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美国论文:关于美国长篇小说《红字》的浅论

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《红字》是美国长篇小说,它以两百多年前的殖民地时代的美洲为题材,但揭露的却是19世纪资本主义发展时代美利坚合众国社会典法的残酷、宗教的欺骗和道德的虚伪。主人公海丝特被
美国论文:关于美国长篇小说《红字》的浅论The Scarlet Letter Historical Context The Transcendentalist Movement The Scarlet Letter, which takes as its principal subject colonial seventeenth-century New England, was written and published in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Hawthorne began writing the novel in 1849, after his dismissal from the Custom-House, and it was published in 1850. The discrepancy between the time represented in the novel and the time of its production has often been a point of confusion to students. Because Hawthorne took an earlier time as his subject, the novel is considered a historical romance written in the midst of the American literary movement called transcendentalism (c. 1836-60). The principle writers of transcendentalism included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and W. H. Channing. Transcendentalism was, broadly speaking, a reaction against the rationalism of the previous century and the religious orthodoxy of Calvinist New England. Transcendentalism stressed the romantic tenets of mysticism, idealism, and individualism. In religious terms it saw God not as a distant and harsh authority, but as an essential aspect of the individual and the natural world, which were themselves considered inseparable. Because of this profound unity of all matter, human and natural, knowledge of the world and its laws could be obtained through a kind of mystical rapture with the world. This type of experience was perhaps most famously explained in Emerson's Nature, where he wrote, "I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God." Even though Hawthorne was close to many transcendentalists, including Emerson, and even though he lived for a while at the transcendentalist experimental community of Brook Farm, he was rather peripheral to the movement. Hawthorne even pokes fun at Brook Farm and his transcendentalist contemporaries in "The Custom-House," referring to them as his "dreamy brethren indulging in fantastic speculation." Where they saw the possibilities of achieving knowledge through mystical experience, Hawthorne was far more skeptical. Abolitionism and Revolution More important to Hawthorne's literary productions, and particularly The Scarlet Letter, was abolitionism and European revolution.
These, in Hawthorne's view, were episodes of threatening instability. Abolitionism was the nineteenth-century movement to end slavery in the United States. Though it varied in intensity, abolitionism contained a very radical strain that helped to form a climate for John Brown's capture of Harpers Ferry in 1859. (John Brown intended to establish a base for armed slave insurrection.) The rising intensity and violence of abolitionism was an important cause of the Civil War. Hawthorne's conservative position in relation to abolitionism did not necessarily mean that he was pro-slavery, but he did quite clearly oppose abolitionists, writing that slavery was "one of those evils which divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances." What Hawthorne feared were violent disruptions of the social order like those that were happening in Europe at the time he wrote The Scarlet Letter. The bloody social upheaval that most interested Americans began in France in 1848. This, and other revolutions of the period, pitted the lower and middle classes against established power and authority.
While the revolutions eventually failed, they were largely waged under the banner of socialism, and it was this fact that caused concern in America; as one journalist wrote, as quoted by Bercovitch, here there were "foreboding shadows" of "Communism, Socialism, Pillage, Murder, Anarchy, and the Guillotine vs. Law and Order, Family and Property." Critics have recently pointed to Hawthorne's guillotine imagery in "The Custom-House" (where he even suggests the tidle "The Posthumous Papers of a Decapitated Surveyor" for his tale) and metaphors of his own victimization as some evidence of his sympathies with regard to revolution and social order. 美国论文The Puritan Colonies The novel was written in the mid-nineteenth century, but it takes the mid-seventeenth century for the events it describes (1642-49). The Massachusetts Bay Colony was established by John Winthorp (whose death is represented near the center of the novel) and other Puritans in 1630. They sought to establish an ideal community in America that could act as a model of influence for what they saw as a corrupt civil and religious order in England.
This sense of mission was the center of their religious and social identity. Directed toward the realization of such an ideal, the Puritans required a strict moral regulation; anyone in the conmmunity who sinned threatened not only their soul, but the very possibility of civil and religious perfection in America and in England. Not coincidentally, the years Hawthorne chose to represent in The Scarlet Letter were the same as those of the English Civil War fought between King Charles I and the Puritan Parliament; the latter was naturally supported by the New England colonists. Plot summary The novel takes place during the summer in 17th-century Boston, Massachusetts in a Puritan village. A young woman, named Hester Prynne, has been led from the town prison with her infant daughter in her arms and on the breast of her gown "a rag of scarlet cloth" that "assumed the shape of a letter." It was the uppercase letter "A".
The Scarlet Letter "A" represents the act of adultery that she has committed and it is to be a symbol of her sin—a badge of shame—for all to see. A man, who was elderly and a stranger to the town, enters the crowd and asks another onlooker what's happening. He responds by explaining that Hester is being punished for adultery. Hester's husband, who is much older than she, and whose real name is unknown, has sent her ahead to America whilst settling affairs in Europe. However, her husband does not arrive in Boston, and the consensus is that he has been lost at sea. It is apparent that, while waiting for her husband, Hester has had an affair, leading to the birth of her daughter. She will not reveal her lover's identity, however, and the scarlet letter, along with her subsequent public shaming, is the punishment for her sin and 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.[2] 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 her daughter Pearl grows into a willful, impish child—in Hawthorne's work, Pearl is more of a symbol than an actual character—and is said to be the scarlet letter come to life as both Hester's love and her punishment.
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, an 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 something undescribed to the reader, supposedly an "A" burned into Dimmesdale's chest, which convinces him that his suspicions are correct.[2] 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 the deathbed of John Winthrop 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. It is interpreted by the townsfolk to mean Angel, as a prominent figure in the community had died that night, but Dimmesdale sees it as meaning adultery. 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. She suggests that she may reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale.[2] Later in the story, while walking through the forest, the sun would not shine on Hester, although Pearl could bask in it. They then encounter Dimmesdale, as he is taking a walk in the woods that day. Hester informs Dimmesdale of the true identity of Chillingworth and 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. The sun immediately breaks through the clouds and trees to illuminate her release and joy. Pearl, playing nearby, does not recognize her mother without the letter. She is unnerved and expels a shriek until her mother points out the letter on the ground. Hester beckons Pearl to come to her, but Pearl will not go to her mother until Hester buttons the letter back onto her dress.
Pearl then goes to her mother. Dimmesdale gives Pearl a kiss on the forehead, which Pearl immediately tries to wash off in the brook, because he again refuses to make known publicly their relationship. However, he too clearly feels a release from the pretense of his former life, and the laws and sins he has lived with. The day before the ship is to sail, the townspeople gather for a holiday put on in honor of an election 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 the mark supposedly seared into the flesh of his chest. He falls dead just after Pearl kisses him.[2] 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 resumes her charitable work. She receives occasional letters from Pearl, who was rumored to have married a European aristocrat and established a family of her own. Pearl also inherits all of Chillingworth's money even though he knows she is not his daughter. There is a sense of liberation in her and the townspeople, especially the women, who had finally begun to forgive Hester of her tragic indiscretion. When Hester dies, she is buried in "a new grave near an old and sunken one, in that burial ground beside which King's Chapel has since been built. It was near that old and sunken grave, yet with a space between, as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle. Yet one tombstone served for both." The tombstone was decorated with a letter "A", for Hester and Dimmesdale.
Character List Hester Prynne A young woman sent to the colonies by her husband, who plans to join her later but is presumed lost at sea. She is a symbol of the acknowledged sinner; one whose transgression has been identified and who makes appropriate, socio-religious atonement. (Hester Prynne is the central and most important character in The Scarlet Letter. Hester was married to Roger Chillingworth while living in England and, later, Amsterdam — a city to which many English Puritans moved for religious freedom. Hester preceded her husband to New England, as he had business matters to settle in Amsterdam, and after approximately two years in America she committed adultery with the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. The novel begins as Hester nears the end of her prison term for adultery. While adultery was considered a grave threat to the Puritan community, such that death was considered a just punishment, the Puritan authorities weighed the long absence and possible death of her husband in their sentence. Thus, they settled on the punishment of permanent public humiliation and moral example: Hester was to forever wear the scarlet letter A on the bodice of her clothing. While seemingly free to leave the community and even America at her will, Hester chooses to stay. As the narrator puts it, "Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment; and so, perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul." According to this reasoning, Hester assumes her residence in a small abandoned cottage on the outskirts of the community. While the novel is, in large part, a record of the torment Hester suffers under the burden of her symbol of shame, eventually, after the implied marriage of her daughter Pearl and the death of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale, Hester becomes an accepted and even a highly valued member of the community. Instead of being a symbol of scorn, Hester, and the letter A, according to the narrator, "became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence too."
