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Evaluative Essentials of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
Who wrote The Scarlet Letter?
Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter is an all-time American classic first published in 1850. Set in the seventeenth-century Puritan community, New England, the story is about a publicly disgraced woman cast off for adultery, which resulted in the birth of her illegitimate child.
As punishment for sin, the protagonist, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear the scarlet letter 'A' on her clothing. Despite being shamed and alienated, the defiant Hester shows great inner strength in the extraordinary circumstances which shaped her into the first true heroine of American fiction.
The Scarlet Letter Characters
The Scarlet Letter characters are Hester Prynne, Roger Chillingworth, Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl, Governor Bellingham, and Mistress Hibbins.
- Hester Prynne
Hester, the protagonist, is the wearer of the scarlet letter 'A' which is the symbol of an 'adulterer' in the Puritan community. She was married to Roger Chillingworth, an elderly scholar who sent her to America to live but never followed.
Hester was a passionate but strong-willed character. But it's after the affair and the ruination it brought along, Hester becomes contemplative of human nature. By the end of the novel "The Scarlet Letter", Hester emerged as an intelligent, protofeminist figure in the community.
- Roger Chillingworth
Roger Chillingworth is a man with no human warmth. His physical characteristics signify his twisted nature. As per the book, he was a difficult husband who ignored his wife but expected love and affection. His character is the symbol of evil that survives on vengeance and seeks to destroy others deliberately.
- Arthur Dimmesdale
Dimmesdale is the young Reverend with whom Hester had an affair and later bore an illegitimate child. Those of you who have read The Scarlet Letter book will find his character intelligent, emotional, but filled with guilt His inability to confess his sins tormented him - physically and psychologically, which later resulted in a heart condition.
Hester's daughter, Pearl, is a young girl who is moody, intuitive and has a strong ability to perceive things, unlike others. Throughout the book, she makes us aware of the scarlet letter and the society. She was wise beyond her age and could perceive things and enquire – especially the relationship between her mother and the Reverend.
- Governor Bellingham
Governor Bellingham is a wealthy, elderly gentleman who resembles an English aristocrat than an American governor. He is harsh, uncompromising, and strictly abides by law and order. However, he overlooks the misbehaviours that take place in his luxurious mansion.
- Mistress Hibbins
In "The Scarlet Letter", the character of Mistress Hibbins is a widow who lives with her wealthy brother. She was a "witch" who rode deep into the forest at night with a mysterious "Black Man." Her character also represents hypocrisy and evil in Puritan society.
The Scarlet Letter Summary
Set in a village in Puritan community where the main character Hester Prynne, who believes she is a widow, has an affair with a young Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. She gives birth to an illegitimate child but his forced to wear the scarlet letter 'A' on her dress as a punishment for adultery.
Meanwhile, Roger Chillingworth arrives in New England very much alive but decides to conceal his identity. After he finds his wife wearing the scarlet letter, he forces Hester to name the father of the child. After Hester refuses to give away her lover's identify, Chillingworth gets obsessed to find the name by himself.
Later, when he learns about the connection between Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester, he begins to torment Arthur who out of guilt becomes increasingly ill. Hester, on the other hand, emerged as a self-reliant heroine who never repented her affair with the Reverend and felt it as a profound act of love. Despite being scorned initially, over time, she evolved as a protofeminist motherly figure among the women in the community.
In the end, Dimmesdale, broken by his guilt, publicly confesses his adultery act and dies in Hester's arms. Hester then leaves for Europe with her seven years old daughter, Pearl, to begin a new life. Years later Hester returns to New England alone and continues to wear the scarlet letter. After Hester's death, she is buried next to Dimmesdale.
The Scarlet Letter Analysis
The scarlet letter 'A', a finely embroidered with golden thread is a badge of shame and human artefact that reflects the opposition between order and transgression, civilisation and wilderness, and adulthood and childhood. The more the community members tried to follow the old world rituals and keep out capricious passion, the more it reinforced. The book portrays that the respectable members of the community are often most depraved, while the apparent sinners are more virtuous.
The novel "The Scarlet Letter" also throws light on social oppression and psychological repression. Dimmesdale's sense of guilt and his physical and mental torment reflect on the society's need for a scapegoat and alienate so-called sinners. The Scarlet Letter effectively captures the emergence of independence and self-reliance from the old Puritan roots.
The Scarlet Letter Quotes
"My child must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an earthly one." – Hester Prynne.
Hester refuses to identify Pearl's father. She uses the religious doctrine as Christians believe that God is the father of all to challenge the idea of identifying the biological father of her child.
"They said it meant Able, so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength." – Hester Prynne.
This quote shows how Hester with hardwork and dedication proved herself as a worthy member of the community. People eventually started to think 'it' as in the scarlet letter as a symbol of something else. This quote also shows that even during the toughest of times, Hester refused to give up.
"There was a fire in her and throughout her; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment." – Narrator.
The narrator uses these lines to describe Pearl, the illegitimate daughter of Hester. These lines clearly state that she is the daughter of somebody who had a passionate relationship of love and not adultery. Most importantly, the lines also show that the relation bloomed when she was out of wedlock.
Symbols In The Scarlet Letter
In literature, writers use symbols to convey specific meanings depending on the circumstances. Hawthorne has also used various symbols in The Scarlet Letter. A few of them are:
- The Door
The prison door is a symbol of cruel punishment given to the criminals and sometimes the innocents by the Puritanical magistrates. In the book, it also symbolises the punishment given to Hester, who, later was shunned to live in the forest.
- The Rose Bush
In the book, the red bush appears in two places. First, it symbolises Hester Prynne as beautiful as well as wild who can survive in extreme scenarios and later it symbolises Pearl and her vibrant life.
- The Scarlet Letter
The scarlet letter 'A' is a symbol of adultery. However, towards the end, the same letter emerged as the symbol innocence, penance and motherly character of Hester.
- Red Color
While most relate the colour red with violence, sex, passion, and sin, it also symbolises faithful love and purity of heart. In the novel, it used to show lost passion and sincere love.
Pearl represents the wild and passionate nature of Hester. She is also a constant reminder of the price Hester paid for her passionate love. More than punishment, Hester considers her child as an invaluable blessing which is why she named her 'Pearl.'
- Dimmesdale and Chillingworth
As the name suggests, Dimmesdale name is a symbol of a person doomed to fail. As for Chillingworth, the name suggests a loveless human with icy cold nature. In the novel, he shows no compassion to Hester and turns cold-hearted and abandons her.
- The Black Man
Hester compares Chillingworth to the "Black Man" who haunts the forest by which she meant to symbolise the devil who coaxes innocents to do sinful acts. Although Hester doesn't reveal the identity of the "Black Man" to Pearl, it is, however, clear that the "Black Man" is Chillingworth, who psychologically tormented Dimmesdale, forcing him to spill out the secret.
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