Irony in the Scarlet Letter
“Irony regards every simple truth as a challenge. ” When reading a story, the events that have already presented themselves, lead a person to perceive what is going to happen, but when that person encounter an unexpected event, as commonly experienced through irony, it changes what the person perceives is going to happen. The Scarlet Letter exemplifies this use of irony to challenge truth. Hawthorne provides details about a specific character, but then creates an event which stands in contrast to these details.
Hawthorne’s uses irony, portrayed through characters’ names, the first scaffold scene, and the Puritan community, to express the truth throughout the novel. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses characters’ names to contrast to their actual characteristics. He uses the name Pearl, which means purity, as a nickname for a mischievous character. He portrays Roger Chillingworth as a doctor, while Chillingworth’s main purpose involves causing the deterioration of Arthur Dimmesdale’s health. Arthur Dimmesdale, a saint-like figure to the Puritan Community, indulges in a great sin.
Being a minister, his life elucidates hypocrisy.
He has committed one of the greatest sins that he condemns in his sermons. Hawthorne uses these evident labels to contrast to character’s true characteristics. The scaffold scenes each reveal a truth through use of irony. The first scaffold scene connotes not only a connection between Hester and Dimmesdale, but also Dimmesdale’s wishes in regard to their sin. At the beginning of the novel, while the reader’s main question involves Pearl’s father, Hawthorne asides other characters by emphasizing Dimmesdale’s questioning of Hester. This emphasis exposes Dimmesdale as the prime suspect to be Pearl’s father.
Dimmesdale speaks curiously in third-person about what Pearl’s father should do. He also stresses that Hester should tell who she had an affair with, and that her partner will accept being exposed, as if trying to convince her that he wants to be revealed but is to scared to do so on his own. This event causes irony, as the focus on Dimmesdale and Hester in this scene foreshadows their relations later in the novel. Hawthorne portrays the Puritan Community as a body that lacks the ability to recognize truth, while their ideals involve creating a “city upon a hill” that has achieved the ultimate truth.
When Roger Chillingworth arrives in Boston, the community falsely believes that he has been sent from God to cure Arthur Dimmesdale. When Chillingworth wishes to house with Dimmesdale, few question Chillingworth’s intent. Even as they see Dimmesdale’s worsening condition, few blame it on Roger Chillingworth. The community also fails to recognize Dimmesdale’s attempts to confess his sin. In his sermons, Dimmesdale states that he is “altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest” and that he should be “shriveled up before their eyes by the burning wrath of the Almighty.
The community, still believing that he has not committed any serious sin, thinks of him even the higher. The community’s inability to recognize evil characters and sin overshadows their wishes to perceive the ultimate truth. Characters’ names, the first scaffold scene, and the Puritan Community act as a means of expressing truth through Hawthorne’s use of irony. Hawthorne provides evident details on characters, allowing the reader to obtain truth through an ironic event. Hawthorne meets the quote in the beginning by the requirement that irony should regard every simple truth as a challenge.
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