The people of the community even come to Hester for comfort and counsel in times of trouble and sorrow because they trust her to offer unselfish advice toward the resolution of upsetting conflict. Thus, in the end, Hester becomes an important figure in preserving the peace and stability of the community.) Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale Dimmesdale is the unmarried pastor of Hester's congregation; he is also the father of Hester's daughter, Pearl. He is a symbol of the secret sinner; one who recognizes his transgression but keeps it hidden and secret, even to his own downfall. (Arthur Dimmesdale is the young, charismatic minister with whom Hester commits adultery. Unlike Hester, who bears the child Pearl by their affair, Dimmesdale shows no outward evidence of his sin, and, as Hester does not expose him, he lives with the great anguish of his secret guilt until he confesses publicly and soon after dies near the end of the novel. Dimmesdale is presented as a figure of frailty and weakness in contrast to Hester's strength (both moral and physical), pride, and determination. He consistently refuses to confess his sin (until the end), even though he repeatedly states that it were better, less spiritually painful, if his great failing were known. Thus Dimmesdale struggles through the years and the narrative, enduring and faltering beneath his growing pain (with both the help and harm of Roger Chillingworth), until, after his failed plan to escape to Europe with Hester and Pearl, he confesses and dies.) Pearl Pearl is the illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. She is the living manifestation of Hester's sin and a symbol of the product of the act of adultery and of an act of passion and love. (Pearl is the daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Necessarily marginal to Puritan society and scorned by other children, she grows up as an intimate of nature and the forest. Symbolically recreating the scarlet letter, Hester, in opposition to her own drab wardrobe, dresses Pearl in brilliant, decorative clothing such "that there was an absolute circle of radiance about her." Like most characters in The Scarlet Letter, Pearl is complex and contradictory. On the one hand, as the narrator describes, she "could not be made amenable to rules." At one moment in the novel, her disregard of authority takes the form of a violent game where she pretends to destroy the children of the Puritan elders: "the ugliest weeds of the garden [she imagined were the elders'] children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted, most unmercifully." On the other hand, at a climactic point in the narrative, where Hester discards the scarlet letter on the floor of the forest, it is Pearl who dramatically insists that she resume the potent symbol. The form of her insistence is particularly important, for, against her mother's request, she does not bring the letter to Hester, but obstinately has Hester fetch the letter herself. This moment demonstrates one of the central conflicted themes of the novel about the authoritarian imposition of law and the willing subjection to it, or even embodiment of it. In this scene Pearl becomes the figure of authority to whom Hester willingly, if symbolically, obeys.
Pearl eventually leaves with Hester for Europe (though Hester returns), where, it is implied, Pearl stays and, with the aid of Chillingworth's inheritance, is married to nobility.) Roger Chillingworth The pseudonym assumed by Hester Prynne's aged scholar-husband. He is a symbol of evil, of the "devil's handyman," of one consumed with revenge and devoid of compassion. (Roger Chillingworth is the alias of Hester's husband. The two were married in England and moved together to Amsterdam before Hester preceded Chillingworth to America. Chillingworth is a man devoted to knowledge. His outward physical deformity (a hunchback) is symbolic of his devotion to deep, as opposed to superficial, knowledge. His lifelong study of apothecary and the healing arts, first in Europe and later among the Indians of America, is a sincere benevolent exercise until he discovers his wife's infidelity, whereupon he turns his skills toward the evil of revenge. Chillingworth is introduced near the very start of the narrative, where he discovers Hester upon the scaffold with Pearl, the scarlet letter upon her chest, and displayed for public shame.
After surviving a shipwreck on his voyage to America, he lived for some time among the Indians and slowly made his way to Boston and Hester. Upon discovering Hester's "ignominious" situation, Chilling-worth declines to announce his identity and instead chooses to reside in Boston to find and avenge himself on Hester's lover. When Dimmesdale becomes ill with the effects of his sin, Chillingworth comes to live with him under the same roof. Reneging on an earlier promise, Hester eventually discloses Chillingworth's identity to Dimmesdale. Soon after Dimmesdale publicly confesses his sin and, as Chillingworth puts it, "Hadst thou sought the whole earth over there was no one place so secret, — no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me, — save on this very scaffold!" Thus, his vengeful victory taken from him, Chillingworth soon dies, though not before leaving all of his substantial wealth to Pearl.) Governor Bellingham This actual historical figure, Richard Bellingham, was elected governor in 1641, 1654, and 1665. In The Scarlet Letter, he witnesses Hester's punishment and is a symbol of civil authority and, combined with John Wilson, of the Puritan Theocracy. Mistress Hibbins Another historical figure, Ann Hibbins, sister of Governor Bellingham, was executed for witchcraft in 1656.
In the novel, she has insight into the sins of both Hester and Dimmesdale and is a symbol of super or preternatural knowledge and evil powers. John Wilson The historical figure on whom this character is based was an English-born minister who arrived in Boston in 1630. He is a symbol of religious authority and, combined with Governor Bellingham, of the Puritan Theocracy. Character Analysis 1.Hester Prynne What is most remarkable about Hester Prynne is her strength of character. While Hawthorne does not give a great deal of information about her life before the book opens, he does show her remarkable character, revealed through her public humiliation and subsequent, isolated life in Puritan society. Her inner strength, her defiance of convention, her honesty, and her compassion may have been in her character all along, but the scarlet letter brings them to our attention. She is, in the end, a survivor. Hester is physically described in the first scaffold scene as a tall young woman with a "figure of perfect elegance on a large scale." Her most impressive feature is her "dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam." Her complexion is rich, her eyes are dark and deep, and her regular features give her a beautiful face. In fact, so physically stunning is she that "her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped." Contrast this with her appearance after seven years of punishment for her sin. Her beautiful hair is hidden under her cap, her beauty and warmth are gone, buried under the burden of the elaborate scarlet letter on her bosom. When she removes the letter and takes off her cap in Chapter 13, she once again becomes the radiant beauty of seven years earlier. Symbolically, when Hester removes the letter and takes off the cap, she is, in effect, removing the harsh, stark, unbending Puritan social and moral structure.
Hester is only to have a brief respite, however, because Pearl angrily demands she resume wearing the scarlet A. With the scarlet letter and her hair back in place, "her beauty, the warmth and richness of her womanhood, departed, like fading sunshine; and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her." While her punishment changes her physical appearance, it has a far more profound effect on her character. What we know about Hester from the days prior to her punishment is that she came from a "genteel but impoverished English family" of notable lineage. She married the much older Roger Chillingworth, who spent long hours over his books and experiments; yet she convinced herself that she was happy. When they left Amsterdam for the New World, he sent her ahead, but he was reportedly lost at sea, leaving Hester alone among the Puritans of Boston. Officially, she is a widow. While not a Puritan herself, Hester looks to Arthur Dimmesdale for comfort and spiritual guidance. Somewhere during this period of time, their solace becomes passion and results in the birth of Pearl. The reader first meets the incredibly strong Hester on the scaffold with Pearl in her arms, beginning her punishment. On the scaffold, she displays a sense of irony and contempt. The irony is present in the elaborate needlework of the scarlet letter.
There are "fantastic flourishes of gold-thread," and the letter is ornately decorative, significantly beyond the colony's laws that call for somber, unadorned attire. The first description of Hester notes her "natural dignity and force of character" and mentions specifically the haughty smile and strong glance that reveal no self-consciousness of her plight. While she might be feeling agony as if "her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon," her face reveals no such thought, and her demeanor is described as "haughty." She displays a dignity and grace that reveals a deep trust in herself. In this first scene, Dimmesdale implores her to name the father of the baby and her penance may be lightened. Hester says "Never!" When asked again, she says "I will not speak!" While this declaration relieves Dimmesdale and he praises her under his breath, it also shows Hester's determination to stand alone despite the opinion of society. Hester's self-reliance and inner strength are further revealed in her defiance of the law and in her iron will during her confrontation with the governor of the colony.
Despite her lonely existence, Hester somehow finds an inner strength to defy both the townspeople and the local government. This defiance becomes stronger and will carry her through later interviews with both Chillingworth and Governor Bellingham. Her determination and lonely stand is repeated again when she confronts Governor Bellingham over the issue of Pearl's guardianship. When the governor determines to take Pearl away from her, Hester says, "God gave me the child! He gave her in requital of all things else, which he had taken from me . . . Ye shall not take her! I will die first!" When pressed further with assurances of Pearl's good care, Hester defiantly pleads with him, "God gave her into my keeping. I will not give her up!" Here Hester turns to Dimmesdale for help, the one time in the novel where she does not stand alone. Hester's strength is evident in her dealings with both her husband and her lover. Hester defies Chillingworth when he demands to know the name of her lover. In Chapter 4, when he interviews her in the jail, she firmly says, "Ask me not! That thou shalt never know!" In the forest scene, even Dimmesdale acknowledges that she has the strength he lacks. The minister calls on her to give him strength to overcome his indecisiveness twice in the forest and again as he faces his confession on Election Day.
