The Scarlet Letter
Book Report on the Scarlet Letter Essay (Book Review)
Authored by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, The Scarlet Letter is a fascinating masterpiece featuring Hester Prynne as the protagonist. Hester bears a child, Pearl, who is a byproduct of an adulterous affair. Amid facing imprisonment, the main character strives to leave a life of repentance struggling to restore her dignity.
The author sets the novel in the seventeenth century in a Puritan community within Boston, Massachusetts. In this city, Hester gets out of the prison. She is carrying “her daughter in her arms with her body covered with a gown referred to as a rag of scarlet cloth that takes the shape of letter A” (Hawthorne 10). It signifies adultery. In the end, Dimmesdale reveals letter “A” marked in his breasts where Pearl kisses him only to mark the death of Chillingworth.
To deliver his targeted lessons, Hawthorne revolves around the main character to present the theme of remorse, transgression and conformity. Though the development of these themes is also a subject of other characters such as Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, Hester is outstandingly the central character since she makes the latter two behave in the manner they do in the novel to the extent of contributing towards their demise.
Hester is aware of the identity of one of the elderly onlookers as being her past lover. However, she goes down with a crowd of fathers and never puts it in white her identity. Her capacity to maintain secrecy is astounding since, as the author informs in chapter two, “One token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another” (Hawthorne 31). It also evident that the elderly man is not aware of the reason as to why Hester encounters the punishment.
However, one of the elderly onlookers informs Chillingworth the reason behind the punishment: her involvement in an adulterous affair. Despite the fact that the novel is all about Hester, the author explores nothing much about her personality. Rather, he focuses on the forces that shape her real being.
In the early chapters of the book, the reader becomes aware that Hester was a strong and a morally upright woman. She recalls her parents as being passionate and vital role models who more often attempted to curb the likelihood of the emergence of incautious behaviors in her. Since she involved herself in an affair that resulted to public shaming, it is also evident that she was passionate in nature. Though shamed publicly, she does not allow these acts to change her personality or feel sorry about her past.
This fact is somewhat evident when she proclaims that “But this had been a sin of passion, not of principle, nor even purpose” (Hawthorne 45). Furthermore, the reader meets her in the novel as a woman who worked to gain hefty communal acceptance through her charitable work: something that she does as the main chore of her life when her daughter marries a European upon the demise of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth a year later.
By refusing to accept the societal tagging of acts referred to as ‘sinful’ to afflict her, Hester emerges as an ample character that questions and speculates the organizations of the society, enormously placing the moral aspect of the society into interrogation. The strong belief on her autonomy to reason and take charge of her actions arguably is as an immense source of her motivation.
As previously mentioned, some of the universal ideas introspected in The Scarlet Letter include offense, culpability and legalism. Conceptualization of sin infers bringing forth knowledge about the existence of sin and the repercussions of involvements in sinful behaviors. As it is evident in the Judeo-Christian tradition, sin fosters the separation of evil from the good. The result is the ample laying forth of true human nature, which is a subject of exposure to challenges and the urge to sin.
The tale of Hester and Dimmesdale is perhaps reminiscent of the Judeo-Christian tradition tales of Adam and eve. The similarity in these tales lies on foundations of the repercussions of sin, suffering and pain. In the two accounts, knowledge results from sinning. “The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread” (Hawthorne 67).
For Hester, the letter is a discriminating passport depictive of her landing into places that other women in the New England had not endeavored. This way, she can contemplate about herself and the surrounding society in a more bold way. The realization of the fact that “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true” (Hawthorne 105) makes the theme of sin and knowledge even more conspicuous in the novel.
Though Hester does not plainly admit that she was involved in sinful acts, the repercussions of sin are imminent since “She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom” (Hawthorne 147). Even though Hester and Dimmesdale are empathetic, attempting to reconcile themselves on daily life experiences, sin has certain moral consequences, which need to be conspicuous before the eyes of the society.
This is perhaps true since the society elders put more emphasis on seeing Hester go through the experiences of her involvement in sin right here on earth. The Puritan elders view sin as something worthy punishing. Unfortunately, this experience is prejudiced since Dimmesdale does not go through such experience. Later, women come to realize this fact.
They strongly believe that Hester’s source of sin relates to sexism of the men in their town. They seek help from her when faced with similar sexism forces emanating from the men. Even though the Puritan village may remain stagnant about the perception of the true nature of one’s involvement in sin, Dimmesdale and Hester are perhaps real witnesses that sin may create better platforms of understanding others and making one become sympathetic.
More importantly, it leads to personal growth. “Shame, Despair, Solitude: These had been her teachers – stern and wild ones – and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss” (Hawthorne 165). In fact, it is perhaps after going through extraordinary circumstances that makes her an imperative figure in the society.
There is always a reason behind the publishing of every literary work. One could interpret a scholarly work from the contexts of the implied or textual perspectives amongst other perspectives. From the textual perspective, The Scarlet Letter is entertaining. More often, the reader feels sympathetic to Hester. However, he/she still advocates for harsh punishment for deceit, infidelity and hypocrisy as some of the detriments of the basic unit of society. This is also perhaps more consistent to what the Puritan elders thought.
The author seems bothered by the manner in which the society takes issues of equality. Is adultery a question of only a single gender: women alone? Was there no man figure in the picture during the act? Were the two genders not supposed to get an equal punishment? Even though Hester never revealed the real father to Pearl, arguably, the author, Hawthorne intended to raise the question of male dominance during the seventieth century.
The author perhaps also intended to put the societal leaders, who should act as moral guiders, into perspectives based on their ability to involve themselves in conspiracies that are detrimental of the moral institutions they proclaim to defend. Dimmesdale, a minister, would be the last person Chillingworth would have anticipated being involved in a secret affair with Hester.
However, amid such leaders, the author provides some hope of the emergence of better males’ generation when he presents Chillingworth as a scholar who allowed Pearl to inherit his property despite her being not his real daughter. Here, education stands out as an essential catalyst for transformation of society.
As portrayed in the end of the novel, every vice has its end, whether maintained in secret or not. The reader finally realizes the identity of Pearl’s father. Her mother’s grave is next to Dimmesdale. They both share the letter “A” in their common tombstone just as the letter was evident on Dimmesdale’s breasts.
It was also the shape taken by the scarlet cloth won by Hester. This way, the author offers an indication of the likelihood of eradication of a generation characterized by sin, and ushering in of a new one free from sin. In fact, The Scarlet Letter stands out as an informative literary masterpiece.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. London: Ticknor, Reed and Fields, 1850. Print.
The Scarlet Letter Research Paper
This paper delves into themes related to sin and acceptance.
The Scarlet Letter delves into numerous aspects related to guilt, society, the self as well as an assortment of varying themes related to sex and the Puritan way of life at the time
(Hawthorne, 1850). However, despite all this I believe that the Scarlet Letter is a form of social commentary in that it delves into the positive and negative aspects that pervaded Puritan society at the time that people either did not know about or turned a blind eye towards such actions. The novel thus presents the notion that the concepts of sin and acceptance are viewed and experienced differently by different people.
Form of Social Commentary
When examining the novel, it becomes clear that the writing style and the way in which the author delves into the Puritan way of life seemingly shows the double standards that existed at the time. For example, while the character of Hester is slated for punishment for being an adulterer, little is mentioned regarding the man she had sexual relations with. From the way in which she was described and the manner that the people acknowledge her as, it appears that all of the fault is attributed to her.
This I believe was an intentional aspect of the novel on the part of the author to depict how women received “the shorter end of the stick” so to speak when it came to living within such a society. In fact, it was the character of Roger Chillingworth (the husband of Hester who was thought of as dead) who was the first to voice the unfairness of only Hester being condemned for the crime with little to no attempt at actually finding the person she slept with.
Another aspect to take into consideration is the fact that the Reverend Dimmesdale was revealed towards the latter half of the novel as the father of Hester’s child. Yet, what is curious is that while Hester was able to withstand being labeled as an adulterer, Dimmesdale actually progressively got worse throughout the novel despite him not revealing his secret until the end.
