The Scarlet Letter: An Exploration Of The Theme Of Sin
the Victorian era
The 17th century was the century which lasted in England from January 1, 1601 to December 31, 1700 in the Gregorian calendar. The 17th century falls into the Early Modern period of Europe and in that continent was characterized by the Dutch Golden Age, the Baroque cultural movement, the French Grand Siècle dominated by Louis XIV, the Scientific Revolution, and The General Crisis. This last is characterized in Europe most notably by the Thirty Years’ War, the Great Turkish War, the end of the Dutch Revolt, the disintegration of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the English Civil War.
In the 17th century the professions (teacher, lawyer, doctor) were closed to women. However some women had jobs. Some of them worked spinning cloth. Women were also tailoresses, milliners, dyers, shoemakers and embroiderers. There were also washerwomen. Some women worked in food preparation such as brewers, bakers or confectioners. Women also sold foodstuffs in the streets. A very common job for women was domestic servant.
Other women were midwives and apothecaries.
However most women were housewives and they were kept very busy. Most men could not run a farm or a business without their wife’s help. In those days most households in the countryside were largely self-sufficient. A housewife (assisted by her servants if she had any) had to bake her family’s bread and brew their beer (it was not safe to drink water). She was also responsible for curing bacon, salting meat and making pickles, jellies and preserves (all of which were essential in an age before fridges and freezers). Very often in the countryside the housewife also made the families candles and their soap. A housewife also spun wool and linen. A farmer’s wife also milked cows, fed animals and grew herbs and vegetables. She often kept bees. She also took goods to market to sell. On top of that she had to cook, wash the families clothes and clean the house.
The housewife was also supposed to have some knowledge of medicine and be able to treat her family’s illnesses. If she could not they would go to a wise woman. Only the wealthy could afford a doctor. Poor and middle class wives were kept very busy but rich women were not idle either. In a big house they had to organise and supervise the servants. Also if her husband was away the woman usually ran the estate. Very often a merchant’s wife did his accounts and if was travelling she looked after the business.
Often when a merchant wrote his will he left his business to his wife – because she would be able to run it. In the 16th century some upper class women were highly educated. (Elizabeth I was well educated and she liked reading). They learned music and dancing and needlework. They also learned to read and write and they learned languages like Greek and Latin, Spanish, Italian and French. However towards the end of the 16th century girls spent less time on academic subjects and more time on skills like music and embroidery. Moreover during the 17th century boarding schools for girls were founded in many towns. In them girls were taught subjects like writing, music and needlework. (It was considered more important for girls to learn ‘accomplishments’ than to study academic subjects).
THE PURITAN SOCIETY
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th century, and from 1630 to 1660 in the 17th century, including, but not also limited to, English Calvinists. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergies shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England. Puritans were blocked from changing the established church from within, and severely restricted in England by laws controlling the practice of religion, but their views were taken by the emigration of congregations to the Netherlands and later New England, and by evangelical clergy to Ireland and later into Wales, and were spread into lay society by preaching and parts of the educational system, particularly certain colleges of the University of Cambridge.
Puritans took distinctive views on clerical dress. They also opposed the Episcopal system after the 1619 conclusions of the Synod of Dort were resisted by English bishops. Puritans felt that the English Reformation was not sufficient, and still believed that the Church of England was tolerant of Catholic Church practices. They formed religious groups advocating a greater “purity” of worship and doctrine. They also desired greater personal and group piety. They largely adopted Sabbatarian views in the 17th century, and were influenced by millennialism. The Puritans adopted a Reformed theology and became in that sense Calvinists. Criticism of Zwingli and Calvin distinguished some Puritan beliefs from orthodox Calvinism.
American literature is the written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies. For more specific discussions of poetry and theater, see Poetry of the United States and Theater in the United States. During its early history, America was a series of British colonies on the eastern coast of the present-day United States. Therefore, its literary tradition begins as linked to the broader tradition of English literature. However, unique American characteristics and the breadth of its production usually now cause it to be considered a separate path and tradition. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a prominent early American Author who contributed greatly to the evolution of modern American literature. A New England native, Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804 and died on May 19, 1864 in New Hampshire. An avid seaman, Hawthorne’s father died in 1808 when Nathaniel Hawthorne was only a young child. After his father’s death, Hawthorne showed a keen interest in his father’s worldwide nautical adventures and often read the logbooks his father had compiled from sailing abroad.
