople find offensive. She is smart, talented and brave, but ultimately she is silenced by the leaders of the town. Other characters play smaller parts in the story. Vane is mentioned as being a young governor who has espoused the beliefs of Mrs. Hutchinson and who recognizes the power of her claims. He later leaves for England. The character of Cotton is portrayed as being older in age, on the decline in life and a religious leader who does not like the beliefs Mrs. Hutchinson shares. Hugh Peters is a religious leader who is enraged by Mrs. Hutchinson's words. Ward is another person who disagrees with Mrs. Hawthorne's claims, but does so in a quieter fashion. At her trial are several religious leaders, including Winthrop, who is portrayed as mild and smart, and Endicott of whom is said "[he] would stand with his drawn sword at the gate of Heaven, and resist to the death all pilgrims thither, except they traveled his own path."
"Mrs. Hutchinson" was first published in 1830 in the Salem Gazette, making Hawthorne about 25 or 26 at the time. It was one of his first published stories, as Hawthorne first began trying to publish stories around 1829. The character of Anne Hutchinson would later be mentioned in perhaps Hawthorne's most famous story, the novel "The Scarlet Letter." She is mentioned in the first chapter as having perhaps walked on the grounds where a rose brush had grown near the prison where Hester Prynne, the main character, is housed.
Connection to Hawthorne
"Mrs. Hutchinson" contains some themes familiar to other Hawthorne work, such as religious freedom and persecution. As stated earlier, Hawthorne felt guilt about how his ancestors persecuted Quakers. Two of his ancestors, John Hathorne and William Hathorne, were quick to persecute anyone they suspected of witchcraft or anything that they thought could undermine the church. In "Mrs. Hutchinson," the characters that persecute Anne Hutchison are drawn from Hawthorne's ancestors.
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