Sin and Acceptance
The reason why Dimmesdale and Hester had different reactions to the sin they committed was due to the varying ways in which they chose to accept it. In the case of Hester she chose to own up to her sin and instead of taking the easy way out through suicide she chose to work as a seamstress to support her daughter.
In the case of Dimmesdale he chose to keep it bottled up inside and continued to suffer as a direct result of what he perceived as a moral sin. It is at this juncture that it can be seen that the novel apparently questions the true impact of sin and morality wherein it shows that acceptance of an act and moving forward from it changes the perception of sin (as seen in the case of Hester) as compared to internalizing it and continuously blaming oneself ( as seen in the case of the Reverend).
In fact, the concept of sin and acceptance in order to move on can be considered a crucial part of the novel as exemplified by the deaths of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth wherein their refusal to accept and move on killed them in the end as compared to Hester who accepted her sin and bore it proudly who in the end had a somewhat happy ending.
Overall, it can be stated that the novel is an excellent social commentary of the state of society at the time and reveals how the refusal to own up to a sin can literally eat a person from within and cause their death.
Hawthorne, N. (1850). The Scarlet Letter. New York: Ticknor, Reed & Fields.
Willingness to Judge: A deconstructive approach to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter Essay (Critical Writing)
The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, has plenty of lessons for both psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. It can be argued that no other novel dwells so much on the in-depth examination of the conflicts, dynamics and defenses attributes of shame (Adamson 53).
Although a number of critics on The Scarlet Letter have attributed Reverend Dimmesdale’s pain to guilt while Hester Prynne’s to shame, others suggest that both characters are distressed with shame. However, Dimmesdale’s pain is more severe than Hester’s because it is deeper and lethal (Kilborne 32). This paper will therefore attempt to analyze The Scarlet Letter through the glasses of deconstruction.
This paper will focus on how Hawthorn uses a deconstruction method to analyze the Puritan reading. Special attention will be placed on the turnaround of the Puritans’ order of reading and writing with its related transcription of reading as the non-origin authenticity of writing.
This paper will also talk about Dimmesdale and Hester and their conflicting views about the Puritan reading. Emphasis will also be laid on the significance of the scarlet letter imprinted on the bosom of Dimmesdale.
Salvation and damnation argument
According to Stewart, Hawthorne is considered to be a “Puritan of Puritans (16). But how can one attach a deconstructive of Puritanism to Hawthorne? Dimmesdale shouts, “Stand any here that question God’s judgment on a sinner? Behold! Behold a dreadful witness of it!” (Scheer 2). What ensues after this is unclear. “It was revealed!” Asserts the narrator, “but it were irrelevant to describe that revelation” (Scheer 2).
It can be argued that the revelation is about the scarlet letter imprinted on the bare bosom of Dimmesdale. It can be assumed that the presence of this imprint of sin on Dimmesdale’s rear end is not precisely masked in mystery. On the other hand, it is also not clearly asserted.
What the reader that ascertains from this context is the breaking of the spell that sets free Pearl’s tears and kisses and the concluding trade of words between the former treacherous partners.
Hester expresses the optimism that they use up their “immortal life together,” however, Dimmesdale scolds her when he says, “the law we broke!” (The sin here so terribly unveiled) let these unaided be in thy thoughts!” Later on, Dimmesdale shows gratitude to God for his “afflictions,” without which he believes he “would have been lost forever” (Scheer 2).
Dimmesdale submits his soul by extolling the God’s name and asking for “His will to be done” (Scheer 2).
A major part of the salvation and damnation argument in the critical canon is initiated by these last moments of Dimmesdale’s mortal life. The squabble on both sides-and the rationale of each side is in fact incontrovertible- center on either side of a symmetrical inquiry: if Dimmesdale assumes that he is damned, he is saved; if he assumes that he is saved, he is damned.
The argument put forward by Edward Davidson (among the formidable in the damned theory) appeals to the Romantic and Puritan theories of the Fall: Dimmesdale’s solipsistic partition of the spirit from the body (90). This argument posits that Dimmesdale incorrectly points sin to the body rather than to the spirit and therefore assumes that he is saved (Davidson 90).
Some of the proofs that Dimmesdale puts forward to sustain his assumption is Mistress Hibbins’s acknowledgment of Dimmesdale’s as being part of the Black Man. Davidson asserts that Mistress Hibbins, prior to the public confession made by Dimmesdale, is aware of the minister’s situation with unrivaled clarity (86). Accordingly, there is a debatable gap in the logic of this edition of the damned theory.
The gist of the matter is when Dimmesdale agrees to Hester’s plan to run away. Dimmesdale knows that he is damned because even his ensuing public declaration of guilt is not enough to turn things around. With respect to the logic of salvation, Dimmesdale’s public admission is absolutely unnecessary (Scheer 3).
Deconstruction of the Puritans
In what ways does Hawthorn presents his deconstruction of the Puritan community? The exact form this deconstruction occurs is the turnaround of the order of reading/writing with its associated transcription of reading as the non-origin authentic of writing. The quality of Puritan reality is based on a reading of selected Scriptures and texts (that are unreasonably factual text).
It is of necessity to acknowledge that the Puritan community asserts the texts themselves fairly than their reading of the pertinent transcripts as the basis upon which the quality of their realism rests.
The manner in which Puritans’ reading are conveyed by Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter institutes theocracy that mirrors Nietzsche’s maxim which postulates that facts do not exist in the real world, only interpretations do (Nietzsche 267).
This implies that the arrangements made by Hawthorne with regards to the production and sustaining of the Puritan’s are based on the adage that social truths are creations grounded upon a circular reading. The truth is founded by a reading of the root of the reality in question where in every case the ensuing fact is an occulted form of the reading.
What implores the query is the reading (understanding) which acquiesces the reading. However, the fundamental (the productive) explanation is actually a type of writing-while-reading. Heidegger asserts that an interpretation is in no way an assumption-less understanding of a concept conveyed to us (191).
This implies that if we appeal to what stands there, then we discover that what stands there in the initial case is nothing apart from the apparent un-discussed conjecture… of the individual who performs the interpretation (Heidegger 192). It will be inappropriate to designate this interpretation as a type of reading. This implies that what is read constitutes what is written in the manner of reading.
It is this previous writing that is occulted- reading in the normal manner, which is, the second phrase of the order of writing/reading. Moreover, it is based on this occulting that Hawthorne’s deconstruction regarding the basis of the Puritans reveals. In other words, the truth is blameworthy and utter truth cannot be fortuitous (Kilborne 471).
This is exactly what the Puritans’ ruthless and inflexible reading of the Scriptures and associated texts (which are usually interpretations) fail to accept. Paradoxically, the Scripture both verifies and discards all human power that compares itself with the godly.
The Bible (the Writing) is a Reading that usually re-writes the readings. This aspect of the Scripture (readings/writings) begs the question: Were there defects in the original truths? In other words, one could argue that what is reflected in Hawthorne’s argument about the Puritans mirrors that concealed defect of the truth where all answers are simply fragmented questions (Scheer 12).
Examples of Hawthorne’s Claims
There are numerous examples in the texts to substantiate Hawthorne’s claims. A few examples should be enough. For instance, Hawthorne narrates about the earliest practical for prison and cemetery envisaged by the Puritan constructors for their “Utopia of human virtue and happiness” (47). This stems from the Puritan community’s reading of the outcomes of the Fall (to appeal to common sense here would simply invoke the question given that prisons and cemeteries did not exist in the pre-lapsarian ecstasy of paradise).
The society of “religion and law” (Hawthorne 50) erected by the Puritan community in the wilderness and the periphery of the New World is therefore overwhelmed from the onset by a post-edenic autocracy which fails to acknowledge (ironically in the same manner of recognizing) that the first sin has indefinitely prevented humankind from achieving human happiness and virtues on earth.
Therefore, prisons and cemeteries constitute a segment of the text marked on the wilderness. According to a reading of the Scriptures (which is also a reading), both prisons and cemeteries are imprinted on earth to serve as punishment to humans from the beginning (Scheer 13).