Hawthorne was a descendant of a long line of New England Puritans, which sparked his interest in the Puritan way of life. After he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825, Hawthorne returned to his home in Salem were he began to write in semi-seclusion. Hawthorne published his first novel, Fanshawe in 1828. In 1839, Hawthorne was appointed weigher and gauger at the Boston Custom House. He later married Sophia Amelia Peabody in 1842. In the following years, Hawthorne wrote his more famous novels which shaped his own literary style, as well as the genres of the romance novel and short story. Eventually, Hawthorne developed a style of romance fiction representative of his own beliefs. Although Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing style was often viewed as outdated when compared to modern literature, Hawthorne conveyed modern themes of psychology and human nature through his crafty use of allegory and symbolism.
To begin with, Hawthorne’s style was commonplace for a writer of the nineteenth century. During the time period in which Hawthorne wrote, printing technology was not yet advanced enough to easily reproduce photographs in books. Therefore, Hawthorne frequently wrote lengthy visual descriptions since his audience had no other means to see the setting of the novel. One example of such descriptions was in The Scarlet Letter when Hawthorne intricately describes the prison door and its surroundings. Another aspect of Hawthorne’s writing which was exclusive to his time period was the use of formal dialogue which remained fairly consistent from character to character . Such overblown dialogue was evident in The Scarlet Letter when the dialogue of Pearl, a young child, exhibited no difference from the dialogue of the other characters in the novel. Hawthorne adopted the use of overly formal dialogue partly from a British writer, Sir Walter Scott, whose works were popular in the United States and Great Britain. Although Hawthorne’s dialogue was overly formal, it was an accurate tool in describing human emotion .
Absence of character confrontation was another component of Hawthorne’s literary style. Hawthorne frequently focused more on a character’s inner struggle or a central theme than on heated encounters between characters. One example of this style can be found in The Scarlet Letter since the novel was almost solely based on the commandment ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’. Despite dated dialogue and dated writing style, Hawthorne implied various modern themes in his works. One of Hawthorne’s recurring themes throughout his works was his own view on human nature. Hawthorne explored an interesting human psychology through his exploration of the dark side of human consciousness. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne introduced ‘a profound comment on the breakdown of human relationships in the society of the seventeenth century’. Hawthorne’s theme that human nature is full of wickedness was also evident in ‘Young Goodman Brown’ when the title character encountered great difficulty in resisting temptation. One outstanding aspect found in Hawthorne’s writing was the concept of neutral territory.
Hawthorne described this concept as ‘a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land where the actual and imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other’. The concept of neutral ground was most evident in the Custom House section of The Scarlet Letter and served as the area in which romance took place. Hawthorne’s modern themes were also modeled by Hawthorne’s own religious beliefs. Although it was not the only reason Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, his Puritan background contributed greatly to his portrayal of a sinner in a strict Puritan community. Hawthorne also raised questions concerning the morality and necessity of Hester Prynne’s exile in The Scarlet Letter. One reason for these inquires was Hawthorne’s disbelief in heaven, hell, angels, or devils since modern science was undermining the Bible. Unlike the frankness commonly found in modern twentieth century literature, the nature of literature in the nineteenth century was more conservative. Therefore, Hawthorne implied more modern themes through the use of symbolism.
One of Hawthorne’s most obvious symbols in The Scarlet Letter was Pearl, the living product of the adulterous affair between Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne. Even though some of Hawthorne’s symbols were fantastical, they represented an anachronistic moral standpoint of Hawthorne himself. An example of this symbolism was Hester’s moral sin of adultery symbolized by an overly ornate scarlet ‘A’ on Hester’s breast. In fact, few authors who worked outside realism have been as concerned with morals as Hawthorne was. Hawthorne also employed allegory as a way of presenting themes. Hawthorne often achieved allegory by placing characters in a situation outside of the ordinary. In The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne presented a highly complex variation on his usual theme of human isolation and the human community. Hester Prynne was a superb example of both these themes since she was isolated from a strict Puritan community.