What is the source of this strength? As she walks out on the scaffold at the beginning of the novel, Hester determines that she must "sustain and carry" her burden forward "by the ordinary resources of her nature, or sink with it. She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present." Her loneliness is described in the Chapter 5 as she considers how she can support herself and Pearl, a problem that she solves with her needlework. Yet she continues to lack adult companionship throughout her life. She has nothing but her strength of spirit to sustain her. This inner calm is recognized in the changing attitude of the community when they acknowledge that the A is for "Able," "so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength." A second quality of Hester is that she is, above all, honest: She openly acknowledges her sin. In Chapter 17, she explains to Dimmesdale that she has been honest in all things except in disclosing his part in her pregnancy. "A lie is never good, even though death threaten on the other side!" She also explains to Chillingworth that, even in their sham of a marriage, "thou knowest that I was frank with thee. I felt no love, nor feigned any." She kept her word in carrying her husband's secret identity, and she tells the minister the truth only after she is released from her pledge.
This life of public repentance, although bitter and difficult, helps her retain her sanity while Dimmesdale seems to be losing his. Finally, Hester becomes an angel of mercy who eventually lives out her life as a figure of compassion in the community. Hester becomes known for her charitable deeds. She offers comfort to the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden. When the governor is dying, she is at his side. "She came, not as a guest, but as a rightful inmate, into the household that was darkened by trouble." Yet Hester's presence is taken for granted, and those that she helps do not acknowledge her on the street. Hawthorne attributes this transformation to her lonely position in the world and her suffering. No friend, no companion, no foot crossed the threshold of her cottage. In her solitude, she had a great deal of time to think. Also, Hester has Pearl to raise, and she must do so amid a great number of difficulties. Her shame in the face of public opinion, her loneliness and suffering, and her quiet acceptance of her position make her respond to the calamities of others. In the end, Hester's strength, honesty, and compassion carry her through a life she had not imagined. While Dimmesdale dies after his public confession and Chillingworth dies consumed by his own hatred and revenge, Hester lives on, quietly, and becomes something of a legend in the colony of Boston. The scarlet letter made her what she became, and, in the end, she grew stronger and more at peace through her suffering. 2.Arthur Dimmesdale Dimmesdale, the personification of "human frailty and sorrow," is young, pale, and physically delicate. He has large, melancholy eyes and a tremulous mouth, suggesting great sensitivity. An ordained Puritan minister, he is well educated, and he has a philosophical turn of mind. There is no doubt that he is devoted to God, passionate in his religion, and effective in the pulpit. He also has the principal conflict in the novel, and his agonized suffering is the direct result of his inability to disclose his sin. Of the four major characters in this novel, which investigates the nature of evil and sin and is a criticism of Puritan rigidity and intolerance, Dimmesdale is the only Puritan. One really cannot understand Dimmesdale or his dilemma without at least a cursory understanding of the Puritans who inhabited Boston at this time (see the essay "The Puritan Community" in the Critical Essays) and Hawthorne's psychological perspective through which he presents this tragic character. In Puritan terms, Dimmesdale's predicament is that he is unsure of his soul's status: He is exemplary in performing his duties as a Puritan minister, an indicator that he is one of the elect; however, he knows he has sinned and considers himself a hypocrite, a sign he is not chosen. The vigils he keeps are representative of this inward struggle to ascertain his heavenly status, the status of his very soul. Note that Hawthorne says of Dimmesdale's nightly vigils, which are sometimes in darkness, sometimes in dim light, and sometimes by the most powerful light which he could throw upon it, "He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured . . ."
Finally, to add to the Dimmesdale dilemma, the Puritans — therefore, Dimmesdale — did not believe that good works or moral living earned salvation for the individual. As Dimmesdale states, "There is no substance in it [good works]." (Hester, who is not Puritan, believes that Dimmesdale's good works should bring him peace.) The Puritan reasoning was that, if one could earn his/her way into heaven, God's sovereignty is diminished. Since God created the soul and infused it in the human body, salvation is predestined. They reasoned that the elect — that is, God's chosen people — would not or could not commit evil acts; they would act the role, as it were; thus, Dimmesdale's dilemma. As a minister, Dimmesdale has a voice that consoles and an ability to sway audiences. His congregation adores him and his parishioners seek his advice. As a minister, Dimmesdale must be above reproach, and there is no question that he excels at his profession and enjoys a reputation among his congregation and other ministers. His soul aside, he does do good works. His ministry aids people in leading good lives. If he publicly confesses, he loses his ability to be effective in this regard. For Dimmesdale, however, his effectiveness betrays his desire to confess. The more he suffers, the better his sermons become. The more he whips himself, the more eloquent he is on Sunday and the more his congregation worships his words. Nevertheless, Hawthorne states in Chapter 20, "No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true." Dimmesdale's struggle is dark and his penance is horrifying as he tries to unravel his mystery. In Chapter 11, "The Interior of a Heart," Dimmesdale struggles with his knowledge of his sin, his inability to disclose it to Puritan society, and his desire for penance. He knows his actions have fallen short of both God's standards and his own, and he fears this represents his lack of salvation. In an attempt to seek salvation, he fasts until he faints and whips himself on the shoulders until he bleeds.
But these punishments are done in private rather than in public and do not provide the cleansing Dimmesdale seeks and needs. As a sinner, he is weakened to temptation. As demonstrated later, his weakened condition makes it easier for him to associate himself with the Black Man in the forest. His congregation expects him to be above other mortals, and his life and thoughts must exist on a higher spiritual plane than others. Accordingly, his wonderful sermons are applauded by all for a reason his listeners don't understand: Sin and agony have enabled the intellectual scholar-minister to recognize and empathize with other sinners. In the forest scene, Dimmesdale evidently realizes that he is human and should ask forgiveness and do penance openly. On the way home, he sees how far his defenses have been breached by evil. These thoughts explain why he can so easily write his Election Day sermon, which is filled with the passion of his struggle and his humanity. Dimmesdale's confession in the third scaffold scene and the climax of the story is the action that ensures his salvation. The reader senses that whether chosen or earned, Dimmesdale's salvation is a reality. Having had several opportunities to confess, without success until this scene, true to his nature if not his ministry, he asks God's forgiveness not only for himself, but also for Chillingworth, who confirms the minister's triumph when he laments, "Thou hast escaped me! . . . Thou hast escaped me!" Dimmesdale's confession also brings about Pearl's humane metamorphosis. In the long run, Dimmesdale has not the strength of Hester Prynne or her honesty. He cannot stand alone to confess. In death, perhaps he will find a gentler judgment that his own or that of his fellow citizens of Boston. 3.Roger Chillingworth Roger Chillingworth, unlike Hester and Dimmesdale, is a flat character. While he develops from a kind scholar into an obsessed fiend, he is less of a character and more of a symbol doing the devil's bidding. Once he comes to Boston, we see him only in situations that involve his obsession with vengeance, where we learn a great deal about him.
Hawthorne begins building this symbol of evil vengeance with Chillingworth's first appearance (". . . dropping down, as it were, out of the sky, or starting from the nether earth . . .") in the novel by associating him with deformity, wildness (the Indians), and mysterious power. Having just ended over a year of captivity by the Indians, his appearance is hideous, partly because of his strange mixture of "civilized and savage costume." Even when he is better dressed, however, Chillingworth is far from attractive. He is small, thin, and slightly deformed, with one shoulder higher than the other. Although he "could hardly be termed aged," he has a wrinkled face and appears "well stricken in years." He has, however, a look of calm intelligence, and his eyes, though they have a "strange, penetrating power," are dim and bleared, testifying to long hours of study under lamplight. The reader feels a bit sorry for Roger Chillingworth during the first scaffold scene when he arrives in Massachusetts Bay Colony and finds his wife suffering public shame for an adulterous act. At that point, however, he has several choices; he chooses revenge. His rude awakening is described a second time in Chapter 9 when Hawthorne calls him "a man, elderly, travel-worn, who, just emerging from the perilous wilderness, beheld the woman, in whom he hoped to find embodied the warmth and cheerfulness of home, set up as a type of sin before the people." What should have been a warm and loving homecoming after being apart from his wife has become terrible.