It is important to note that sustained reading also is“writing” in itself. However, what is read does not automatically imply what was written in the first case. As a matter of fact, it is by virtue of this unexplained inconsistency between writing and reading that Hawthorne exploits in his deconstruction of the Puritan community. Again, this reading/writing signs abound in Hawthorne’s book.
Consequently, the “grim rigidity verdict” (punishment) imposed by the Puritans upon Hester Prynne turns into a “living sermon against sin” (Hawthorne 63). The present of the scarlet letter on the bosom of Hester is thus not only a type of “writing” in the accurate sense but also in the figurative manner of the phrase.
“This writing derives is based on the violent and forcible alteration of the camouflage into a disclosure grounded on a broad though aggregating Puritan reading which, according to the “grim beadle”, gets its collective sanction from the violent and forceful writing of a communal structure” (Hawthorne 56).
The creative manner in which Hester “writes” her letter “A” is ambiguous to the bleak texture of Puritans’ realism where the alteration of the camouflage into disclosure as reflected in this case by letter “A” automatically becomes manifest. In addition, the symbol of sin is a ploy, the archetype of all workings of art being the mastermind of the Fall (Scheer 14).
The inconsistency between the writing and reading becomes manifest to the reader who understands that not only is Hester symbolized by the Scarlet letter but also obscured by it. Hester is not only concealed by the letter from “human charities” (Hawthorne 81), it also gives her liberty to speculate.
If the Puritans knew about this, they would have considered it a deadlier offense than the disgrace caused by the Scarlet letter. This uneven link between the signifier and the signified prolongs further to Puritan members’ majority of whom declined to construe the scarlet ‘A’ by its initial meaning (Hawthorne 164).
Thus, the concealment of what is made obvious is the self-deconstructive aspect that Hawthorne presents in his texts. What is reflected in Hawthorne’s text is a type of imprinting that his text must both impulsively reveal and repeat. Accordingly, his writing reflects the reading of the Puritan writing/reading of a reality produced by the imprinting of the Scriptures and associated texts regarding the reality in question.
For instance, as Hester evaluates her past experiences that have contributed to the stalemate of the scaffold, where she is compelled to disclose her own scarlet letter and its existing counterpart (Pearl, considered by Puritans as a symbol of adultery, a living disclosure of prior hidden sin) crafted by both Hester and her hidden counterpart.
Hester is thinking about a “new life” that is yet “feeding on time-worn materials…on a crumbling wall” (Hawthorne 58). According to this sentence, Hester is not only thinking about the dissimilarity between the New and Old World bust also the remains of the concept of the lost paradise (the collapsing of the barricades of Eden, once a place of happiness).
Thus, Hawthorne’s text has plenty of scriptural examples of inter-textuality that imprint themselves on a texture that is eventually vital with respect to text-making by Puritans (Scheer 15).
The compulsive nature of Hawthorne’s text (exposure/recurrence) makes the Scarlet Letter a fascinating book for deconstruction. The link between art and sin in Hawthorne’s book has attracted abundant treatment in the critical law. On the other hand, Hawthorne’s text faces both approval and rejection with regard to this connection.
For example, Leslie Fiedler makes a comment about the letter “A”. He asserts that this letter “may have represented to Hawthorne not only Adultery but Art,” by “involving precisely that adornment of guilt by craft which he attributes to Hester’s prototype” (Fiedler 237).
On the other hand, Claudia Johnson considers the “productive irritant” that drives Hawthorne into art as the “sinful” dismissal of art which Hawthorne had come across in numerous instances (8). Ironically, this same accusation can be traced in Hawthorne’s text.
It is wrong to assume that Hawthorne is disrespectful of art. On the contrary, he senses that he has justifications to be wary of the artistic undertaking preciously because of the unforeseeable twist it make assume.
The Puritan’s Dilemma
The deconstructive venture evident in Hawthorne’s romance is itself a sign of defiance per excellence. Although it is not aptly expressed in many words, its more telling statement is that the Puritan creation of reality (based on imprinting and writing/reading) is a ploy which is almost permanently subdued.
The Fall remains the source of this subdued art although in the case (Fall) of Puritan power, the exact sin under consideration here is the arrogant manner in which humankind usurp divinity and pretend to dispense God-like judgment (Scheer 16).
The Puritan dedication to the disclosure of hidden sin repetitively lends credence to creative arrangements (dignitaries on the balconies, pillories, scaffolds, etc) without which the intended disclosure of hidden sin would be impossible.
To be certain, Hawthorne makes it obvious that the Puritans were cautious of the any kind of pretentious ploy or ceremony, essentially considering it as wicked, they were nonetheless “native Englishmen…of the Elizabethan epoch” (Hawthorne 230). For example, Kenneth Murdock countless illustrations of the impasse Puritan divines encountered as they attempted to convey their religious tenets (34).
He asserts that although Catholics and Anglicans both used organ music, incense, and other instruments in their religious activities, to Puritans, this was a testimony of their sinful ignorance of Scripture (Murdock 34). As a result, the Puritans rejected the use of metaphors, especially those that appealed to the sense, in religious worship. Here, the link between metaphor and sin is fairly clear according to Puritan’s imagination.
The Puritan divine were even compelled to acknowledge, rather unwillingly, that the Holy Scriptures contain metaphors that appeal to senses. The explanation for this is not difficult to unravel. Given that we are imperfect, we are unable to appreciate any language that fails to appeal to the senses. Although such appeal is essential and useful, it is nonetheless unacceptable (Scheer 17).
Hawthorne’s romance mirrors this Puritan predicament in a true historical fashion. It not only dwells on their religious tenets but also focuses on their political rituals. For instance, during the Election Day, Hawthorne asserts that had they maintained their traditional taste, the New England colonizers might have demonstrated all ceremonies of public merit by banquets, bonfires, and processions and pageantries (230).
Although, during Election Day, there was some semblance of this sort, what the Puritans forbade is specifically the humor, the mischievous and the potentially insubordination (which would be synonymous to metaphors that are deemed indecent because they appeal to senses).
Therefore, Hawthorn informs us there were no minstrel, no offensive shows, and no juggler, with his deceptions of imitating witchcraft. All this activities were banned by the stiff laws of Puritans (Hawthorne 231).
The repression of artifice of potentially impish appeals to the senses, of historically pretentious political and religious traditions, ceremonies or rites becomes- according to the narrator- the symbol of an unconscious suppression of the creativity which is nonetheless the basis of the Puritan society and their writing/reading of reality.
It is also the foundation of the Puritan’s idea of a bleak and firm version of the human/divine dichotomy. However, in spite of the Puritan’s distaste for artifice, they remain unwilling dramatists and rhetoricians. On the same note, there is no gap of uncertainty in the framework they imprint on the facade of their reality.
Accordingly, it can be argued that The Scarlet Letter is not a disclaimer of the religious whims but a deconstruction of its gloomy absolutist aggregation. It is the absence of a redemptive fault in their theology that remains-according to the narrator-the incorrigible fault of the Puritans (Scheer 19).
The issue of the scarlet letter stamped on the bosom of Dimmesdale lends credence to the paradigm signified by the gap between the consciousness of the minister to the Puritan’s principles and his cataleptic romanticism. It is the former that compels him to make a public confession.
On the other hand, it is the latter that permits him (the minister) to consent to Hester’s evaluation of their illegitimate affair, “what we did had a consecration of its own” (Hawthorne 195). Without doubt, it is not possible to attribute Puritanism vs. romanticism to the narrator.
The alienated outlook of Hester with respect to human institutions (regarding whatever is established by the legislators or priests and making summary criticism without any reverence) may have liberated her. On the other hand, it taught some important lessons (Hawthorne 199). Dimmesdale is tortured by the disparity between what his real personality and what he appears to be.
Hester, also experiences the same disparity. However, she uses it to rebuff the system. Hawthorne tells us; “wild, heathen Nature has never been subjugated by human law, or…illuminated by higher truth” (203). This implies that Hester’s suppression by the Puritan tenets is peripheral (Scheer 20).
