Реферат: The Scarlet Letter part 22 Essay Research

The Scarlet Letter (part 2/2) Essay, Research Paper

The Scarlet Letter, By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s background influenced him to write the bold

novel The Scarlet Letter. One important influence on the story is money.

Hawthorne had never made much money as an author and the birth of his

first daughter added to the financial burden (”Biographical Note” VII). He

received a job at the Salem Custom House only to lose it three years later

and be forced to write again to support his family (IX). Consequently, The

Scarlet Letter was published a year later (IX). It was only intended to be

a long short story, but the extra money a novel would bring in was needed

(”Introduction” XVI). Hawthorne then wrote an introduction section titled

“The Custom House” to extend the length of the book and The Scarlet Letter

became a full novel (XVI). In addition to financial worries, another

influence on the story is Hawthorne’s rejection of his ancestors. His

forefathers were strict Puritans, and John Hathorne, his

great-great-grandfather, was a judge presiding during the S! alem witch

trials (”Biographical Note” VII). Hawthorne did not condone their acts

and actually spent a great deal of his life renouncing the Puritans in

general (VII). Similarly, The Scarlet Letter was a literal “soapbox” for

Hawthorne to convey to the world that the majority of Puritans were strict

and unfeeling. For example, before Hester emerges from the prison she is

being scorned by a group of women who feel that she deserves a larger

punishment than she actually receives. Instead of only being made to

stand on the scaffold and wear the scarlet letter on her chest, they

suggest that she have it branded on her forehead or even be put to death

(Hawthorne 51). Perhaps the most important influence on the story is the

author’s interest in the “dark side” (”Introduction” VIII). Unlike the

transcendentalists of the era, Hawthorne “confronted reality, rather than

evading it” (VII). Likewise, The Scarlet Letter deals with adultery, a

subject that caused much scandal when it w! as first published (XV). The

book revolves around sin and punish

ment, a far outcry from writers of the time, such as Emerson and Thoreau,

who dwelt on optimistic themes (VII). This background, together with a

believable plot, convincing characterization, and important literary

devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the develop

the theme of the heart as a prison.

The scaffold scenes are the most substantial situations in the

story because they unify The Scarlet Letter in two influential ways.

First of all, every scaffold scene reunites the main characters of the

novel. In the first scene, everyone in the town is gathered in the market

place because Hester is being questioned about the identity of the father

of her child ( Hawthorne 52). In her arms is the product of her sin,

Pearl, a three month old baby who is experiencing life outside the prison

for the first time (53). Dimmesdale is standing beside the scaffold

because he is Hester’s pastor and it is his job to convince her to repent

and reveal the father’s name (65). A short time later, Chillingworth

unexpectedly shows up within the crowd of people who are watching Hester

after he is released from his two year captivity by the Indians (61). In

the second scene, Dimmesdale is standing on top of the scaffold alone in

the middle of the night (152). He sees Hester and Pearl wal! k through

the market place on their way back from Governor Winthrop’s bedside (157).

When Dimmesdale recognizes them and tells them to join him, they walk up

the steps to stand by his side (158). Chillingworth appears later standing

beside the scaffold, staring at Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl. In the

final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale walks to the steps of the scaffold in

front of the whole town after his Election day sermon (263). He tells

Hester and Pearl to join him yet again on the scaffold (264).

Chillingworth then runs through the crowd and tries to stop Dimmesdale

from reaching the top of the scaffold, the one place where he can’t reach

him (265). Another way in which the scenes are united is how each

illustrates the immediate, delayed, and prolonged effects that the sin of

adultery has on the main characters. The first scene shows Hester being

publicly punished on the scaffold (52). She is being forced to stand on

it for three hours straight and listen to peop! le talk about her as a

disgrace and a shame to the community (55)

. Dimmesdale’s instantaneous response to the sin is to lie. He stands

before Hester and the rest of the town and proceeds to give a moving

speech about how it would be in her and the father’s best interest for her

to reveal the father’s name (67). Though he never actually says that he

is not the other parent, he implies it by talking of the father in third

person (67). Such as, “If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and

that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to

salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and

fellow-sufferer” (67). Chillingworth’s first reaction is one of shock,

but he quickly suppresses it (61). Since his first sight of his wife in

two years is of her being punished for being unfaithful to him, he is

naturally surprised. It does not last for long though, because it is his

nature to control his emotions (61). Pearl’s very existence in this scene

is the largest immediate effect of her parents’ cr! ime (52). She

obviously would never had been there had her parents resisted their love

for each other. The second scene occurs several years later and shows the

effects after time has had a chance to play its part. It begins with

Dimmesdale climbing the stairs of the scaffold in the middle of the night

because it is the closest that he can come to confessing his sin (152).