Chillingworth is not a Puritan. While he was a captive of the Indians for "upward of a year," he did not judge them as heathens and infidels, and, unlike the Puritans, he did not seek to convert them. Instead, as the scholar, he studied their knowledge of herbs and medicines to learn. He has, indeed, spent his life as a lonely scholar, cutting himself off when necessary in the quest for knowledge from the world of other men. This study of herbs and medicines later links his work to the "black medicine" and helps him keep his victim alive. Hawthorne further develops this "other world" involvement — whether fate or predetermined by some higher power — when he describes the physician's appearance as being just in time to "help" Dimmesdale. The Puritans believed that the hand of God, or Providence, was in every event. So Hawthorne skewers their belief in mentioning Chillingworth's arrival when he states, "Individuals of wiser faith, indeed, who knew that Heaven promotes its purposes without aiming at the stage-effect of what is called miraculous interposition, were inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth's opportune arrival." When Chillingworth arrives in the colony and learns of Hester's situation, he leaves her alone nearly seven years as he single-mindedly pursues Dimmesdale. He does, however, see his role in her downfall. Because he married her when she was young and beautiful and then shut himself away with his books, he realizes that their marriage did not follow "the laws of nature." He could not believe she, who was so beautiful, could marry a man "misshapen since my birth hour." He deluded himself that his intellectual gifts dazzled her and she forgot his deformity. He now realizes that from the moment they met, the scarlet letter would be at the end of their path. His love of learning and intellectual pursuit attracts Dimmesdale. In the New World, men of learning were rare.
Hawthorne says, "there was a fascination for the minister in the company of the man of science, in whom he recognized an intellectual cultivation of no moderate depth or scope; together with a range and freedom of ideas that he would have vainly looked for among the members of his own profession." This love of wisdom is what will draw the two men together, thus facilitating Chillingworth's plans. In Chillingworth, Hawthorne has created the "man of science," a man of pure intellect and reason with no concern for feelings. Notice the "chilliness" of his name. In Chapter 9, Hawthorne describes the scarcity of Chillingworth's scientific peers in the New World: "Skillful men, of the medical and chirurgical profession, were of rare occurrence in the colony." These men of science have lost the spiritual view of human beings because they are so wrapped up in the scientific intricacies of the human body.
As a paragon of this group, Chillingworth lives in a world of scholarly pursuits and learning. Even when he was married to Hester, a beautiful, young woman, he shut himself off from her and single-mindedly pursued his scholarly studies. Once Chillingworth decides to pursue Hester's lover and enact revenge, he pursues this purpose with the techniques and motives of a scientist. Moving in with Dimmesdale he pokes and prods. His hypothesis is that corruption of the body leads to corruption of the soul. "Wherever there is a heart and an intellect, the diseases of the physical frame are tinged with the peculiarities of these [the intellectual thoughts]." In Chapter 9, "The Leech," Chillingworth's motives and techniques are explored. As a scientific investigator, he cold-heartedly and intellectually pursues his lab specimen. Hawthorne says, "Few secrets can escape an investigator, who has opportunity and license to undertake such a quest, and skill to follow it up." When Chillingworth begins his investigation, he does so as a scientist. Hawthorne writes, "He had begun an investigation, as he imagined, with the severe and equal integrity of a judge, desirous only of truth, even as if the question involved no more than the air-drawn lines and figures of a geometrical problem, instead of human passions, and wrongs inflicted on itself." Here the cold intellect of the publicly emerging nineteenth century scientist is used as a framework for Chillingworth's pursuit. This is what makes Chillingworth diabolical and, in Hawthorne's eyes, the greatest sinner. He violates Dimmesdale's heart and soul to see how he will react. Of human compassion, he has none. Eventually when Hester talks with him about whether Dimmesdale's debt has been paid, Chillingworth says that it would have been better had he died than endure seven years of vengeance. Hawthorne also uses Hester to show what has happened to Chillingworth in isolating himself from humanity.
In Chapter 14, she agrees with his description of what he used to be and counters with what he has become. He was once a thoughtful man, wanting little for himself. He was "kind, true, just, and of constant, if not warm affections." But now she tells him that he is a fiend, bent on Dimmesdale's destruction. She says, "You search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living death." In Dimmesdale, Chillingworth has a helpless victim, and he exercises his power over the minister with great enthusiasm. He enters Dimmesdale's heart "like a thief enters a chamber where a man lies only half asleep." By Chapter 14, when Hester meets him in the forest, Chillingworth has a blackness in his visage and a red light showing out of his eyes, as if "the old man's soul were on fire, and kept on smoldering duskily within his breast." In seeking vengeance, he has taken on the devil's job. His obsession with revenge is what makes him — in Hawthorne's eyes — the worst sinner and, therefore, a pawn of the devil. It is appropriate that Hester meets him in the dark forest, a place the Puritans see as the abode of the Black Man. This man of science, so lacking in sentiment, is coldly and single-mindedly seeking what is only God's prerogative: vengeance Chillingworth has become such a fiend that his very existence depends on Dimmesdale. When he knowingly smiles to Hester at the Election Day ceremony, he is acknowledging that he, too, will be on that ship bound for Europe, the faithful companion of the minister.
It is their fate to be together. When Dimmesdale surprises the physician and climbs the scaffold to confess, Chillingworth knows the minister is about to escape him. His mental torture of the minister is his only reason for living; when his object is beyond reach, Chillingworth does, indeed cease to exist. In the Conclusion, we discover that Chillingworth "positively withered up, shrivelled away." Obsession, vengeance, and hatred consumed him, but, despite all this, he leaves his fortune to Pearl, a child of love and passion, the living symbol and personification of the scarlet letter. Perhaps this act can, to some degree, redeem the person whose sin was the blackest. Pearl Pearl is not meant to be a realistic character. Rather, she is a complicated symbol of an act of love and passion, an act which was also adultery. She appears as an infant in the first scaffold scene, then at the age of three, and finally at the age of seven. (Notice that three and seven are "magic" numbers.) The fullest description of Pearl comes in Chapter 6. There, we see her at the age of three and learn that she possesses a "rich and luxuriant beauty; a beauty that shone with deep and vivid tints; a bright complexion, eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow, and hair already of a deep, glossy brown and which, in after years, would be nearly akin to black."
We learn further that Pearl has a "perfect shape," "vigor," "natural dexterity," and "a native grace," and that in public she is usually dressed in "gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler loveliness." Her personality is described as intelligent, imaginative, inquisitive, determined, and even obstinate at times. She is a baffling mixture of strong moods, given to uncontrolled laughter at one moment and sullen silence the next, with a fierce temper and a capacity for the "bitterest hatred that can be supposed to rankle in a childish bosom." So unusual is her behavior that she is often referred to in such terms as "elf-child," "imp," and "airy sprite," all of which heighten her symbolism. Governor Bellingham likens her to the "children of the Lord of Misrule," and some of the Puritans believe that she is a "demon offspring." As a symbol, Pearl functions first as a reminder of Hester's passion. Hester realizes this in the first scaffold scene when she resists the temptation to hold Pearl in front of the scarlet A, "wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another." As Pearl grows into a lovely, sprite-like child, Hester feels that her daughter's strange behavior is somehow associated with Pearl's conception and birth. Pearl also functions as a constant reminder of Hester's adulterous act. She is, in fact, the personification of that act. Even as a baby, she instinctively reaches for the scarlet letter. Hawthorne says it is the first object of which she seemed aware, and she focuses on the letter in many scenes. She creates her own letter out of moss, sees the letter in the breastplate at Governor Bellingham's mansion, and points at it in the forest scene with Hester and Dimmesdale. As a symbol, Pearl always keeps Hester aware of her sin. Just as Dimmesdale cannot escape to Europe because Chillingworth has cut off his exit, Pearl always keeps Hester aware that there is no escape from her passionate nature.
The Puritans would call that nature "sinful." In Chapter 6, Hawthorne employs an often-used technique for that passion. Hawthorne's handling of mirror images has both the goal of representing the passionate, artistic side of man and also the idea that life's truths can be pictured in mirror images. Hester looks into "the black mirror of Pearl's eye" and she sees "a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice, yet bearing the semblance of features that she had known full well, though seldom with a smile, and never with malice in them." Is this her own face, never with malice, but contorted by the evil of her passion? If so, Pearl is the embodiment of that passion. The poetic, intuitive, outlawed nature of the artist is an object of evil to the Puritans. As a symbol, Pearl represents that nature. As she looks in the brook in Chapter 19, she sees "another child, — another and the same, with likewise its ray of golden light." This child is an image of Pearl but not quite. Filled with the glory of sunshine, sympathetic, but only "somewhat of its [Pearl's] own shadowy and intangible quality," it is the passion of the artist, the outlaw.