As readers, we cannot tell if Dimmesdale has agreed to escape with Hester, her illicit lover. Dimmesdale “fancied himself inspired” (Hawthorne 225). It can be deduced from this statement that Dimmesdale disapproves the apparent link between art and sin, which is the unavoidable outcome of the Fall, the biblically corroborated origin of both art and sin.
It is this denial of the fault of truth and sin of the art that is liable for hollowing the scarlet letter on the bosom of Dimmesdale. Hawthorne’s deconstructive argument should be emphasized here: it does not carry much weight whether it is present or not for nothing that is simply imprinted is actually there at all, in spite of the fact that it is.
Adamson, Joseph. Guardian of the inmost me. SUNY Press: Albany, 2009. Print
Davidson, Edward H. Dimmesdale’s Fall. The Scarlet Letter. Ed. John C. Gerber. Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1963. Print
Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. Del – Delta: New York, 1966. Print
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Ed. William Charvat et al. Ohio UP: Columbus, 1850. Print
Heidegger, Martin. Sein und Zeit, Being and Time. Ed. John Macquarie and Edward Robinson. Harper & Rowe: New York, 1927. Print
Johnson, Claudia D. The Productive Tension of Hawthorne’s Art. The U of Alabama P: Alabama, 1981. Print
Kilborne, Benjamin. Disappearing Persons: Shame and Appearance. SUNY Press: Albany, 2002. Print
Murdock, Kenneth B. Literature and Theology in Colonial New England. Harper Torch books: New York, 1949. Print
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1901. Der Wille zur Macht, The Will to Power. Ed. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale. Random House – Vintage: New York, 1901. Print
Scheer, Steven C. Errors of Truth: Deconstruction in The Scarlet Letter. 2001. Web. <http://www.stevencscheer.com/scarletletter.htm>
Stewart, Randall. American Literature and Christian Doctrine. Louisiana UP: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1958. Print
Throwing Stones at the Sinful Ones: The Two Stories Intertwined Essay
Adultery has always been one of the most complicated issues concerning the relationships between a man and a woman. Surprisingly, this topic passed the time-testing and still evokes quite considerable conflicts and debates.
With countless interpretations in literature and other arts, this problem and everything that it triggers has been depicted in the most colorful way in The Scarlet Letter, the novel by Hawthorne and in No Name Woman, the short story by Kingston.
Compared to the novel by Hawthorne, Kingston’s short novel shows that nothing has changed since the times when women were branded for committing adultery – the society is still just as deaf and blind, unwilling to sympathize with the others and realize the difficulties which those people had to pass through.
Taking a closer look at the way Hawthorne depicts the tortures of the poor woman, one can see clearly that people are attacking the fallen one with the savage-like amusement.
Though this can be explained by the cruel and uncompromising spirit of the ear, it is still hard to believe that the false morals and the environment created by the church influenced people so hard and squeezed the last drops of sympathy out of their hearts. There is definitely more than meets the eye in these violent attacks and the scornful negligence of the poor Hester Prynne.
As the storyteller mentions, the people in Salem were eagerly accusing the young woman without even trying to understand what happened indeed. With their striving for what they call “justice”, the people of Salem forget about humanity and sympathy: “Man had marked this woman’s sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself” (108).
The book shows clearly that the treatment of adultery was more than intolerance – it bordered hatred and despise. With the pathetic morals and even more pathetic attempts to seem virtuous, these people accused the victim, knowing no mercy. As Lawson claims, “I have also suggested that a woman, not being a public persona, has not had a reputation either to protect or display in the same way.
Yet her reputation was never completely unimportant” (302). As the plot of the story unwinds in front of the reader, it becomes more and more evident that the most ardent adepts of virtue turn out to be the most sinful people. However, it cannot be denied that the rejection, which she was constantly getting, did have an effect on her vision of the world – it became blurred and almost grey, like a sky on a rainy day.
Hester’s refusal to search for compassion and her unwillingness to feel the joy of life once again is what the stings of the spiteful tongues led her to:
Women desire a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle. To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode of expressing, and therefore soothing, the passion of her life. Like all other joys, she rejected it as sin. (Hawthorne 102)
Because of the strain which Hester cannot help feeling, she becomes more and more desperate. As she continues her life journey, she feels that it grows increasingly unbearable. However, it must be admitted that the woman is carrying her burden with outstanding decency and pride. No matter what the crowd might say, she is going to take it for the sake of her daughter and her own life.
Compared to her, the nameless woman in Kingston’s story creates an impression of an intimidated and despised. In spite of the fact that this woman lives in quite different era with the ideas of women emancipation spreading all over the world, she is still oppressed and intimidated, in contrast to Hawthorn’s heroine, so willful and determined.
There must be certain reason for such changes, which is, perhaps, the growing strain within, resulting in the need to stone the sinful woman and enjoy watching her suffer.
Kingston depicts her character as the one that has given up for the mercy of the crowd and is unwilling to fight. Both characters have to take terrible rumors about their life and their adultery, yet Hester takes them with an evident scorn, whereas No Name Woman leaves them unnoticed because of her despair.
She is a shame, a “disgrace” for the family from this time on, and people have the right to neglect her, No Name Woman thinks.
In addition, people’s violence turns out to be even more striking in her case. Brutal and cruel, people tried to make her fear – and they succeeded; they were hunting her like an animal and making her realize her own uselessness:
At first they threw mud and rocks at the house. Then they threw eggs and began slaughtering our stock. We could hear the animals scream their deaths-the roosters, the pigs, a last great roar from the ox. Familiar wild heads flared in our night windows; the villagers encircled us. Some of the faces stopped to peer at us, their eyes rushing like searchlights. The hands flattened against the panes, framed heads, and left red prints (Kingston 2)
Thus, it must be admitted that the attitude towards the women who have committed adultery did not change for better since the times that Hawthorne described; moreover, the negative attitude towards women committing adultery increased.
What strikes most about the situation depicted by Kingston is that people are ready to convince a woman of a sin without even trying to find out what made her step on the slippery slope of adultery and deception. The atmosphere of constant rumors enhances the tension, and the poor woman feels even more miserable when realizing that people have already created their version of her life and her sins.
It is clear that the pressure which the neighborhood puts on the nameless aunt, haunting her with their constant scorns, is much more than a man can take.
It is completely clear that even the little girl in the story considers the secret which her mother trusted her in a dirty and shameful thing; the girl cannot perceive the idea that her aunt is no worse than any average villager in their homeland. Even after the death of the woman, the entire family cannot accept the fact that No Name Woman ever existed – until the girl makes them do so:
Not only does No Name Aunt’s family not acknowledge her death, they decide not to acknowledge her life. […] Kingston is unable to do this, though, until the authoritative discourse of her mother, bringing it with the words of her father, the village, and the Chinese culture gives way to the internally persuasive. (Chua 12)
This is another example of how cruel the society can be and what pains it might take to prove someone not guilty to a bunch of the blind, deaf and dumb. Making it clear that the false moral is still reigning in the world, Kingston continues the topic raised by Hawthorne to come to a sad conclusion.
In spite of the evolution and the spiritual progress, people still possess the speck of the ancient times when stoning for a sin was considered an act of righteousness. Inherited from the ancestors, this is the very thing that deprives people of sympathy.
Considering the above-mentioned pieces, one can assume that people’s attitude towards the women committing adultery changed for the worse since Hawthorn created his touching and shocking story. Priding themselves on their virtues which actually prove just as false as their morals, people continue stoning the sinful ones, forgetting about their own sins.
It seems that the time has come to recall the famous “If any of you is without a sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Tracing the attitude towards adultery in the two stories, one will obviously notice the fact that together with the scorn and despise, people started resorting to physical abuse, which is the case for the No Name Woman.
Such lame attempts to prove their superiority break the life of the poor woman completely and leave her breathless outside the boundaries of society. “The villagers are watchful” (3) Kingston claims, and this is the hard truth the poor woman has to live with. The villagers are watchful. Keep your eyes open, and be as brave as Hester, otherwise even death will not bring you peace.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Lindenhurst, NY: Triebca Books, 2011. Print.
