"And what hast thou to do with all these iron men, and their opinions?"

One of Anthony Gormley's Iron Men sculptures at Liverpool's Crosby Beach
Creative Commons AttributionOne of Anthony Gormley's Iron Men sculptures at Liverpool's Crosby Beach - Credit: Stewart Ayrey
As well as once more echoing Emerson's views on the fealty owed to figures of authority (:none), Hawthorne also puts into Hester’s mouth one of his favorite epithets for Puritans. In many of his works, iron is the element which figures the cold, inflexible inhumanity of their creed. ‘The Maypole of Merry Mount’ (1837), a short story based on Thomas Morton's supposed transgressions against the faith, is especially rife with such imagery: the Puritans are “men of iron,” while their supreme representative, John Endicott, seems “wrought of iron” and grimaces with an “iron frown.” In The Scarlet Letter, it is also the medium of Hester’s punishment: the first time we encounter the scarlet letter in the custom house, the narrator reveals that it burns him “as if the letter were not of red cloth, but of red-hot iron,” establishing a leitmotif that is carried throughout the novel.