This scene is especially important because it shows how pitiful he has

become. Dimmesdale shows just how irrational he is when he screams aloud

because he fears that the universe is staring at a scarlet token on his

breast (153). It also shows how much guilt he is carrying by the way he

perceives the light from a meteor as the letter A. He believes it stands

for adulteress while other people think it stands for angel since the

governor just passed away (161). This scene also shows how Hester is

managing her new situation. When Dimmesdale tells her to come up the

scaffold and asks her where she has b! een, she replies that she has been

measuring the robe that the gov

ernor is to be buried in (158). This statement implies that Hester’s

reputation as a talented seamstress has spread. Ironically, her first

well known piece of work was the scarlet letter that she wore on her

chest. As a result, she owes her own success to her infamy. Besides

growing older, Pearl’s most significant change is in her perceptibility

(158). In this scene, she constantly asks Dimmesdale if he will be

joining Hester and herself on the scaffold tomorrow at noon and accuses

him of not being true (162). Neither Hester nor Dimmesdale ever told

Pearl who her father was, but she figures it out by the way he always

holds his hand over his heart (159). Chillingworth’s derangement is

evident in this scene also. His contempt for Dimmesdale is so acute that

he risks his cover when he gives him a look so vivid as to remain painted

on the darkness after the bright meteor that just passed, vanishes (161).

The third scene is very critical because it is the last glimpse int! o

every characters’ mind and the last time that everyone is alive. At this

point in time, Dimmesdale’s fixation on his sin has utterly corroded him

to the point of death. After he gives his election day sermon, he goes to

the scaffold and asks Hester and Pearl to join him because he is so weak

that he can hardly support himself (265). He finally exposes the truth

and tells his followers of how he deceived them (267). The only good that

comes out of conceding his guilt is that he passed away without any

secrets, for he was already too far gone to be able to be saved (269).

This scene is important to the characterization of Hester because it is

the first time that she is not in complete control of her emotions (264).

Her dream of escaping to England with Dimmesdale is lost when he decides

to confess (264). The unanticipated arrival of Chillingworth and

Dimmesdale’s feeble appearance distresses her, and for the first time, she

can not control the outcome (264). The greate! st transformation in

Pearl’s life occurs in this scene. While sh

e used to be perceived as elfish, she now shows the first signs of normal

human emotion. After Dimmesdale confesses his sin, she kisses his lips

voluntarily (268). “The great scene of grief?had developed all her

sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were the

pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do

battle with the world, but be a woman in it” (268). Ultimately,

Chillingworth takes a severe turn for the worse when Dimmesdale reveals

his sin. Since Chillingworth based the rest of his life on playing games

on Dimmesdale’s mind, he was left without any goals, and his life became

meaningless (268). On that account, it is clear that Hawthorne uses the

scaffold scenes, not only as a unifying device, but as a means to keep the

reader interested in the novel by providing plenty of action.

The main characters sharply contrast each other in the way they

react to Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin. To begin, Hester becomes stronger,

more enduring, and even more sympathetic. She becomes stronger because of

all the weight she has to carry. She is a single mother who suffers all

of the burdens of parenthood by herself. They live on the edge of town,

and Pearl has no one to give her food, shelter and emotional support

besides Hester. Pearl is especially difficult to raise because she is

anything but normal. Hawthorne gives a pretty accurate description of

Pearl when he writes:

The child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her

existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose

elements were perhaps beautiful and bril- liant, but all in disorder; or

with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point

of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be

discovered (91).

Hester’s endurance is proven when the people of the colony completely

change their opinion of her. While a lesser person would run from the

hostile colonists, Hester withstands their insolence and pursues a normal

life. After years of proving her worth with her uncommon sewing skills

and providing community service, the colonists come to think of the

scarlet letter as “the cross on a nun’s bosom,” which is no small

accomplishment (169). Hester also becomes more sensitive to the feelings

and needs of other people. She feels that her own sin gives her

“sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts” (87). So even

though the people she tried to help “often reviled the hand that was

stretched forth to succor them,” she continues her services because she

actually cares (85). While Hester tries to make the best out of her

situation, Dimmesdale becomes weaker by letting guilt and grief eat away

at his conscience. Dimmesdale punishes himself by believing that he can

neve! r be redeemed. He feels that he will never be seen the same in the

eyes of God, and that no amount of penitence can ever return him to God’s

good graces. He is so touchy on this subject that when Hester says his

good deeds will count for something in God’s view, he exclaims, “There is

no substance in it! It is cold and dead and can do nothing for me!” (202).

Dimmesdale also believes that his sin has taken the meaning out of his

life. His life’s work has been dedicated to God, and now his sin has

tainted it (202). He feels that he is a fraud and is not fit to lead the

people of the town to salvation. The feeling is so oppressive that the

chance of escaping his work and leaving with Hester and Pearl makes him

emotionally (and probably mentally) unstable. He walks through the town

with twice as much energy as normal, and he barely stops himself from

swearing to a fellow deacon (229). When an old lady approaches him he can

not remember any scriptures whatsoever to tell he! r, and the urge to use

his power of persuasion over a young maide

n is so strong that he covers his face with his cloak and runs off (230).