Chua, Soon-Leng, and Margaret Poh Choo Chua. The Woman Warrior: China Men. New York, NY: Everyman’s Library, 2005. Print. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, 1998. Print.
Kingston, Maxim Hong. “No Name Woman”. The Woman Warrior: China Men. New York, NY: Everyman’s Library, 2005. Print. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2005, 1- 17. Print.
Lawson, Annette. Adultery: An Analysis of Love and Betrayal. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1988. Print.
Literature Aspects in “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay
The tales in the Scarlet Letter possess several mystery elements. For instance, Hester’s lover is not directly mentioned. Mystery is also experienced in the way Hester, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth undergo punishment. In addition, full information about the Puritan’s colonial attitudes is not given. This leaves the reader thinking.
The physical setting of the novel represents the Puritan’s beliefs and lack of development. First, we get to know that the prison and the town scaffold are the most important buildings in town as they are frequently used by the Puritans for religious purposes. Second, the Bay Colony of Massachusetts is likened to an island in the midst of wilderness, indicating that the place is undeveloped
First, the market place is described. Second, Hester encounters her husband. Third, Reverend Dimmesdale keeps his secret. Fourth, Hester and the Reverend plans to run away. Fifth, the Reverend gives his Election Day summon.
Sixth, the Reverend confesses his sin to the public before he collapses and dies. Finally, Hester finds her way back to Boston. Basically, the novel starts with the initial situation followed by conflict, climax, suspense and conclusion.
She is a very powerful woman who is imprisoned for committing adultery. She is ashamed publicly for her adultery act and she is forced to wear a scarlet with the letter ‘A’. While in jail, she embroiders the scarlet letter so as to translate her punishment into a meaningful experience.
She is the daughter of Hester, who is born out of adultery. She represents all that Hester gave up when she committed adultery.
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale
He is a likeable minister of the word. He commits adultery with Hester.
He is a brilliant scholar and husband to Hester. He is also vengeful as he decides to take revenge on the Reverend
Governor Richard Bellingham
He had served as a governor of the Bay colony of Massachusetts for many years.
Reverend John Wilson
He judges Hester for her adultery act at the beginning of the novel.
She is a sister to Governor Richard Bellingham and a witch.
The themes discussed in this book include: alienation, revenge, women and femininity, compassion and forgiveness, hypocrisy, guilt and blame, justice and judgment, isolation, the supernatural, fate and free will, and man and the natural world.
Point of View
The narrator pretends to be unbiased, though it is clear that he does not agree with the Puritans as he frequently criticizes the Puritan society.
The writer has used diverse vocabulary in writing the novel. For instance, words like ‘ignominy’ and ‘cogitating’ have been used. The writer also uses long sentences separated by commas in writing the novel. Shmoop University describes the novel’s writing style as ornate, formal, thorny, biblical, shadowy and comma-loving (1).
The persona in the novel is a third person omniscient narrator.
Images, Metaphors, Schemes
Images, metaphors and schemes that have been used in this novel include: the prison door, Pearl, the scarlet letter, the red mark on Dimmesdale’s chest, the Meteor, the black man, the forest and the wilderness.
National Mythologies or Ideologies
The Puritans were centered on the idea of purity and believed that God was omnipotent and that salvation was predestined (Hawthorne 2). They related worldly success to salvation. Sins were heavily punished in the Puritan society.
Cultural Context and what transfers to today
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s is of great historical significance as it contains many insights that are relevant to contemporary readers. For instance, young people who are deviant and stubborn can relate to the themes of alienation and breaking rules.
In this view, the novel can be explained as a story of a woman who was heavily punished for letting the heart to rule her. Hester’s experiences can stimulate sympathy, Dimmesdale’s hypocrisy can provoke disgust, and Chillingworth’s revenge can arouse anger among readers.
Among the practices in the novel that are experienced in our current society are rules and punishments. However, the extent to which some crimes like adultery should be punished still remains a controversial issue. Technology has also advanced over the years.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Plain Label Books, 1850.
Shmoop University. “Learning Guides to The Scarlet Letter.”(30 Sep. 2008) Web.
Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” Essay
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale is a main character. In the novel, Dimmesdale comes out as a hypocrite. He is depicted as a kind man, full of wisdom and eloquent speaker. He is a respected clergyman. But he is involved in sin of adultery and he keeps it a secret for seven years.
As a result guilt consumes him for seven years until he goes through a transformation. This paper explores the effects of hiding his sin and his transformation.
First effect is that, hiding his sin erodes his conscience. He is a preacher of the word of God and encourages the congregation to confess their sins openly. On the contrary, he chooses to conceal his sin which makes his conscience questionable. Keeping his sin a secret punishes him inwardly.
He knows the shame that he may face but he prefers to punish himself by remaining silent about his sin. He remains in a state of self condemnation hence eroding his conscience. Dimmesdale feels like a coward because he lacks the courage to admit his wrongs.
As a result he chooses to conceal his sin which exposes him to an inward pain. Concealing of his sin also costs him his soul’s peace; he remains disturbed for seven years.
Secondly, concealing of his sin affects his physical and mental well- being. He knows revelation of truth about him would make people in the town look down upon him. These thoughts torment him and as a result he goes through a period of depression. His concealed sin leaves him without peace.
The thought of shame that may befall him results to mental distress. The burden of his sin wears him out mentally and physically thus resulting to depleted health and which makes him so weak that he even thinks of his death.
Since the sin was committed Hester and Dimmesdale had no chance to be alone. At some point, the burden of fear of shame overpowered Dimmesdale “-how his dark complexion seemed to have grown duskier, and his figure more misshapen- since the days when she had familiarly known him” (102)
He decided to run away with Hester and their baby; Pearl. Unfortunately the ship was not leaving for the next four days. At some point Hester discloses to Dimmesdale that her husband knows the two sins that had been tormenting him. Hester and Dimmesdale talk and he seems to be happy and relaxed.
“Do I feel joy again?” Dimmesdale wonders at himself. “Me thought the germ of it was dead in me! -I seem to have flung myself- sick, sin stained and sorrow blackened- down upon these forest leaves, and to have risen up all made anew, and with new powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful! -This is already the better life! Why did we not find it sooner?”(198) Dimmesdale is delighted.
Dimmesdale decides to confess his sin to the rest of the congregation once they return from the forest. He wonders at himself. “That self was gone! Another man had returned out of the forest; a wiser one-” (200) Dimmesdale finds it wise and peaceful to confess his sin.
After giving his sermon, Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold and he tells the congregation of his sin. He also reveals the mark he bears at his breast. “He tells you, that, with all mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast-. He tore away ministerial band before his chest.
It was revealed! -the gaze of horror stricken multitude was concentrated on the ghastly miracle; while the minister stood with a flush of triumph on his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory.”(228) After the confession Dimmesdale was happy and died. “Farewell!” that final word came forth with the minister’s expiring breath.”(252) He finally set his soul free from the guilt of seven years.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel Inc, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The Scarlet Letter: 1850. New York: Informotions incorporated, 2001. Print.
The Scarlet Letter Essay
The Scarlet Letter is a romantic fiction story authored by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850. The story is set in Puritan Boston during the 17th century from 1642 to 1649. The play tells of a woman Hester Prynne whom passion draws to a young pastor causing her to have an adulterous affair with him where she conceives a daughter named Pearl.
Hester is humiliated in public for her actions and forced to put on a scarlet letter as a symbol of her sin and evil deeds. Hawthorne explores many themes in the story including guilt, sin, evil and legalism. Symbolism is also present in the story with a strong example being Pearl.
The following is an analysis of the character Pearl in the story The Scarlet Letter where more focus is put on her character (traits, personality and qualities) and what she represents/ symbolizes in the story. It also analyzes the nature of her relationship with her mother Hester.
Pearl first appears in the first scaffold scene as an infant and reappears again at the age of three and later on at the age of seven. She is described as a beautiful flower that is growing out of soil full of sin (Hawthorne 89).