This is a passion that does not know the bounds of the Puritan village. In the forest, this passion can come alive and does again when Hester takes off her cap and lets down her hair. Pearl is the living embodiment of this viewpoint, and the mirror image makes that symbol come to life. Hester herself tries to account for the nature of her child and gets no farther than the symbolic unity of Pearl and her own passion. A close examination of Chapter 6, "Pearl," shows the unification of the child with the idea of sin. Hester is recalling the moment when she had given herself to Dimmesdale in love. The only way she can account for Pearl's nature is in seeing how the child is the symbol of that moment. She recalls ". . .
what she herself had been during that momentous period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her bodily frame from its material of earth. The mother's impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the untempered light of the intervening substance." Even Pearl's clothes contribute to her symbolic purpose in the novel by making an association between her, the scarlet letter, and Hester's passion. Much to the consternation of her Puritan society, Hester dresses Pearl in outfits of gold or red or both. Even when she goes to Governor Bellingham's to plead for her daughter's custody, Hester dresses Pearl in a crimson velvet tunic. With Pearl's attire, Hester can give "the gorgeous tendencies of her imagination their full play," embroidering her clothes "with fantasies and flourishes of gold-thread." Physical descriptions of Pearl and the scarlet letter are virtually interchangeable. Mistress Hibbins invites Hester to the forest and Hester says if the governor takes her child away she will gladly go. Their conversation reminds us that, as a symbol, Pearl is also the conscience of a number of people. First, she is the conscience of the community, pointing her finger at Hester. In any number of places, she reminds Hester that she must wear, and continue to wear, the scarlet letter. When they go to the forest and Hester removes the A, Pearl makes her put it back on. She tells her mother that "the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom" (Chapter 16).
Pearl is also the conscience of Dimmesdale. In Chapter 3, when Hester stands with her on the scaffold, Pearl reaches out to her father, Dimmesdale, but he does not acknowledge her. Once again on the scaffold in Chapter 13, Pearl asks the minister to stand with them in the light of day and the eyes of the community. When he denies her once again, she washes away his kiss, apt punishment for a man who will not take responsibility. She repeats her request for recognition during the Election Day procession. In her intuitive way, she realizes what he must do so to find salvation. In the end, it is Dimmesdale's actions that "save" Pearl, making her truly human and giving her human sympathies and feelings. On the scaffold just before his death, Pearl kisses him and "a spell was broken." At that point, Pearl ceases to be a symbol. The great sense of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, 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." While Pearl functions mainly as a symbol, she is allowed to become a flesh and blood person at the end. She is a combination of her mother's passion and intuitive understanding and her father's keen mental acuity. In her, Hawthorne has created a symbol of great wealth and layers. Major themes Sin The experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in expulsion and suffering.
But it also results in knowledge—specifically, in knowledge of what it means to be human. For Hester, the scarlet letter functions as "her passport into regions where other women dared not tread", leading her to "speculate" about her society and herself more "boldly" than anyone else in New England.[3] As for Dimmesdale, the "cheating minister" of his sin gives him "sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his chest vibrate[s] in unison with theirs." His eloquent and powerful sermons derive from this sense of empathy.[3] The narrative of the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale is quite in keeping with the oldest and most fully authorized principles in Christian thought. His "Fall" is a descent from apparent grace to his own damnation; he appears to begin in purity. He ends in corruption. The subtlety is that the minister is his own deceiver, convincing himself at every stage of his spiritual pilgrimage that he is saved.[4] The rosebush, its beauty a striking contrast to all that surrounds it—as later the beautifully embroidered scarlet A will be–is held out in part as an invitation to find "some sweet moral blossom" in the ensuing, tragic tale and in part as an image that "the deep heart of nature" (perhaps God) may look more kindly on the errant Hester and her child than her Puritan neighbors do. Throughout the work, the nature images contrast with the stark darkness of the Puritans and their systems.[5] Chillingworth's misshapen body reflects (or symbolizes) the anger in his soul, which builds as the novel progresses, similar to the way Dimmesdale's illness reveals his inner turmoil. The outward man reflects the condition of the heart.[5] Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl herself is the embodiment of the scarlet letter, and Hester rightly clothes her in a beautiful dress of scarlet, embroidered with gold thread, just like the scarlet letter upon Hester's bosom.[3] Parallels can be drawn between Pearl and the character Beatrice in Rappaccini's Daughter. Both are studies in the same direction, though from different standpoints. Beatrice is nourished upon poisonous plants, until she herself becomes poisonous. Pearl, in the mysterious prenatal world, imbibes the poison of her parents' guilt. Past and present The clashing of past and present is explored in various ways.
For example, the character of the old General, whose heroic qualities include a distinguished name, perseverance, integrity, compassion, and moral inner strength, is said to be "the soul and spirit of New England hardihood". Now put out to pasture, he sometimes presides over the Custom House run by corrupt public servants, who skip work to sleep, allow or overlook smuggling, and are supervised by an inspector with "no power of thought, nor depth of feeling, no troublesome sensibilities", who is honest enough but without a spiritual compass.[5] Hawthorne himself had ambivalent feelings about the role of his ancestors in his life. In his autobiographical sketch, Hawthorne described his ancestors as "dim and dusky", "grave, bearded, sable-cloaked, and steel crowned", "bitter persecutors" whose "better deeds" would be diminished by their bad ones. There can be little doubt of Hawthorne's disdain for the stern morality and rigidity of the Puritans, and he imagined his predecessors' disdainful view of him: unsuccessful in their eyes, worthless and disgraceful. "A writer of story books!" But even as he disagrees with his ancestors' viewpoint, he also feels an instinctual connection to them and, more importantly, a "sense of place" in Salem. Their blood remains in his veins, but their intolerance and lack of humanity becomes the subject of his novel.[5] Individual Vs. Society The Scarlet Letter is a novel that describes the psychological anguish of two principle characters, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale.
They are both suffering under, while attempting to come to terms with, their mutual sin of adultery in a strict Puritan society. As critics immediately recognized upon publication of the novel in 1850, one of its principal themes involved conflict between the individual and society. Hawthorne represents the stern and threatening force of Puritan society in the first sentence of the first chapter, where he describes a "throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray," who stand before the prison door "which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes," and behind which was Hester. Hawthorne symbolizes the force of the Puritan's civil and religious authority in this "prison-door," which is indeed the very name of the chapter. Yet outside the door, symbolizing Hester, the scarlet letter, and finally the individual who dissents from society, is a "wild rose-bush." This rosebush that stands just outside the prison door, Hawthorne famously suggests, "may serve to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow."
The action of the novel (what there is of action in this notoriously unmoving narrative) maintains the conflict of the individual with society, even to the end, where Hawthorne offers a perplexing conclusion. Beginning with the above symbolic scene, Hawthorne repeatedly attaches our sympathies with the individual against social authority, setting us up for a narrative resolution where the individual breaks free from imposed constraints. Yet Hester, after she leaves America for a time, returns to the place of her punishment and willingly resumes the imposed symbol of her guilt and shame. Thus we are left with this principal thematic conflict to resolve on our own. Change and Transformation Closely related to the conflict of the individual and society is the theme of stability, change, and transformation. One of the important places where this theme is introduced is actually outside the proper narrative, in Hawthorne's introduction, "The Custom-House." In "The Custom-House" Hawthorne informs us about his actual job as the commissioner of the custom house in Salem, Massachusetts. Given the job as a political appointment, Hawthorne was responsible for the inspection and regulation of merchant ships that landed in Salem. In his endless partiality to symbols, Hawthorne describes "an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings" that "hovers" before the Custom-House entrance and appears "by the fierceness of her beak and eye and the general truculency of her attitude to warn all citizens" of disrupting the Custom-House affairs. Here is a symbol of stable authority necessarily connected to Hawthorne himself, insofar as he is chief official of the Custom-House.