Possibly, Hawthorne’s recurring theme of isolation stemmed from his own experience of seclusion. Hawthorne explored the themes of penance for sins and cowardliness when Arthur Dimmesdale struggled with himself to make his sin public. In conclusion, Hawthorne’s literary style did indeed contain elements such as description and dialogue, which seemed out of place when compared to modern twentieth century literature. However, Hawthorne’s style was typical of the literary style of the time. Nevertheless, Hawthorne addressed modern themes and expressed his own view on human nature and religion. In addition, Hawthorne’s symbolism was an essential tool in addressing topics, which were too radical to be publicly addressed in the nineteenth century. Therefore, Hawthorne’s symbolism an astute way to express his own beliefs. Hawthorne also achieved a unique form of allegory by placing characters in unusual situations. Hawthorne used various symbols to imply themes of adultery, sins, and human morality. All in all, Hawthorne deeply examined every facet of human nature and drew conclusions from the experiences of the characters in his work.
the scarlet letter: a brief summary
The Scarlet Letter opens with a long preamble about how the book came to be written. The nameless narrator was the surveyor of the customhouse in Salem, Massachusetts. In the customhouse’s attic, he discovered a number of documents, among them a manuscript that was bundled with a scarlet, gold-embroidered patch of cloth in the shape of an “A.” The manuscript, the work of a past surveyor, detailed events that occurred some two hundred years before the narrator’s time. When the narrator lost his customs post, he decided to write a fictional account of the events recorded in the manuscript. The scarlet Letter is the final product. The story begins in seventeenth-century Boston, then a Puritan settlement. A young woman, Hester Prynne, is led from the town prison with her infant daughter, Pearl, in her arms and the scarlet letter “A” on her breast. A man in the crowd tells an elderly onlooker that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hester’s husband, a scholar much older than she is, sent her ahead to America, but he never arrived in Boston. The consensus is that he has been lost at sea.
While waiting for her husband, Hester has apparently had an affair, as she has given birth to a child. She will not reveal her lover’s identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her public shaming, is her punishment for her sin and her secrecy. On this day Hester is led to the town scaffold and harangued by the town fathers, but she again refuses to identify her child’s father. The elderly onlooker is Hester’s missing husband, who is now practicing medicine and calling himself Roger Chillingworth. He settles in Boston, intent on revenge. He reveals his true identity to no one but Hester, whom he has sworn to secrecy. Several years pass. Hester supports herself by working as a seamstress, and Pearl grows into a willful, impish child. Shunned by the community, they live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Boston.
Community officials attempt to take Pearl away from Hester, but, with the help of Arthur Dimmesdale, a young and eloquent minister, the mother and daughter manage to stay together. Dimmesdale, however, appears to be wasting away and suffers from mysterious heart trouble, seemingly caused by psychological distress. Chillingworth attaches himself to the ailing minister and eventually moves in with him so that he can provide his patient with round-the-clock care. Chillingworth also suspects that there may be a connection between the minister’s torments and Hester’s secret, and he begins to test Dimmesdale to see what he can learn. One afternoon, while the minister sleeps, Chillingworth discovers a mark on the man’s breast (the details of which are kept from the reader), which convinces him that his suspicions are correct. Dimmesdale’s psychological anguish deepens, and he invents new tortures for himself.
In the meantime, Hester’s charitable deeds and quiet humility have earned her a reprieve from the scorn of the community. One night, when Pearl is about seven years old, she and her mother are returning home from a visit to a deathbed when they encounter Dimmesdale atop the town scaffold, trying to punish himself for his sins. Hester and Pearl join him, and the three link hands. Dimmesdale refuses Pearl’s request that he acknowledge her publicly the next day, and a meteor marks a dull red “A” in the night sky. Hester can see that the minister’s condition is worsening, and she resolves to intervene. She goes to Chillingworth and asks him to stop adding to Dimmesdale’s self-torment. Chillingworth refuses. Hester arranges an encounter with Dimmesdale in the forest because she is aware that Chillingworth has probably guessed that she plans to reveal his identity to Dimmesdale. The former lovers decide to flee to Europe, where they can live with Pearl as a family.
They will take a ship sailing from Boston in four days. Both feel a sense of release, and Hester removes her scarlet letter and lets down her hair. Pearl, playing nearby, does not recognize her mother without the letter. The day before the ship is to sail, the townspeople gather for a holiday and Dimmesdale preaches his most eloquent sermon ever. Meanwhile, Hester has learned that Chillingworth knows of their plan and has booked passage on the same ship. Dimmesdale, leaving the church after his sermon, sees Hester and Pearl standing before the town scaffold.