She was named Pearl because her mother purchased her with the only treasure she had when she feared that her husband must have been killed by the Indians. However, Pearl inherited her mother’s moodiness, defiance and passion. Her very being does not like the Puritan society strict rules which make her defiance of the rules. She is very mischievous and this makes Hester worried about her.
Pearl’s personality in the play is described as determined, imaginative, intelligent, obstinate and inquisitive. Pearl has mysterious mixture of moods; she can show signs of happiness in a minute and then suddenly change to being gloomy and silent. Pearl has high and fierce temper and she possess so much bitterness and hatred inside her at a tender age.
She has unusual behaviors and that is why she is often referred to as elf-child, imp, and airy sprite, in the play (Hawthorne 110). Governor Bellingham compares Pearl to “children of the Lord of Misrule,” while some of the Puritans views Pearls as “demon offspring” because of her weird behaviors which greatly worries her mother (Hawthorne 109).
Hawthorne describes Pearl as an “imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants (Hawthorne 94).” Pearl is however aware that she is different from other people and that is why when Hester tries to teach her the ways of God she says “I have no Heavenly Father (Hawthorne 95)!”
Pearl seems to be stubborn and arrogant at a tender age. When Pearl was three years old, she pelted the scarlet letter using wildflowers and in frustration her mother Hester asked her, “Child, what art thou (Hawthorne 178)?”
But in return Pearl insisted she wanted to know the origin of the letter. This clearly shows the kind of relationship that Pearl had with her mother. Pearl actually tormented her mother with her evil actions but despite it all Hester still loved her daughter.
Pearl is not a realistic character in the story The Scarlet Letter because she is a complicated symbol of passion and love actually an adulterous act. She is a symbol of Hester’s greatest sin and shame and at the same time she symbolizes her mother’s treasure.
This means that Pearl is her Hester’s punishment and at the same time act as her consolation. Pearl is a symbol that keeps Hester aware of her evils and sins. She also makes her mother aware that she cannot escape from her evil deeds what the Puritans terms as sinful nature (Hawthorne 82).
In conclusion, the story The Scarlet Letter clearly explores the themes of evil, sin, frustration, guilt and passion. Hawthorne has used symbolism in different ways to clearly bring out the dramatic and romantic part of the play. Pearl and the scarlet letter are good examples of symbolism used in the book while Hester’s actions, life and the hard time she faced in Puritan community shows the evil, legalism and frustrations in the play.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Norton: Public Domain Books, 1992. Print.
“The Scarlet Letter” and “The Young Goodman” by Hawthorne Compare and Contrast Essay
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote two stories by the title, “The Scarlet Letter” and “Young Goodman” in which he displays his authorial voice by mirroring the societies from their dark ends as shown by the puritan cultures. In “The Scarter Letter,” Hawthorne employs psychological fiction to display the innate evilness of human beings (Johnson 75).
On the other hand, “The Young Goodman” is a story that revolves around wickedness that exists in the society and the role of characters in discovering these truths.
Although the two stories vary in setting, the author uses similar thematic representations in portraying his concerns about the nature of the society during this moment (Johnson 75). In this paper, my analysis seeks to explore the similarities and differences between the two stories. Further, the analysis shall exhibit how the author succeeds in asserting his themes.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” primarily consists of characteristic imagery, which tends to represent the underlying nature of the characters as well as events relevant to the thematic concerns of the text (Stubbs 1440). In this authorial piece, the concepts of light and darkness serve as a constant source that carries greater influences to the plot of the text in its entirety.
These literary devices employed by the author succeed in underpinning the general imperative of creating images and color inherent in the Scarlet letter (Johnson 75).
The idealistic choice of light in this piece of literature highlights the characteristic intentions and thought structure of the characters together with their intrinsic qualities as depicted by the author. The application of imagery and symbolism in this piece of work begins with symbolization of the Old general depicts the reawakening of the characters upon being motivated by the actions of the other person.
The narrator in the Custom House asserts through recall the significant image created in his mind by saying that those he worked with regarded him “in no other light” other than smart and sensible staff. On the other hand, darkness as a descriptive device qualifies in demonstrating the characters as evil (Stubbs 1440).
However, a change in the characteristic behavior of Hawthorne’s characters accompanies the change from darkness toward the light, which enhances the understanding of the nature and degree of transformation taking place from within the confines of the society. The red color as cited repeatedly in the text with its application in the letter depicts the society’s condemnation of the evilness of Hester (“The Scarlet Letter” 59).
In Goodman, the story takes us through a rather mysterious path full of wickedness in the puritanical society. In this story, the author clearly defines the thin line between goodness and evil, hence giving an impression of creativity (“Goodman” 36). In “The Scarter letter,” the author paints the presence of sin not in the literary forests, but rather in the symbolic image portrayed by Hester (Stubbs 1440).
The other similarity that embodies both stories lies in the plot setting where woods appear in both. It is through the journey within and through these woods that the value and behavior of the characters come to change. The innate isolation feature of the protagonists in both stories depicts the author’s ability to demonstrate how the two separate worlds discriminate its people by condemning them to the lasting pains (“The Scarlet Letter” 59).
Goodman spends his life secluded from the rest and similarly Hester carries a symbol for that represents her suffering and humiliation so proudly as though it was a medal. These ironical representations displayed by Hester in carrying herself around with the symbol as an act to demonstrate to the society clearly affords a vivid comparative analysis of various sides of the society such as evil and good.
In this analysis, the critical study indicates that although the two stories differ in numerous ways, they all work to demonstrate how both characters remain on an emotional trail toward discovering their identity in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
For instance, although Goodman finally discovered the inherent wickedness beholden by a man, he achieved in returning with him the knowledge and acceptance of the existence of sin (Stremberg 274). In all the works, the authors have managed to paint their characters in ways that portray their actions and the resultant effects that arise thereof.
Hawthorne’s depiction of women as the victims of masculinity in the society vividly gain evidence in the case of Hester as she swallows the charges for the sin she never committed. In leveraging the male characters from their real contribution of the evil in the society merits a connotation of darkness existing within the confines of the society at the expense of the less privileged in the society (Stremberg 274).
The author demolishes the worth of females in the heavily puritanical society through Hester as the female protagonists carrying the connotations of invaluable people with no place to occupy in the society.
Although the two pieces have followed completely different paths in their quest to achieve the authorial themes, they all compare well in terms of the ability of the authors to display the ultimate discovery of the nature and place of different people in the society, and their role in shaping the minds and perception.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print. —.Young Goodman Brown and Other Short Stories. New York: Courier Dover Publications, 1992. Print.
Johnson, Claudia. (1995). Understanding the Scarlet letter: a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. Print.
Stremberg, Maria. “Hawthorne’s Black Man: Image of Social Evil”. The Explicator 67.4 (2009): 274-275.
Stubbs, John C. “Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’: The Theory of the Romance and the Use of the New England Situation.” PMLA 83.5 (1968): 1439–1447.
Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter: Resilience and Redemption Essay
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a 19th-century American writer who remains renowned for his input in the classical literature. Some researchers even phrase him as “one of the most significant and influential writers” of his age (Lei, 2015, p. 2164). Among the legacy of Hawthorne, it is worth mentioning The scarlet letter, a work which became vital for the writer’s fame. The plot of the novel immerses the readers into the 17th century to demonstrate the environment of the Puritan era in America. The events revolve around the punishment of a young woman, Hester Prynne, who is accused of adultery. Through the main characters, Hester, her husband “Chillingworth” and her lover Dimmesdale, the author used symbolism to unveil his message about adamant will and redemption. Moreover, thanks to the historical fiction genre, Hawthorne managed to elaborate on notable aspects of social history.
Plot Summary: Love, Hate, and Guilt
Throughout the plot, the reader finds out about a fictive public scandal in 17th-century Boston. The public attention is caught by the young woman, Hester Prynne, who gave birth to an illegitimate child and is accused of adultery. As a result, Hester must regularly stand on the village’s scaffold and wear the scarlet “A” letter on her clothes. Moreover, she resides in prison, shunned by all the villagers. Despite the humiliation, Hester refuses to name her lover, the father of the child.