The largest cause of Dimmesdale’s breakdown is the fact that he keeps his

sin a secret. As God’s servant, it is his nature to tell the truth, so

the years of pretending are especially hard on him. His secret guilt is

such a burden that instead of going with Hester to England and perhaps

having a chance to live longer, he chose to stand, confess and perish on

the scaffold (268). Ultimately, Chillingworth responds to his wife’s

betrayal by sacrificing everything in order to seek revenge. After he

discovers that his wife bore another man’s child, Chillingworth gives up

his independence. He used to be a scholar who dedicated his best years

“to feed the hungry dream of knowledge,” but his new allegiance becomes

finding and slowly punishing the man who seduced his wife (74). He soon

becomes obsessed with his new mission in life, and when he targeted

Reverend Dimmesdale as the possible parent, he dedic! ates all of his time

to becoming his confidant in order to get his retribution (127).

Vengeance was also one of the reasons that Chillingworth gives up his

identity. The only way he can truly corrupt Dimmesdale is to live with

him and be by his side all day, every day. The only possible way to do

that is to give up his true identity as Roger Prynne, Hester’s husband,

and become Roger Chillingworth. Since the only person who knew his true

identity is sworn to silence, he succeeds for a long time in tricking

Dimmesdale until Hester sees that he was going mad and finally revealed

Chillingworth’s true identity (204). His largest sacrifice is by far, his

own life. After spending so much time dwelling on his revenge,

Chillingworth forgets that he still has a chance to lead a life of his

own. So accordingly, after Dimmesdale reveals his secret to the world,

Chillingworth dies less than a year later because he has nothing left to

live for (272). In conclusion, Hawthorne’s use! of characterization

gives the book a classic feeling by showing H

ester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth’s feelings indirectly through acts.

The novel revolves around two major symbols: light and darkness

and the scarlet letter. The book is filled with light and darkness

symbols because it represents the most common battle of all time, good

versus evil. When Hester and her daughter are walking in the forest,

Pearl exclaims:

Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides

itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. Now see! There

it is, playing, a good way off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch

it. I am but a child. It will not flee from me, for I wear no- thing on

my bosom yet (192)!

Hester tries to stretch her hand into the circle of light, but the

sunshine vanishes (192). She then suggests that they go into the forest

and rest (193). This short scene actually represents Hester’s daily

struggle in life. The light represents what Hester wants to be, which is

pure. The movement of the light represents Hester’s constant denial of

acceptance. Hester’s lack of surprise and quick suggestion to go into the

forest, where it is dark, shows that she never expected to be admitted and

is resigned to her station in life. Another way light and darkness is

used in symbolism is by the way Hester and Dimmesdale’s plan to escape is

doomed. Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the shadows of the forest with a

gloomy sky and a threatening storm overhead when they discuss their plans

for the future (200). The gloomy weather and shadows exemplify the fact

that they can’t get away from the repressive force of their sins. It is

later proven when Dimmesdale dies on the scaffold!

instead of leaving with Hester and going to England (269). A final

example occurs by the way Hester and Dimmesdale can not acknowledge their

love in front of others. When they meet in the woods, they feel that, “No

golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of this dark forest

(206). This emotion foretells that they will never last together openly

because their sin has separated them too much from normal life. The

scarlet letter also takes many different forms in the novel. The first

and clearest form that the letter A takes is “Adulteress.” It is apparent

that Hester is guilty of cheating on her husband when she surfaces from

the prison with a three-month-old-child in her arms, and her husband has

been away for two years (53). Hence, the people look at the letter

elaborately embroidered with gold thread and see a “hussy” who is proud of

her sin (54). The second form that it takes is “Angel.” When Governor

Winthrop passes away, a giant A appears in the sky.!

People from the church feel that, “For as our good Governor Wint

hrop was made an angel this past night, it was doubtless held fit that

there should be some notice thereof!” (16). The final form that the

scarlet letter take is “Able.” Hester helped the people of the town so

unselfishly that Hawthorne wrote:

Such helpfulness was found in her,–so much power to do, and power

to sympathize,–that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by it

s original significance. They said that it meant Able; so strong was

Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength (167).

In closing, one of the most important reasons that The Scarlet Letter is

so well known is the way Hawthorne leaves the novel open to be interpreted

several different ways by his abundant use of symbolism.

This background, together with a believable plot, convincing

characterization, and important literary devices enables Nathaniel

Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the develop the theme of the heart as a

prison. Hawthorne describes the purpose of the novel when he says, “Be

true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worse, yet

some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” (272). The theme is

beneficial because it can be put into terms in today’s world. The Scarlet

Letter is one of the few books that will be timeless, because it deals

with alienation, sin, punishment, and guilt, emotions that will continue

to be felt by every generation to come.

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