He impulsively mounts the scaffold with his lover and his daughter, and confesses publicly, exposing a scarlet letter seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead, as Pearl kisses him. Frustrated in his revenge, Chillingworth dies a year later. Hester and Pearl leave Boston, and no one knows what has happened to them. Many years later, Hester returns alone, still wearing the scarlet letter, to live in her old cottage and resume her charitable work. She receives occasional letters from Pearl, who has married a European aristocrat and established a family of her own. When Hester dies, she is buried next to Dimmesdale. The two share a single tombstone, which bears a scarlet “A.”
MAJOR CHARACTERS IN THE NOVEL
Hester Prynne-Although The Scarlet Letter is about Hester Prynne, the book is not so much a consideration of her innate character as it is an examination of the forces that shape her and the transformations those forces effect. We know very little about Hester prior to her affair with Dimmesdale and her resultant public shaming. We read that she married Chillingworth although she did not love him, but we never fully understand why. The early chapters of the book suggest that, prior to her marriage, Hester was a strong-willed and impetuous young woman—she remembers her parents as loving guides who frequently had to restrain her incautious behavior. The fact that she has an affair also suggests that she once had a passionate nature. But it is what happens after Hester’s affair that makes her into the woman with whom the reader is familiar. Shamed and alienated from the rest of the community, Hester becomes contemplative. She speculates on human nature, social organization, and larger moral questions. Hester’s tribulations also lead her to be stoic and a freethinker.
Although the narrator pretends to disapprove of Hester’s independent philosophizing, his tone indicates that he secretly admires her independence and her ideas. Hester also becomes a kind of compassionate maternal figure as a result of her experiences. Hester moderates her tendency to be rash, for she knows that such behavior could cause her to lose her daughter, Pearl. Hester is also maternal with respect to society: she cares for the poor and brings them food and clothing. By the novel’s end, Hester has become a protofeminist mother figure to the women of the community. The shame attached to her scarlet letter is long gone. Women recognize that her punishment stemmed in part from the town fathers’ sexism, and they come to Hester seeking shelter from the sexist forces under which they themselves suffer. Throughout The Scarlet Letter Hester is portrayed as an intelligent, capable, but not necessarily extraordinary woman. It is the extraordinary circumstances shaping her that make her such an important figure.
Roger Chillingworth-As his name suggests, Roger Chillingworth is a man deficient in human warmth. His twisted, stooped, deformed shoulders mirror his distorted soul. From what the reader is told of his early years with Hester, he was a difficult husband. He ignored his wife for much of the time, yet expected her to nourish his soul with affection when he did condescend to spend time with her. Chillingworth’s decision to assume the identity of a “leech,” or doctor, is fitting. Unable to engage in equitable relationships with those around him, he feeds on the vitality of others as a way of energizing his own projects. Chillingworth’s death is a result of the nature of his character. After Dimmesdale dies, Chillingworth no longer has a victim. Similarly, Dimmesdale’s revelation that he is Pearl’s father removes Hester from the old man’s clutches. Having lost the objects of his revenge, the leech has no choice but to die. Ultimately, Chillingworth represents true evil.
He is associated with secular and sometimes illicit forms of knowledge, as his chemical experiments and medical practices occasionally verge on witchcraft and murder. He is interested in revenge, not justice, and he seeks the deliberate destruction of others rather than a redress of wrongs. His desire to hurt others stands in contrast to Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin, which had love, not hate, as its intent. Any harm that may have come from the young lovers’ deed was unanticipated and inadvertent, whereas Chillingworth reaps deliberate harm. Arthur Dimmesdale-Arthur Dimmesdale, like Hester Prynne, is an individual whose identity owes more to external circumstances than to his innate nature. The reader is told that Dimmesdale was a scholar of some renown at Oxford University.