During one of the trials, it turns out that Hester’s husband, presumably missed, has returned to the village. Enraged by the wife’s betrayal, the husband vows to avenge his pride by destroying Hester’s love for good. The husband takes up a different persona of a doctor, Roger Chillingworth. With this play, he aims to gain the village’s trust and deduce the identity of his adversary.
Chillingworth gets closer to the head of Boston’s church, a young priest Reverend Dimmesdale, who experiences health issues. At the same time, Hester is released from the detention and lives isolated on the outskirts of the village. Her sewing skills only help her in earning money for living alone. However, she successfully defends her newborn daughter, Pearl, from the attempts to take the child away. Furthermore, she remains adamant in refusing to divulge the identity of Pearl’s father.
Gradually, Chillingworth starts to suspect that Dimmesdale could indeed be Hester’s lover. After all, Dimmesdale’s condition appears to be connected to some unresolved mental torment. Chillingworth discusses the matter with the priest several times, trying to make him confess the presumed sins. Eventually, Chillingworth confirms his suspicions when he notices the same “A” letter on Dimmesdale’s body, that his wife wears. However, he is unable to act with hostility due to the earlier promise to Hester.
In the end, Dimmesdale and Hester meet in the forest and confirm their love, while Dimmesdale contemplates about the public confession. Despite several failed attempts, he brings himself to the public reveal as Hester’s lover and Pearl’s father. This act frees Dimmesdale from spiritual suffering and allows him to die peacefully. Chillingworth, who was unable to stop the confession, dies on the next year while leaving the fortune to Pearl. Afterward, mother and daughter leave for England, only to return before Hester’s death. She wears the “A” letter to the very end, and after the demise, she is buried alongside Dimmesdale.
The Main Characters: A Triangle of Struggle
The plot and the central themes undoubtedly revolve around three leading characters: Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. Among them, Hester should be considered the main protagonist of the whole story. She is described as a young woman who was unhappily married to an elderly husband. Thus, she could not abstain from searching for a true love, which she found in Dimmesdale. Her name is partially symbolic – according to Lei (2015), the name is derived from the Greek goddess of household Hestia, while the “Prynne” surname alludes to her adultery. However, her nature is characterized by her powerful will and refusal to give up in despair. As Elbert (2014) states, Hester is an epitome of a motherly figure who genuinely cares about her love and child. Hence, Hester managed to endure all the hardships while proudly wearing the scarlet letter.
At the same time, Dimmesdale presents a person who is shameful of his wrongdoings but painfully struggles in the attempt to confess. He is a highly revered head of the town’s church. Furthermore, according to the book, he is so “passionate about God and religion,” that the followers always cling to him (Hawthorne, 2004, p. 64). However, the sin realization slowly kills Dimmesdale since he does not live up to the declared ideals. Eventually, Dimmesdale manages to cope with the shame and release his doubts by voicing the truth to everyone. While he dies soon after, he feels relieved because he finally did the right thing.
Chillingworth represents the dark side of the characters’ past. Most researchers agree on the opinion that he acts as the novel’s villain (İsaoğlu, 2015). He sought a happy family live by marriage with Hester but feels betrayed by her sin. Thus, he is ready to use deceit so he could achieve his form of justice. On this premise, Chillingworth pressures both Hester and Dimmesdale in pursuit of his goal. However, his efforts prove to be futile because of Hester’s resolve and Dimmesdale’s newfound courage to confess. At least, Chillingworth manages to change his ways at the end of life by leaving the fortune to Pearl.
The Themes of Resolve and Confession
Among the important topics explored in the novel, one should name the unconditional and steadfast love, as well as the struggle to redeem one’s sins as the most central themes. Hester’s unwavering personality demonstrates the first aspect from the beginning to the end. Even when her life was crumbling, she abandoned nether her love for Dimmesdale, nor hope for a better future she eventually attained. Secondly, the suffering of Dimmesdale showcases how destructive one’s unconfessed sin can become. According to Lei (2015), the character serves as a parallel to the Original Sin of Adam and Eve. Nonetheless, the author shows the hardships of redemption, which still can lead to salvation.
The Society Reflection
While the mentioned themes dominate throughout the novel, one can see one more aspect highlighted by the author. In the description of the 17th century, Hawthorne presents the flaws of society, which remain actual to the present days. Particularly, Hawthorne accentuates the ostracizing of Hester to demonstrate the inability of the community to understand her conditions. Hence, one can apply a famous saying that people fear what they do not understand. Such a failure leads to the isolation of society members who are not evil and just lost their way.
In his historical fiction, The scarlet letter, Hawthorne succeeded in exposing notable moral themes. The plot is centered around the adultery of the main heroine Hester and a local priest Dimmesdale. The capacity of the former to withstand social pressure and the final resolve of the latter to reveal the sin emphasize the topics of spiritual resilience and the redemption of the mistakes. Also, Hawthorne touched the issues of society’s everlasting shortcomings, like the misunderstanding and isolation of those who break the public rules.
Elbert, M. (2014) ‘The woman’s law in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter’, in Bendixen, A. (ed.) A companion to the American novel. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Son, pp. 373-393.
Hawthorne, N. (2004) The scarlet letter. Smyrna, DE: Prestwick House Inc.
İsaoğlu, H. (2015) ‘A Freudian psychoanalytic analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter’, The Journal of Academic Social Science Studies, 3(32), pp. 499-511.
Lei, N. (2015) ‘A brief study on the symbolic meaning of the main characters’ name in The Scarlet Letter’, Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 5(10), pp. 2164-2168.
“The Scarlet Letter” a Book by Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter depicts the narrow moral restrictions placed on sexuality in Puritanical America. Adulteress Hester Prynne suffers prison and public scorn, and must raise the child of her affair with the minister Arthur Dimmesdale alone and unacknowledged. Critics have speculated that the narrator of The Scarlet Letter is Hawthorne himself, the “artist and author that…comes before the public to condemn the sins of his generation and project his own future fulfillment”1. Many critics understand this novel to depict Hawthorne’s personal struggles against the establishment and the stifling social mores of his day.
The Scarlet Letter has been called “Hawthorne’s struggle to justify romantic art in a culture dominated by pragmatic concerns” and critics point to “correspondences between the writer of the text and his artistic rebel, Hester Prynne, both…can be seen as subversive artists who must enter “the market-place” with a scarlet letter, signifier of pride and shame, achievement and alienation”.2
Critics describe adultery, the subject matter of the novel, as a metaphor for Hawthorne’s artistic position in the community; the character of Hester Prynne the adulteress is often viewed as “a nexus for complex issues of vocation and gender Hawthorne had to confront at the moment of composing his novel and sketch”.3. In the same manner that Hester Prynne stands defiant against a community that judges her expression of love as sinful and her child as possessed by sin, art in Hawthorne’s day stood firm in its endorsement of the value of romantic love, and was viewed as equally dangerous.
This essay asserts that the role of the narrator in The Scarlet Letter functions more as social critic of the Puritanical values that founded the United States; the narrator of The Scarlet Letter represents Hawthorne’s belief that the principles of Puritanism, devoted wholeheartedly as they were to the eradication of sin, the physical instrument of the Devil, remained counter to the spirit of life that invariably reveals itself through sexuality, romantic love, and the natural world.
Analysed as a thematic treatment of sin, critics have categorized The Scarlet Letter as the battle of the human spirit to balance romantic love and community-mindedness. “Sin and Sorrow in their most fearful forms are to be presented in any work of art, they have rarely been treated with a loftier severity, purity, and sympathy than in Mr. Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The touch of the fantastic befitting a period of society in which ignorant and excitable human creatures conceived each other and themselves to be under the direct “rule and governance” of the Wicked One4.