Yet this firm symbol of civil authority is immediately compromised by the context of decay in which it is placed. Hawthorne notes that the wharves of Salem have been left "to crumble to ruin" and that the port "exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial life." Even the pavement around the Custom-House "has grass enough growing in its chinks to show that it has not, of late days, been worn by any multitudinous resort of business." But these signs of creeping transfornation are replaced by Hawthorne's obviously uncomfortable representation of sudden, even violent change, which in fact struck him personally. Due to the political nature of Hawthorne's appointment, when Zachary Taylor won the Presidential election of 1848, Hawthorne was promptly removed from office. Viewing himself as politically harmless, Hawthorne had felt his "prospect of retaining office to be better than [that of his] Democratic brethren. But who can see an inch into futurity, beyond his nose? My own head was the first that fell!" With his guillotine metaphor, Hawthorne evokes the great violent revolutions then sweeping Europe. Critics now agree that he greatly feared the possibility of such dramatic change in America. Ambiguity Critical consensus has come to regard the issue of ambiguity and knowledge rather than ones of deception and truth, as a central, if not the central, theme in the novel. Truth and deception imply a firm moral order, the very possibility of which the novel repeatedly draws into question. Ambiguity, which implies the incapacity to know anything for certain, is much closer to what the novel describes. One of the most profound expressions of ambiguity surrounds Arthur Dimmesdale, for it is the truth of sin that he keeps hidden which makes him the very pillar of moral purity in the community. In fact, exactly because he confesses his impurity he becomes a more powerful figure of virtue: "He had told his bearers that he was altogether vile, a viler companion of the vilest, the warts of sinners, a thing of unimaginable iniquity. They heard it all, and did but reverence him the more." The "truth" about the minister, sinner or sinless, is forever suspended. Thus, even after the narrator records Dimmesdale's public confession of his affair with Hester, the very notion that he was Hester's lover remains inconclusive. Some people maintain that they saw a stigmata of the scarlet letter on Dimmesdale's chest, others present say they saw nothing at all. Some even claim that he did not confess "the slightest connection, on his part, with the guilt for which Hester Prynne had so long worn the scarlet letter." As the narrator says, "The reader may choose among these theories." Another moment where the lure of truth is presented yet left undisclosed occurs in chapter nineteen, where the narrator tells us that Pearl "had been offered to the world. As the living hieroglyphic, in which was revealed the secret [Hester and Dimmesdale] so darkly sought to hide, — all written in this symbol, — all plainly manifest, — had there been a prophet or magician skilled to read the character of flame." Truth is plain, but its language is hard to interpret. Guilt and Innocence Sin The Scarlet Letter is without question a novel about sin and guilt, though, as we should expect of Hawthorne, it is not a simple matter to determine who, or what, is the subject of these themes.
Are Hester and Dimmesdale the principle sinners, or does their suffering, if not their love, absolve them? If we assume that the novel is an allegory, involving significant episodes and issues from American history, particularly the Salem witch trials, then is it America itself that is guilty of great sin? If this is the case (and many critics feel that it is), then we should reverse the most obvious terms of guilt and sin that the novel presents and read the representatives of authority as the principal figures of guilt. Following this line of interpretation, we can see Hawthorne attempting to individualize national sin in the actual historical characters of Governor Bellingham and John Wilson. We can even take this reading one step further and see Hawthome attempting to absolve himself and his own family lineage when we recall that one of his own forefathers, John Hathorne, was a particularly cruel prosecutor during the witch hysteria. Whether absolution is rendered is a matter for the reader to decide. Style Narrator One of the most obvious problems when discussing The Scarlet Letter is determining the identity of the narrator. This difficulty is clearly intentional. In the second paragraph of "The Custom-House," Hawthorne claims that he is merely "explaining how a large portion of the following pages came into [his] possession," hoping to offer "proofs of the authenticity of a narrative therein contained." Hawthorne proclaims himself only an editor, "or very little more." Yet later he states that "I have allowed myself nearly or altogether as much license as if the facts had been entirely of my own invention," and all he is willing to verify is "the authenticity of the outline." Thus Hawthorne's characteristic use of ambiguity is both a central theme and a central technique of the novel. Symbolism The Scarlet Letter is rich with symbols; in fact, it is largely regarded as the first symbolic novel in America. A symbol is, like a metaphor, something that stands for, or represents, something else: an object, a person, even an idea. But the term "symbol" is used to describe a substitution with more power, or profound meaning, for which the term "metaphor" is inadequate.
Of course, the scarlet letter itself is the principal symbol in the novel, but there are many others. In the first chapter the wild rosebush symbolizes dissent in its reference to the historical figure Anne Hutchinson, who led a group of religious dissenters in colonial Massachusetts. It also symbolizes Hester and even anticipates the scarlet letter that she wears. Individuals in the novel can also be understood as symbols. For instance, Arthur Dimmesdale, with all of his profound pain and suffering, is symbolic of the high value of truth and the irony of its unattainability. Setting Another of Hawthorne's techniques, one that so effectively immerses us in the atmosphere of his story, is his use of setting. The entire novel takes place in and around the small colonial town of Boston, Massachusetts. As Hawthorne describes it, the town is situated precariously between the sea and the great "wilderness" of unsettled America. What lies outside the town is a "black forest," strongly symbolic of moral absence and evil. Thus the narrator describes a "footpath" that straggled onward into the "mystery of the primeval forest.
This [forest] hemmed it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side that, to Hester's mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering." Here we see an almost claustrophobic pressure being evoked, which alludes to not only Hester but also the community of which she is a part, always facing the possibility of moral failure. As seen above, Hawthorne uses color adeptly in his description of settings. Besides the black wilderness there is the gray of the village and its inhabitants, who, as the narrator describes, "seemed never to have known a youthful era." Even though it was in fact a young settlement, the town jail "was already marked with weather stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its gloomy front." In fact, it is precisely the dark and gloomy depiction of the town that helps to provide a tension with the forest, as if the town were already much like the forest and therefore more liable to be absorbed by its influence. Ambiguity While the importance of ambiguity as a theme has already been emphasized, it must still be described as one of Hawthorne's most important techniques. Repeatedly, where the reader expects to be given sure information, Hawthorne qualifies and withdraws assurance to the point that the reader is often left frustrated. In chapter sixteen even the small forest brook by which Hester discards the scarlet letter threatens Hawthorne's narration with the disclosure of meaning, and so, the surrounding "giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool." Hawthorne renders this beautiful passage to remind the reader, seemingly at every turn, that meaning, or truth, will be profoundly difficult to uncover.
Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter 1. characters Hester is the public sinner who demonstrates the effect of punishment on sensitivity and human nature. She is seen as a fallen woman, a culprit who deserves the ignominy of her immoral choice. She struggles with her recognition of the letter's symbolism just as people struggle with their moral choices. The paradox is that the Puritans stigmatize her with the mark of sin and, in so doing, reduce her to a dull, lifeless woman whose characteristic color is gray and whose vitality and femininity are suppressed. Over the seven years of her punishment, Hester's inner struggle changes from a victim of Puritan branding to a decisive woman in tune with human nature. When she meets Dimmesdale in the forest in Chapter 18, Hawthorne says, "The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread." In time, even the Puritan community sees the letter as meaning "Able" or "Angel." Her sensitivity with society's victims turns her symbolic meaning from a person whose life was originally twisted and repressed to a strong and sensitive woman with respect for the humanity of others. In her final years, "the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, yet with reverence, too." Since her character is strongly tied to the scarlet letter, Hester represents the public sinner who changes and learns from her own sorrow to understand the humanity of others. Often human beings who suffer great loss and life-changing experiences become survivors with an increased understanding and sympathy for the human losses of others. Hester is such a symbol. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, is the secret sinner whose public and private faces are opposites. Even as the beadle — an obvious symbol of the righteous Colony of Massachusetts — proclaims that the settlement is a place where "iniquity is dragged out into the sunshine," the colony, along with the Reverend Mr. Wilson, is in awe of Dimmesdale's goodness and sanctity.
Inside the good minister, however, is a storm raging between holiness and self-torture. He is unable to reveal his sin. At worst, Dimmesdale is a symbol of hypocrisy and self-centered intellectualism; he knows what is right but has not the courage to make himself do the public act. When Hester tells him that the ship for Europe leaves in four days, he is delighted with the timing. He will be able to give his Election Sermon and "fulfill his public duties" before escaping. At best, his public piety is a disdainful act when he worries that his congregation will see his features in Pearl's face. Dimmesdale's inner struggle is intense, and he struggles to do the right thing. He realizes the scaffold is the place to confess and also his shelter from his tormenter, Chillingworth. Yet, the very thing that makes Dimmesdale a symbol of the secret sinner is also what redeems him. Sin and its acknowledgment humanize Dimmesdale. When he leaves the forest and realizes the extent of the devil's grip on his soul, he passionately writes his sermon and makes his decision to confess. As a symbol, he represents the secret sinner who fights the good fight in his soul and eventually wins. Pearl is the strongest of these allegorical images because she is nearly all symbol, little reality. Dimmesdale sees Pearl as the "freedom of a broken law"; Hester sees her as "the living hieroglyphic" of their sin; and the community sees her as the result of the devil's work. She is the scarlet letter in the flesh, a reminder of Hester's sin. As Hester tells the pious community leaders in Chapter 8, ". . .
she is my happiness! — she is my torture . . . See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a million-fold the power of retribution for my sin?" Pearl is also the imagination of the artist, an idea so powerful that the Puritans could not even conceive of it, let alone understand it, except in terms of transgression. She is natural law unleashed, the freedom of the unrestrained wilderness, the result of repressed passion. When Hester meets Dimmesdale in the forest, Pearl is reluctant to come across the brook to see them because they represent the Puritan society in which she has no happy role. Here in the forest, she is free and in harmony with nature. Her image in the brook is a common symbol of Hawthorne's. He often uses a mirror to symbolize the imagination of the artist; Pearl is a product of that imagination. When Dimmesdale confesses his sin in the light of the sun, Pearl is free to become a human being. All along, Hester felt there was this redeemable nature in her daughter, and here she sees her faith rewarded. Pearl can now feel human grief and sorrow, as Hester can, and she becomes a sin redeemed. Chillingworth is consistently a symbol of cold reason and intellect unencumbered by human compassion. While Dimmesdale has intellect but lacks will, Chillingworth has both.