His past suggests that he is probably somewhat aloof, the kind of man who would not have much natural sympathy for ordinary men and women. However, Dimmesdale has an unusually active conscience. The fact that Hester takes all of the blame for their shared sin goads his conscience, and his resultant mental anguish and physical weakness open up his mind and allow him to empathize with others. Consequently, he becomes an eloquent and emotionally powerful speaker and a compassionate leader, and his congregation is able to receive meaningful spiritual guidance from him. Ironically, the townspeople do not believe Dimmesdale’s protestations of sinfulness. Given his background and his penchant for rhetorical speech, Dimmesdale’s congregation generally interprets his sermons allegorically rather than as expressions of any personal guilt. This drives Dimmesdale to further internalize his guilt and self-punishment and leads to still more deterioration in his physical and spiritual condition.
The town’s idolization of him reaches new heights after his Election Day sermon, which is his last. In his death, Dimmesdale becomes even more of an icon than he was in life. Many believe his confession was a symbolic act, while others believe Dimmesdale’s fate was an example of divine judgment. Pearl-Hester’s daughter, Pearl, functions primarily as a symbol. She is quite young during most of the events of this novel—when Dimmesdale dies she is only seven years old—and her real importance lies in her ability to provoke the adult characters in the book. She asks them pointed questions and draws their attention, and the reader’s, to the denied or overlooked truths of the adult world. In general, children in The Scarlet Letter are portrayed as more perceptive and more honest than adults, and Pearl is the most perceptive of them all.
Pearl makes us constantly aware of her mother’s scarlet letter and of the society that produced it. From an early age, she fixates on the emblem. Pearl’s innocent, or perhaps intuitive, comments about the letter raise crucial questions about its meaning. Similarly, she inquires about the relationships between those around her—most important, the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale—and offers perceptive critiques of them. Pearl provides the text’s harshest, and most penetrating, judgment of Dimmesdale’s failure to admit to his adultery. Once her father’s identity is revealed, Pearl is no longer needed in this symbolic capacity; at Dimmesdale’s death she becomes fully “human,” leaving behind her otherworldliness and her preternatural vision.
the scarlet letter : an exploration of the theme of sin
Sin in The Scarlet Letter
Since the dawn of time people have read, studied and enjoyed books in which the hero or heroes fall from grace. No matter who those heroes are- the human race in The Bible, the demon prince Lestat in Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” or a certain Thane of Cawdor in “Macbeth”- sin plays a great part in all of their downfalls and subsequent ressurections. And the three main characters in Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”-Dimmesdale, Chillingsworth, and Hester Prynne- are no different. All three characters are flung from the normal roles that society has laid upon them- minister, housewife, doctor-into new roles- sinner, whore, and vengeance crazed sadist. These new roles are not necessarily apparent to all in town. However, even though the townspeople do not know of the sinners, god does. And in God’s eyes, whose sin was greater? That, I cannot answer. But in this mere mortals opinion, the sin of Chillingsworth far outdid the sin of Dimmesdale or Hester Prynne, for Chillingsworth’s sin was one of revenge and one of secrecy.
He was not driven by an anger at his own sin, but by the sin of others. He used deception and manipulation to make the life of another miserable. He was not flung from society’s view as if he were a dirty secret like Hester was; he was embraced by it. However, his sin did take it’s toll. He was disfigured horribly and became at wisted man, scarred by sin. He also was robbed of the pleasure of destroying Dimmesdale which was his reason for living. He died shortly after Dimmesdale. Hester Prynne, however, was the complete opposite of Chillingworth in that her sin gave her life, not destroyed it. She took her punishment and embraced it, using it to rebuild herself not as a pathetic sinner, but as a pseudo-saint. At first, the town shunned her as a sinner. However, after they saw that she was good, and her sin was of love, the same town embraced and loved her. Her sin drew her more deeply into the society of Boston than she ever was before. And when her time to die came, she did so with honor. Hester Prynne – sinner and saint.
However, Hester’s sin was shared. Whereas she was as inner on the outside and a saint on the inside, Arthur Dimmesdale is the reverse, both literally and figuratively. On the outside, a town minister, inside an adulterer. Of all the characters, Dimmesdale is the most pitiful. A man so penitent that he whips himself, but so afraid that he cannot confess his sin; a sin which takes a great toll on him. His countenance is disfigured in the shape of what we assume to be an A on his chest (that or a cow shaped birthmark) and his soul is eaten by his guilt. Arthur does later confess, and a weight is lifted from his being. And with that weight gone he finally dies in peace. Sin has always been and will always be a part of human life and literature. And as long as there is sin, people will react to it in different ways; some will hide it, some will embrace it, some will rot from it. But no matter how the sin is handled or dealt with, it will always leave it’s mark. For me, the mark of sin will always be symbolized as a scarlet “A” on a black background.