Puritan Boston may aspire to lock down their life force for the perceived betterment of society; however the spirit of life will not be caged by the societal impositions of monogamous marriage, prison, or social ostracization. It is definitely Hawthorne’s voice; however he imbues the narrator with a caustic, critical perspective on most if not all descriptions of the community that imprisons Hester Prynne. Thus the narrator of The Scarlet Letter promotes the idea that romantic love remains a necessary expression of life, as opposed to an expression of Satanic evil, and that sin itself has been misconstrued and misinterpreted by the Puritan community.
In its obsession with vice, the Puritan moral majority mistakenly assume that they can control sin through public censure and ridicule such as that that befalls Hester Prynne. Yet the raw passion that forms the basis of life can never be controlled. In Hawthorne’s view, which he argues through the narrator, when the Bostonians reject Hester Prynne, the narrator argues, they reject life. Evidence for this reading exists in the difference between the type of description that the narrator applies to the Puritan community and that which he affords the natural world and Hester Prynne.
The narrator of The Scarlet Letter begins almost immediately to apply a different tone of description to the Boston community that punishes Hester Prynne and contrast it with descriptions of nature as well as Prynne herself. Note the tone of the description of the congregation outside the prison anticipating the release of Hester Prynne as “a throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments”5.
Similarly, Hawthorne’s narrator describes “the founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison”6. Immediately, we recognise the narrator’s judgement of Puritanical Boston as a failed Utopia; in other words, if Boston were indeed a Puritan Utopia, why then the need for “the black flower of civilised society, a prison”?7 We see Hawthorne’s voice coming through the narrator in this example to point to the hypocrisy and paradox of the Puritan moral stance.
Witness a similar judgement implied in the narrator’s description of the beadle, “like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and gristly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand. This personage prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law, which it was his business to administer in its final and closest application to the offender”8. Hawthorne’s narrator consistently applies stifling descriptors to echo the stifling oppression of the Boston Puritan community.
Contrasting these heavy dark oppressive descriptors in the first instance, in the second instance we see the narrator’s application of a wholly distinct form of description when discusses the natural world. Showcasing the rose bush that grows at the entrance to the prison, the narrator imbues it with a warmth and compassion that sharply contrasts the cold scorn imposed by the Boston Puritan community. The narrator’s describes the “wild rose-hush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him”9.
The implied compassion of the natural world to Hester Prynne’s indiscretion remains another important function of the narrator. The narrator consistently describes the natural world as an empathetic friend to Hester Prynne, and also consistently offers support for the affair between her and Dimmesdale, not to mention their daughter Pearl, through the generous and lush descriptors the narrators applies to these characters.
A close reading of the narration of The Scarlet Letter divulges Hawthorne’s thematic interplay between the Boston Puritans and the natural world, and the narrator definitively sides with both Hester and Pearl as embodiments of the passionate expression of life. We see this in the description of one of Pearl’s forays into the forest when the narrator describes the sunlight as “linger[ing] about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate”10. Hester Prynne, who suffers the same social ostracization as her mother, finds similar “approval in a natural environment,”11 when she throws the letter onto the ground.
The narrator describes Hester Prynne’s life affirming action as consecrated by heaven itself. “All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees. The objects that had made a shadow hitherto, embodied the brightness now. The course of the little brook might be traced by its merry gleam afar into the wood’s heart of mystery, which had become a mystery of joy”12.
Similarly, in this same chapter, consciously labelled “A Flood of Sunshine,” the union between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale receives a warm endorsement from the natural world via the narrator’s description: “Such was the sympathy of Nature – that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth – with the bliss of these two spirits! Love, whether newly-born, or aroused from a death-like slumber, must always create a sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world”13
The natural world, as implied by the narrator’s description, understands why Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale neither characterize their relationship as adultery, not as a sin, and why the fact that they risk eternal hellfire, according to the Boston Puritan community, is not enough for them to repent – because romantic love is an expression of life. The lovers do not express contrition, remorse, or confess their transgression in this scene, and the narrator’s radiant description supports a reading that forgiveness need not be asked for or acquired in this case.
When Dimmesdale agrees to Hester’s plan to escape Boston and begin again in Europe as a family, Hester renounces the scarlet letter and also allows her hair to cascade freely down her back, an expression of freedom and sexuality. Hester cries, “The past is gone! Wherefore should we linger upon it now? See! With this symbol, I undo it all, and make it as it had never been!”14 Nature itself endeavours to support these lovers as they flout “the sin [they] have committed and intend to commit again. The narrator – we may call this figure Hawthorne – seems to insist that love and nature are insuperable values, [and] that morality has nothing to say to them”15
When the narrator describes Hester Prynne singly, we also witness the same warmth, generosity and benevolence applied to Hester Prynne as he gave the descriptions of the natural world. “Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out”16. In the same instance, when Hester Prynne emerges from the prison, the narrator makes a note of her “the attitude of her spirit, the desperate recklessness of her mood, by its wild and picturesque peculiarity”17.
Again, the narrator consistently attaches vivid, vibrant descriptive language to parallel the life affirming soul that is Hester Prynne. Hester Prynne and her daughter Pearl – through the narrator’s description, as well as their repeated proximity to the natural world in the novel – ostensibly become the personifications of the spirit of life: indomitable, unapologetic, and self actualized, needing no approval or backing from the Puritan Boston community.
By placing these two communities together yet describing them so differently, the narrator – and Hawthorne, by extension – successfully portrays the Puritan Boston community as antithetical to life, and Hester Prynne and Pearl as emblematic of life. Hester Prynne thus becomes the “moving principle of life which different societies in different ways may constrain but which in itself irresistibly endures. Her story is an allegory of the passion through which the race continues. She feels the ignominy which attends her own irregular behaviour and accepts her fate as the reward of evil, but she does not understand it so far as to wish uncommitted the act which her society calls a sin”18.
In conclusion, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter the narrator operates as a means to further Hawthorne’s criticism of the Puritanical values that underlay the Boston community represented in the novel. The narrator of The Scarlet Letter represents Hawthorne’s belief that the principles of Puritanism, focused solely on the eradication of sin, cut themselves and their community off from the spirit of life by condemning romantic love and all expressions of passion as instruments of sin. Hawthorne’s narrator argues rather that life invariably expresses itself through sexuality, romantic love, and the beauty of the natural world.
Egan, K Jr., ‘The adulteress in the market-place: Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter’, Studies in the Novel vol. 27, no.1, 1995, pp. 26-31.
Donoghue, D, ‘Hawthorne and Sin’, Christianity and Literature vol.52, no.2, 2003, 215-228.
Hawthorne N, ‘The scarlet letter’, Hamilton and Company, London, 1851, p. 59.
The Athenaeum ‘A review of ‘The Scarlet Letter: A Romance’, vol. 1181, 1850, pp. 634.
Van Doren, C, ‘The Flower of Puritanism’, The Nation, vol. 111, no. 2892, 1920, pp. 649-650.
- K Egan Jr., ‘The adulteress in the market-place: Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter’, Studies in the Novel vol. 27, no.1, 1995, pp. 26-31, 2011.
- Egan, p. 26.
- Egan, p. 27.
- The Athenaeum ‘A review of ‘The Scarlet Letter: A Romance’, vol. 1181, 1850, pp. 634, 2011.
- N Hawthorne, ‘The scarlet letter’, Hamilton and Company, London, 1851, p. 59.
- Hawthorne, p. 59.
- Hawthorne, p. 60
- Hawthorne, p.64-65.
- Hawthorne, p. 60.
- Hawthorne, p. 225.
- J Daniel, ‘Apples of the Thoughts and Fancies: Nature as Narrator in The Scarlet Letter’, ATQ: Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture vol. 4, 1993, pp.307-318, 2011.
- Hawthorne, p. 249.
- Hawthorne, p. 250.
- Hawthorne, p. 248.
- D Donoghue, ‘Hawthorne and Sin’, Christianity and Literature vol.52, no.2, 2003, 215-228, 2011.
- Hawthorne, p. 66.
- Hawthorne, p. 66.
- C Van Doren, ‘The Flower of Puritanism’, The Nation, vol. 111, no. 2892, 1920, pp. 649-650, 2011.