He is fiendish, evil, and intent on revenge. In his first appearance in the novel, he is compared to a snake, an obvious allusion to the Garden of Eden. Chillingworth becomes the essence of evil when he sees the scarlet letter on Dimmesdale's breast in Chapter 10, where there is "no need to ask how Satan comports himself when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom." Eventually, his evil is so pervasive that Chillingworth awakens the distrust of the Puritan community and the recognition of Pearl. As time goes by and Dimmesdale becomes more frail under the constant torture of Chillingworth, the community worries that their minister is losing a battle with the devil himself. Even Pearl recognizes that Chillingworth is a creature of the Black Man and warns her mother to stay away from him. Chillingworth loses his reason to live when Dimmesdale eludes him at the scaffold in the final scenes of the novel. "All his strength and energy — all his vital and intellectual force — seemed at once to desert him; insomuch that he positively withered up, shrivelled away, and almost vanished from mortal sight." As a symbol, Chillingworth's job is done. 2. the scarlet letter A Besides the characters, the most obvious symbol is the scarlet letter itself, which has various meanings depending on its context. It is a sign of adultery, penance, and penitence. It brings about Hester's suffering and loneliness and also provides her rejuvenation. In the book, it first appears as an actual material object in The Custom House preface. Then it becomes an elaborately gold-embroidered A over Hester's heart and is magnified in the armor breast-plate at Governor Bellingham's mansion. Here Hester is hidden by the gigantic, magnified symbol just as her life and feelings are hidden behind the sign of her sin. Still later, the letter is an immense red A in the sky, a green A of eel-grass arranged by Pearl, the A on Hester's dress decorated by Pearl with prickly burrs, an A on Dimmesdale's chest seen by some spectators at the Election Day procession, and, finally, represented by the epitaph "On a field, sable, the letter A, gules" (gules being the heraldic term for "red") on the tombstone Hester and Dimmesdale share. In all these examples, the meaning of the symbol depends on the context and sometimes the interpreter. For example, in the second scaffold scene, the community sees the scarlet A in the sky as a sign that the dying Governor Winthrop has become an angel; Dimmesdale, however, sees it as a sign of his own secret sin.
The community initially sees the letter on Hester's bosom as a mark of just punishment and a symbol to deter others from sin. Hester is a Fallen Woman with a symbol of her guilt. Later, when she becomes a frequent visitor in homes of pain and sorrow, the A is seen to represent "Able" or "Angel." It has rejuvenated Hester and changed her meaning in the eyes of the community. 3. light and color light and darkness, sunshine and shadows, noon and midnight, are all manifestations of the same images. Likewise, colors — such as red, gray, and black — play a role in the symbolic nature of the background and scenery. But, similar to the characters, the context determines what role the light or colors play.
The Scarlet Letter's first chapter ends with an admonition to "relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow" with "some sweet moral blossom." These opposites are found throughout the novel and often set the tone and define which side of good and evil envelop the characters. In Chapter 16, Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest with a "gray expanse of cloud" and a narrow path hemmed in by the black and dense forest. The feelings of the lovers, weighed down by guilt, are reflected in the darkness of nature. Every so often, sunshine flickers on the setting. But Pearl reminds her mother that the sun will not shine on the sinful Hester; it does shine, however, when Hester passionately lets down her hair. The sun is the symbol of untroubled, guilt-free happiness, or perhaps the approval of God and nature. It also seems to be, at times, the light of truth and grace. Darkness is always associated with Chillingworth.
It is also part of the description of the jail in Chapter 1, the scene of sin and punishment. The Puritans in that scene wear gray hats, and the darkness of the jail is relieved by the sunshine of the outside. When Hester comes into the sunshine from the darkness, she must squint at the light of day, and her iniquity is placed for all to see. Noon is the time of Dimmesdale's confession, and daylight is the symbol of exposure. Nighttime, however, is the symbol of concealment, and Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold at midnight, concealing his confession from the community. In the end, even the grave of Dimmesdale and Hester is in darkness. "So sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow . . ."
The light, of course, is the scarlet letter, shining out of the darkness of the Puritanic gloom. Colors play a similar role to light and darkness. One of the predominant colors is red, seen in the roses, the letter, Pearl's clothing, the "scarlet woman," Chillingworth's eyes, and the streak of the meteor. At night and always with the physician, the letter is associated with darkness and evil; in the other associations, it is a part of nature, passion, lawlessness, and imagination. The context determines the meaning. Black and gray are colors associated with the Puritans, gloom, death, sin, and the narrow path of righteousness through the forest of sin. Three chapters that contain a multitude of color images are Chapters 5, 11, and 12. 4. setting Even Hawthorne's settings are symbolic. The Puritan village with its marketplace and scaffold is a place of rigid rules, concern with sin and punishment, and self-examination. Public humiliation and penance are symbolized by the scaffold, the only place where Dimmesdale can go to atone for his guilt and escape his tormentor's clutches. The collective community that watches, at beginning and end, is a symbol of the rigid Puritan point of view with unquestioning obedience to the law. The Church and State are ubiquitous forces to contend with in this colony, as Hester finds out to her dismay. They see Dimmesdale as a figure of public approval, Chillingworth, at least initially, as a man of learning to be revered, and Hester as the outcast. Predominant colors are black and gray, and the gloom of the community is omnipresent. However, nearby is the forest, home of the Black Man but also a place of freedom. Here the sun shines on Pearl, and she absorbs and keeps it. The forest represents a natural world, governed by natural laws, as opposed to the artificial, Puritan community with its man-made laws. In this world, Hester can take off her cap, let down her hair, and discuss plans with Dimmesdale to be together away from the rigid laws of the Puritans. As part of this forest, the brook provides "a boundary between two worlds." Pearl refuses to cross this boundary into the Puritan world when Hester beckons to her. However, the forest is also a moral wilderness that Hester finds herself in once she is forced to wear the sign of her guilt. The forest is also a symbolic place where witches gather, souls are signed away to the devil, and Dimmesdale can "yield himself with deliberate choice . . . to what he knew was deadly sin." In these instances, the forest is a symbol of the world of darkness and evil. Mistress Hibbins knows on sight those who would wander "in the forest" or, in other words, secretly do Satan's work. When Dimmesdale leaves the forest with his escape plan in mind, he is tempted to sin on numerous occasions during his journey back to the village. The forest, then, is a symbol of man's temptation. Every chapter in The Scarlet Letter has symbols displayed through characterization, setting, colors, and light. Perhaps the most dramatic chapters using these techniques are the chapters comprising the three scaffold scenes and the meeting in the forest between Hester and Dimmesdale. Hawthorne's ability to introduce these symbols and change them through the context of his story is but one of the reasons The Scarlet Letter is considered his masterpiece and a peerless example of the romance novel.
The Puritan Setting of The Scarlet Letter 1. city upon a hill The Puritans left the Old World because they wanted to "purify" the Church of England. Their chief complaints were that the services should be simpler and that religion should contain an intense spiritual relationship between the individual and God. In England, the clergy and the government mediated in the relationship between the individual and God. Because the Puritans chose to defy these assumptions, they were persecuted in England. A group of them fled to Holland and subsequently to the New World, where they hoped to build a society, described by John Winthrop, as "a city upon a hill" — a place where the "eyes of all people are upon us."