The Consequences of Sin
It can be concluded that the consequences of sin is the theme of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne explored this theme by four distinctive levels of sin. Although each level was equally displayed throughout the novel, the communal sin of man’s inhumanity to man outranked all else. The primary characters are each guilty of one or more of the following levels of sin; the sin of vengeance, the sin of hypocrisy, and the sin of adultery.
In the beginning of the novel, it is revealed that Hester Prynne is guilty of adultery. One of the consequences for her sin is a prison term. Secondly, she had a child, a baby who was conceived from lust rather than love. Hester named this child Pearl, meaning of great value. Thirdly, Hester was condemned to wear the scarlet letter, upon her bosom, for all to recognize her as one who has met with the black man in the forest. Fourth, she was made to stand in public ignominy as the townsmen mocked her. Although the magistrates tried to make Hester Prynne reveal her accomplice, she kept his name unknown.
As one may have guessed, from the hints given throughout the novel, Arthur Dimmesdale was also guilty of adultery. However, he did not confess his sin until it was too late. Dimmesdale continued his ministry in the church, as a hypocrite, concealing his sin. Nevertheless, his guilty conscience drove him to a manic-depressive state of mind. Dimmesdale became very ill, because the scarlet letter upon Hester’s bosom seemingly burned through his chest, weakening his heart. When he realized what was happening to him, he tried to expose himself through his sermons. In another attempt, he went to the scaffold, in the dead of the night, and screamed out at the top of his lungs, hoping all would arouse from their sleep and find him there. Then, coming upon Hester and Pearl, he took their hands in his own, and all three were united as one upon the scaffold. No one except Roger Chillingworth found them there, but he wouldn’t tell a soul, for he too was a part of this conspiracy.
In spite of his desperate attempts, Dimmesdale only became physically and mentally worse, for he still hadn’t honestly confessed to being Hester’s accomplice. By deceiving himself and the townspeople, he was also guilty of the sin of hypocrisy. During the Election Day parade, when everyone was gathered in the town center, Dimmesdale, once again, took the hands of Hester and Pearl and confessed to adultery. When it was finally done, Dimmesdale passed away, for he was too sick and found no reason to live.
Dimmesdale wasn’t the only one guilty of being a hypocrite. Roger Chillingworth, actually Mr. Prynne, was also a hypocrite with his secret identity. Chillingworth was an eccentric man, who was guilty of a far worse sin than either Hester or Dimmesdale. He was guilty of vengeance. Ever since Chillingworth found Hester standing in public ignominy on the scaffold, he has been out to get revenge on the man who betrayed him. Chillingworth devoted the rest of his decaying life to solving this mystery.
For the next seven years he was Dimmesdale’s leech, trying, but not wholeheartedly, to help Dimmesdale overcome his sickness. All the while, Chillingworth’s appearance strangely changed. He had grown older and fiercer, with a close resemblance to the devil. Soon after the death of Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth also passed on, for he too no longer found any reason to live, his mystery had been solved.
Finally, the highest ranked sin is the communal sin of man’s inhumanity to man. Whenever Hester went into town the citizens would stop what they were doing and stare at her, treating her as an outcast to society. For example, they criticized her for walking too proud, but she only held her head high enough so that she may see her pathway. People would run away when she came near them, and kept their distance during a gathering. Whenever she attended church, the sermon was on adultery.
To support Pearl and herself, Hester made precious garments, for the wives of the magistrates, but she was paid only a tenth of what the garments were worth. There was a tremendous difference in the town’s behavior towards Hester as compared to the way they treated Dimmesdale. The people treated Dimmesdale as a saint, even though he was guilty of hypocrisy. They also treated Chillingworth as a highly respected physician, although he was guilty of vengeance. So, when the community dwells on a person’s imperfections, they too are guilty of sin, the sin of man’s inhumanity to man.
One may find, after having read the novel, that it’s better to confess your sin rather than conceal it, although it may not be good for your reputation in the community, it’s better for your soul. Throughout the novel, the characters suffered the consequences for their sins. As a result, the theme of The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, could be the consequences of sin.
