Relevant Themes of The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1904 in Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne is one of the great American authors of the 19th Century. He was a romantic and had a dark view of nature. Because of his Puritan background and religion, his writing resonated with his beliefs. Hawthorne is one of the most studied writers because of his use of allegory and symbolism. He is best known for his novel The Scarlet Letter. The Scarlet Letter was Hawthornes first greatest success.
Hawthorne starts this novel with how the story came to be written. The Narrator, whom the reader does not know, finds an embroidered red A and many documents. These documents were about 200 years old. The narrator decided to write the story of Hester with the documents that were found.
The Scarlet Letter is about a woman named Hester Prynne. Hester is shunned by her village after they find out that she had an affair with the village priest, Arthur Dimmesdale. Also, she had a baby by him, but Hester keeps him a secret and reveals him at the end of the book. Because of this affair, Hester is forced to live in the woods on the outskirts of the village. She is also forced to wear a scarlet A on her chest that stands for adulteress as her punishment of her sin and for keeping the father of her child a secret. Hester discovers her husband but goes by a different identity named Dr. Roger Chillingworth. Chillingworth wants to know who Hester had an affair with. During a point in the novel, it is revealed that the village community wants to take Hesters daughter Pearl away from as they she is unfit to raise a child. But Dimmesdale helped Hester in being able to keep her daughter. Due to psychological suffering, Dimmesdale develops heart trouble. Chillingworth moves in with Dimmesdale to care for him. Chillingworth then becomes suspicious of Dimmesdale and Hesters relationship. Chillingworth discovers a mark on Dimmesdales chest, but Hawthorne does not reveal what the mark is and keeps the reader engaged to find out. Eventually Chillingworth finds out the true identity of Dimmesdale and wants revenge on him. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl set out to leave for Europe to live as a happy family. But Chillingworth get in the way of their plan. Dimmesdale eventually reveals that he is the father of Pearl and exposes the scarlet letter blistered to his bare chest and dies. At the end of the book Hester and Pearl leave Boson. Hester returns back to Boston and she is still wearing the scarlet A. For Pearl, she is living her own life and has her own family. When Hester dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale and they share a tombstone that has a scarlet A. Nathaniel Hawthorne reveals many themes throughout The Scarlet Letter. Even though this novel was written in 1850 does not mean that someone can relate to the themes. Many of the themes that Hawthorne presents in The Scarlet Letter are still relatable in todays society, such as identity, sin, and revenge.
Identity plays a huge part in The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne brings each main character to life by giving them an identity. We learn who each main character really is. Hester Prynne is the protagonist in the novel. Hesters identity is defined by her sin, her daughter, and scarlet A. Lei states, Hawthorne expresses his love and attention to Hester by giving her this special name. Hester sounds like Hestia, the beautiful virgin goddess of the hearth, architecture (Lei 2165). Names play a huge role in a persons identity. It seems today people identify you by your name. For example, someone can have a name that is in the bible. People may think you come from a religious background. In The Scarlet Letter, Hesters name comes from Greek Mythology. Hawthorne describes Hester as a young and beautiful woman. The young woman was tall, a figure perfect of elegance on a large scale a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity feature (Lei 2165). Hawthorne has an eye for detail. He explains the way Hester looks. Its like Hawthorne has an obsession for Hester because she is beautiful and young. Not only does Hesters beauty identifies her but also her independency and hard work. Since the village has pushed Hester away and secluded her from the community; Hester has to go through hell to provide for Pearl and herself all on her own. Hester is basically a single mother because she chooses not to reveal the who the father is at the beginning because people will judge her and especially Dimmesdale. In todays society, there are many single parents. Majority of single parents struggle to make ends meet. They work multiple jobs just to provide for their family. Not all single parent struggle though. In our society today, being a single parent is a norm. Back in the Puritan days, there were not many if not any single parents. This shows how Hester is strong.
Even though the village completely disowns Hester and does not welcome her, she still has a heart of gold. Hester is still willing to help those who are in need (Lei 2165). This shows how much Hester is humble and forgiving because she steps out of her way to help out people even though they turned her back on her in a moment of time. Just like many young adults today, Hester acts quickly before she thinks. From the moment the reader learns of Hester and her crime. We learn that she acts to quickly. The reader learns of Hesters husband being lost or dead for two years so Hester moves on with her life and find someone new and even has a child. This is an indication that she doesnt think on certain situations that can affect her in the long run. Acting out too quickly makes the town give her an identifier of being an adulterer and forces Hester to wear a scarlet A on her chest.
Arthur Dimmesdale is a minister of the village. Hawthorne makes Dimmesdale identity as innocent as they come. Arthur Dimmesdale is a holy clergyman with a great religious accomplishment and high social status (Lei 2166). Since the reader knows that Dimmesdale is a minister, the reader automatically thinks that Dimmesdale is a good guy, and overall nice and innocent person with a good head on his shoulders, and especially not a sinner. Toward the end of the book, the reader learns that Dimmesdale has been sinning all along throughout the whole novel. This gives Dimmesdale another layer for the readers to identify him as. Throughout the novel, Dimmesdale becomes sick for some time and it is because he is hiding the fact, he had relations with Hester and that Pearl is his daughter. Because he was covering up this big sin of his, it made him be stressed to become sick. This shows that Dimmesdale is weak and not as strong as the readers think he is at the beginning.
Roger Chillingworths identity is pure evil and almost Satan like. Lei describes Chilling worth in a perfect, but simple sentence, The words like frightening, violent, and cruel are the best description of Roger Chillingworth. Ever since the reader is introduced to Chillingworth at the beginning of the book when Hester is publicly shamed; we learn that Chillingworth is Hesters husband and that he has been absent from her life for two years; leaving Hester by herself in a place that is unknown and foreign to her. Chillingworth basically sets up Hester up for failure because he hasnt been at his wife side for two years, leaving her to be alone and he was not living up to his duties of a husband by caring for Hester and giving the love that she needed. Chillingworth hides his identity of who he really is but only reveals his true self to Hester. Once Chillingworth leans of Hesters sin, he rapidly commits to finding the man who she committed her sin with. Once he learns of Dimmesdale, he sets out for revenge and manipulates him by adding on to his psychological issues of him sinning and not being able to publicly out himself and repent for his sins.
In addition to identity to being one of the major themes in The Scarlet Letter, the theme of sin plays a huge part in this novel as well. Sin is the immoral act against divine law. Sin today is defined as going behind Gods back and doing thing you are not supposed to do such as adultery. Sins not are different compared back to in the Puritan days because today we are not punished for our sins by the actual law. In the article, The Influence of Puritanism o the Sin and Punishment in The Scarlet Letter, states Puritanism seeks to purify, or reforms the Church and establishes a middle course between Roman Catholicism and the ideas of the Protestant reformers. Being a Puritan meant that you are pure and free from sin. Adultery in Puritan American for woman was a sever crime. In some instances, they would receive a whipping and a big fine and also execution also occurred. There are three main sinners: Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. Hester and Dimmesdale share the same sin, but Hester is punished more severely than Dimmesdale for the fact the he is not brave enough to admit that he is sinned. As for Chillingworth, he sins by seeking out for revenge. He tells lies and does not reveal who he truly is as a person which he shares the sine of lying with Hester and Dimmesdale because Hester and Dimmesdale lie about their affair.
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