In such a place and as long as they followed His words and did their work to glorify His ways, God would bless them, and they would prosper. Hawthorne, of course, presents the irony of this concept when he describes the prison as a building already worn when the colony is only fifteen years old. Hawthorne's viewpoint of this society seems to be disclosed in several places in the novel but never more so than in the Governor's house in Chapter 7 and during the New England holiday in Chapter 21. On Bellingham's walls are portraits of his forefathers who wear the stately and formal clothing of the Old World. Hawthorne says that, "All were characterized by the sternness and severity which old portraits so invariably put on; as if they were the ghosts, rather than the pictures, of departed worthies, and were gazing with harsh and intolerant criticism at the pursuits and enjoyments of living men." 2.man and salvation These early Puritans followed the writings of a French Protestant reformer named John Calvin (1509-1564), whose teachings saw the world as a grim conflict between God and Satan. Calvinists were a very introspective lot who constantly searched their souls for evidence that they were God's Elect. The Elect were people chosen by God for salvation. According to Puritans, a merciful God had sent His son, Jesus Christ, to earth to die for the sins of man, but only a few would be saved. The rest, known as the "unregenerate," would be damned eternally. The Puritans who settled Massachusetts Bay Colony believed that all mankind was depraved and sinful because of Adam and Eve's fall in the Garden of Eden. Because Adam and Eve were willful and disobedient to God, they brought upon mankind the curse of depravity, sometimes called Original Sin. For this reason, The New England Primer (1683), which was used to teach reading in Puritan schools, began with "A: In Adam's Fall / We sinned all." Most Puritans could be sure of eternal punishment in hell; the few that were "elect" would go to heaven. 3. church and state Those who were male and members of the church could vote. In addition, ministers guided the elected officials of the colony; consequently, there was a close tie between Church and State. In The Scarlet Letter, those two branches of the government are represented by Mr. Roger Wilson (Church) and Governor Bellingham (State). The rules governing the Puritans came from the Bible, a source of spiritual and ethical standards. These rules were definite, and the penalties or punishments were public and severe. Hester's turn on the scaffold and her scarlet letter were similar to those who were branded or forced to wear an M for murderer. The stocks were a form of public indictment — and, therefore, deterrent — of bad behavior. Those who disagreed with the laws of the colony were banished, persecuted, and, in some cases, executed. Obviously, these rigid Puritan standards had both good and bad outcomes. The colony would not have survived without the faith, hard work, courage, and perseverance of these early religious believers. They feared Indian attacks and had to survive lethal diseases, starvation, and the harsh New England winters. They also formed a society in which the rules were very clear. There were few gray areas in the standards of behavior expected by the Puritans and taught early to their children. These stern and introspective Puritans provided a rigid structure that was repressive to the individual but that enabled the colony to survive those early years when order and faith were needed. On the other hand, the society built by the Puritans was stern and repressive, with little room for individualism. In this society, the "path of righteousness" was very narrow and taught through stern sermons on guilt and sin.
The irony, of course, is in the difference between public knowledge and private actions. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, both "sinners" for their part in this drama, are valued and revered members of this repressive community, while Hester is an outcast because of her publicly acknowledged sin. These "iron men and their rules" provide a backdrop for Hawthorne's story that keeps the conflict alive because public appearances and penance were dramatically important parts of the Puritan community. In contrast, the forest — seen by the Puritans as the haunt of the Black Man or devil — was a place of little law and order. Those who chose to follow evil signed their name in the Black Man's book and chose a life of sin. Mistress Hibbins symbolizes this world in The Scarlet Letter. And, in fact, she says, "Many a church-member saw I, walking behind the music, that has danced in the same measure with me." These Puritans may speak of branding Hester Prynne in one breath but dance to the devil's music in the forest in their next breath. The meeting between Dimmesdale and Hester takes place in the forest, away from the stern, repressive laws of society. There they can discuss a central conflict of the novel: the needs of human nature as opposed to the laws of society. This conflict is seen even in the early chapters. 4.punishment The Scarlet Letter as a Gothic Romance Gothic Elements These definitions of Hawthorne's romance are also joined by another tradition: Gothic elements. Gothic novels often featured supernatural events, gloomy atmospheres, castles, and the mysterious. While eighteenth century writers did not like these subjects, the Romantic authors of the nineteenth century and their successors did. Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, and Stephen King all have elements of the Gothic in their stories. Traditionally, there are a number of these Gothic elements. One used by romantic authors is a manuscript that is purported to be the origin of the story. In The Custom House preface, Hawthorne finds such a manuscript left by Surveyor Pue and a scarlet letter that is a magical artifact intertwining the real and the imaginary. Besides magic, often Gothic stories have castles; in The Scarlet Letter, Governor Bellingham's home serves this purpose. It is covered with cabalistic figures and diagrams and has turrets like a castle.
Inside is a set of armor, also a familiar element of the Gothic. In this armor which acts as a mirror, Pearl sees the distorted scarlet letter. A crime, often illicit love, is usually the subject of a Gothic novel. Hester's affair is the crime committed in the Puritan community. Gothic novels sometimes have a villain who is identified as the evil person by some deformity. Chillingworth has such a deformed shoulder. And, finally, nature is often used to set the atmosphere of the story and provide some of the symbols. Nature abounds in The Scarlet Letter, and darkness, shadows and moonlight are all part of the Gothic ambience. The overall atmosphere of the novel is dark and gloomy, a proper milieu for the Gothic tradition. In writing The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne was striking out in a new direction, the psychological romance, while using some of the elements of a far older tradition, the Gothic novel. Modern readers should not be surprised to find horrifying revelations, sinister red light coming from a character's eyes, a precocious child who is a living symbol rather than a human being, and the dark recesses of the human heart and conscience. These elements have kept readers enthralled for generations. The Structure of The Scarlet Letter 1.The First Scaffold Scene While many critics have imposed various structures on this novel, the scaffold scenes are by far the most popular means of pointing out the perfect balance of Hawthorne's masterpiece. These scenes unite the plot, themes, and symbols in a perfect balance. The first scaffold scene, which occurs in Chapters 1–3, focuses on Hester and the scarlet letter. She stands on the scaffold with quiet defiance, holding her baby in her arms. Meanwhile, a crowd of townspeople has gathered to watch her humiliation and hear a sermon. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, has just returned and is in the outskirts of the crowd. Her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, shares her platform but not her public humiliation.
The principal characters are all here. The townspeople are present to pass judgement, just as they will be in the final scaffold scene. Hester stands alone with Pearl in her arms, a mere infant and sign of her sin. Dimmesdale, with other officials who represent the church-state, shares the platform. His ambivalence about maintaining his silence can be seen in his demand that Hester tell the name of the child's father. In the crowd is also Roger Chillingworth whose voice is added to those of the crowd when demanding that Hester reveal her partner in sin. In this scene, we have Hester's public repentance, Dimmesdale's reluctance to admit his own guilt, and the beginning of Chillingworth's fiendish plot to find and punish the father. The focus on the adultery and the letter is strengthened by the topic of sin in Mr. Wilson's sermon. 2.The Second Scaffold Scene The second scaffold scene again provides a view of all the principal characters, a dramatic vision of the scarlet A, and one of the most memorable tableaus in American literature. In the covering of darkness, Dimmesdale has made his way to the scaffold to perform a silent vigil of his own. So far we have seen Dimmesdale's conscious attempt to deal with his guilt, but now we go deep into his subconscious. In his spiritual torture, he cries out with a shriek of agony that is heard by Hester and Pearl as they journey to their home from the bed of the dying Governor Winthrop. This cry is also heard by Mr. Wilson. Hester and Pearl join Dimmesdale on the scaffold, the place where seven long years earlier "Hester Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy." Although the crowd is gone, Pearl asks the minister if he will join her and Hester there at noontide. He replies that their meeting will be instead at the great judgement day rather than here in the daylight. As though to taunt him, a great meteor burns through the dark sky, illuminating the scaffold, the street, and the houses.
Hawthorne describes the scene as "an electric chain," the minister and his lover holding hands with their child between them. Also illuminated in the darkness is the fiendish face of Roger Chillingworth. This time, although the townspeople are not present, they talk about the scarlet A in the sky throughout the next day. The chapter abounds in symbols: the scaffold itself; Dimmesdale's standing on it; the three potential observers representing Church, State, and the World of Evil; the "electric chain" of Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale; Pearl's appeal to Dimmesdale to stand with them; the revealing light from the heavens; and the variation on the letter A. 3.The Third Scaffold Scene The final scaffold scene occurs after the procession on Election Day. In this powerful scene, Dimmesdale regains his soul, Pearl gains her humanity, Chillingworth loses his victim, and Hester loses her dreams. Here again, the main characters come together, and this time Dimmesdale reveals his "scarlet letter." His Election Day sermon should have brought him his greatest triumph, but instead that honor is saved for his confession of sin and his final act of penance in standing on the scaffold with his lover and child. He escapes the diabolical clutches of Chillingworth who, without his victim, shrivels and dies. But he also triumphs over the evil that has overwhelmed him as he publicly confesses his part in Pearl's birth. He has learned that happiness must be willed not by himself, but by God. In this final scaffold scene, all the symbols and characters are once again present: the Church and State, the world of evil, the scarlet letter, the punishing scaffold, and a symbolic kiss. And, of course, death is present also.

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