OTHER THEMES IN THE SCARLET LETTER The Nature of Evil
The characters in the novel frequently debate the identity of the “Black Man,” the embodiment of evil. Over the course of the novel, the “Black Man” is associated with Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and Mistress Hibbins, and little Pearl is thought by some to be the Devil’s child. The characters also try to root out the causes of evil: did Chillingworth’s selfishness in marrying Hester force her to the “evil” she committed in Dimmesdale’s arms? Is Hester and Dimmesdale’s deed responsible for Chillingworth’s transformation into a malevolent being? This confusion over the nature and causes of evil reveals the problems with the Puritan conception of sin.
The book argues that true evil arises from the close relationship between hate and love. As the narrator points out in the novel’s concluding chapter, both emotions depend upon “a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent . . . upon another.” Evil is not found in Hester and Dimmesdale’s lovemaking, nor even in the cruel ignorance of the Puritan fathers. Evil, in its most poisonous form, is found in the carefully plotted and precisely aimed revenge of Chillingworth, whose love has been perverted. Perhaps Pearl is not entirely wrong when she thinks Dimmesdale is the “Black Man,” because her father, too, has perverted his love. Dimmesdale, who should love Pearl, will not even publicly acknowledge her. His cruel denial of love to his own child may be seen as further perpetrating evil.
Identity and Society
After Hester is publicly shamed and forced by the people of Boston to wear a badge of humiliation, her unwillingness to leave the town may seem puzzling. She is not physically imprisoned, and leaving the Massachusetts Bay Colony would allow her to remove the scarlet letter and resume a normal life. Surprisingly, Hester reacts with dismay when Chillingworth tells her that the town fathers are considering letting her remove the letter. Hester’s behavior is premised on her desire to determine her own identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her. To her, running away or removing the letter would be an acknowledgment of society’s power over her: she would be admitting that the letter is a mark of shame and something from which she desires to escape.
Instead, Hester stays, refiguring the scarlet letter as a symbol of her own experiences and character. Her past sin is a part of who she is; to pretend that it never happened would mean denying a part of herself. Thus, Hester very determinedly integrates her sin into her life. Dimmesdale also struggles against a socially determined identity. As the community’s minister, he is more symbol than human being. Except for Chillingworth, those around the minister willfully ignore his obvious anguish, misinterpreting it as holiness. Unfortunately, Dimmesdale never fully recognizes the truth of what Hester has learned: that individuality and strength are gained by quiet self-assertion and by a reconfiguration, not a rejection, of one’s assigned identity.
The Scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is the story of sin, guilt, punishment and expiation. The seventeenth century puritan society, which believed in the purification of the soul through suffering had a great impact on Hawthorne which is visible through his work. His ideas were offensive to the people and the morals of the society. Even though it was not a sin Hester committed all alone, but the was the only one to suffer the public humiliation. Whereas her co sinners still bore a life of dignity and respect. Thus it is more important to realize and criticize the sin rather than exploiting the sinner.
* the scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – rupa classic * <http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=3094>
* <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scarlet_Letter> * a critical over view of the scarlet letter by rama publication * <http://www.e-scoala.ro/referate/engleza_nathaniel_hawthorne.html>
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Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 4, 1804. His parents were Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Elizabeth Clark Manning. His father dies of yellow fever when he was four […]
Chapter 1 “The Prison Door” 1. What colony is the setting for the novel? Boston Massachusetts 2. Where in the colony does the opening chapter take place? In the jail […]
In The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, you may find similar themes in these novels The Scarlet Letter features Hester Prynne that commits a shameful sin, that being adultery. Related […]
Pearl is an ironic and contradictory symbolism of pure and gracefulness. It is ironic that she is the child born to two great sinners. The way Hawthorn creates Pearl is […]
The novel, The Scarlet letter, can be described as both a psychological romance as well as a historical novel. This story takes place on a puritan settlement in 17th century […]
Nathaniel Hawthorne an American romantic writer, whose literature is known for its Anti-Transcendentalism, wrote Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter. Nathaniel Hawthorne is a writer during the American Romantics, […]
Female inferiority is prevalent in Puritan society. However, in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne exhibits the principles, independence, and charm that defy typical feminine requirements in the […]
the Victorian era The 17th century was the century which lasted in England from January 1, 1601 to December 31, 1700 in the Gregorian calendar. The 17th century falls into […]