Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2012

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Ross J. Pudaloff


This research considers how Hawthorne's, Dickinson's, and Stowe's writing express the prevailing culture's attitudes toward the operation of meaning in religion. It poses the question: Is a crisis of meaning threatening to the religious sensibility? Looking at Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and specific poems of Dickinson, I show how their writing gestures to a kind of religious sensibility that is not threatened by such a crisis, but suggests, rather, that it is essential to a genuine openness to otherness, and ultimately to the Divine. The fiction and poetry of these two authors express this both negatively, as an attack on conventional religion as well as particular nineteenth-century trends in religion, but also positively by expressing themes of possibility and hope in a posture of uncertainty. It is also expressed through their particular use of associative language and metaphor. By emphasizing the ever-shifting mechanism of signification, their writing emphasizes the contingency of language and of subjectivity. This contingency is experienced in the chaos of physical desire and suggests that it is not antithetical to religious belief but the very foundation of it, challenging the common religious binary of the spirit and the flesh.

The historical conflation of the material realm with women leads this discussion in areas of feminist thought and theory, in particular, l'é;criture fé;minine, due to the emphasis on language materiality.

Stowe's writing in Uncle Tom's Cabin supports another stream of religious thought that relies more on discreet boundaries and assurances of belief. By appealing to common Christian principles in the novel, Stowe relies on and reinforces universal religious and ethical constructs. Her use of sentimental rhetoric is based on assumptions that clearly delineate between right and wrong, male and female, and even black and white.

All writing around the same time, Hawthorne's, Dickinson's, and Stowe's texts express attitudes toward religion that would later burgeon within American culture and are still prominent today.