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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” Novel Essay

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Updated: Aug 28th, 2021

The novel The Scarlet Letter (1850) represents a mixture of themes such as love, passion and sin which have a great physiological impact on readers. Nathaniel Hawthorne appeals to emotion of readers and their clear imaginary through complex characters and themes. Thesis Nathaniel Hawthorne appeals to emotions of readers portraying deep psychological experiences of the main herein, Hester, and her perception of sin and guilt based on Puritan traditions and values.

The novel tells a story about a woman committed adultery but kept secret the name of a father of her child. She was imprisoned for adultery and the letter “A” in her arm symbolizes unfaithful behavior and her sin. Hester give s birth to a girl, Pearl, but has to escape to another town because of shame and guilt. “She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquaintance only with the grey twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison” (Hawthorne 2007, Chapter 2).

Readers are faced with the psychological importance of sin from the introductory chapter where Hawthorne “sets up the interrelations of masculine anxieties, feminine identifications, and authorship as subjects for consideration” (Derrick 35). This produces guilt – which is itself a mixture of fear and disgust of self. Then there is the background to friendship as a whole – enter affection, a moderated form of love. The theme of sin is depicted through emotional sufferings and experience of the main heroes of the novel: Hester Prynne, her husband Roger Chillingworth and Hester’s lover, Dimmesdale.

Hester is the only fully admirable character in The Scarlet Letter”. Quite apart from her ‘elegant figure’ and ‘dark and abundant hair’ Hester is the only character in the book big enough to sustain a conflict, with the harsh Puritan world, equal to Hawthorne’s own. In a book without heroes, Hester is a unique literary heroine who has to carry the love story all by herself full of sin and guilt. Hester Prynne, a married woman with a missing husband, could have been sentenced to death for adultery (Coale 32).

To render the opening scene even more operatic and instantly thrilling, the contrast between Hester’s condemnation and the splendor of the scarlet letter, between her dignity on the scaffold and the deadly crowd full of biting old women, she is beautiful, with “dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam’, and “deep black eyes” (Hawthorne 2007, Chapter 2). She is condemned always to wear the letter “A”.

In this novel, Hawthorne vividly portrays morals and traditions typical for Puritan society and preached by members of this society. The narrowness of Puritan life and thought is vividly brought out by the little space Boston occupies between the wilderness and the ocean. Almost all the action is constricted, taking place between any two of the four main characters. Hester’s only companion is her mis­chievous, provocative daughter Pearl – an emblem of the ‘lawlessness’ in her mother’s suppressed nature. As Hester stands at the Boston’s square about to be castigated for her sin by two leading clergymen, who demand the name of her lover, Hester is horrified to see in the crowd Roger Chillingworth, her shriveled, twisted-looking old husband (Coale 31). He has been a captive of Indians in the wilderness.

The feeling of sin is supported by the town chorus that is murmuring against Hester, her silently frenzied husband staring at her, the young ethereal-looking clergyman, frightened and trembling Arthur Dimmesdale, is also compelled to demand the name of her partner in crime. Since there seems to be no one else in this crude settlement likely to interest Hester Prynne, it is obvious from the double-edged aria he has to sing at her that he is the man. The letter itself is a symbol that reminds readers about sin and guilty throughout the novel. “Women derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle.

To Hester Prynne it might have been a mode of expressing, and therefore soothing, the passion of her life. Like all other joys, she rejected it as sin” (Hawthorne 2007, Chapter 5). The Letter, as a sign of guilty, is an integral part of Hester body and personality (Coale 34). Hawthorne shows that a simple accusation for a person is enough to be admitted of guilt, even if this guile cannot be proved. For instance, in the beautiful scene in the forest, ‘A Flood of Sunshine’, that marks the loving reconcilia­tion of Hester and Arthur, she frees herself of the letter, unpins her hair, finally persuades him to leave the settlement with her.

Hester shows a great courage and inner strength which helps her to resist cruelty and oppression of the society. The gritty feel of the novel also gives an added realistic mood and that might signify the reality of everyday life. The theme of solitude creates a feeling of guilt being one of the reasons that her sexual freedom does not take her very far. Despite her efforts to escape the rituals of femininity, Hester seems fated to reenact them, even though, as Hawthorne recounts these scenes and revises their conventions.

Hawthorne ‘s mastery of such details is consummate, as befits someone deeply versed in the then comparatively new disci­pline of social anthropology. It is assumed that everyone knows what is ‘virtue” but that no-one will blow the whistle so long as the proprieties are observed. As in the novel life is shown to be a perpetual observance of rites in which nothing much happens but everything has meaning and consequences.

Works Cited

  1. Coale, Samuel Chase. Mesmerism and Hawthorne: Mediums of American Romance. University of Alabama Press, 1998.
  2. Derrick, S. D. Monumental Anxieties: Homoerotic Desire and Feminine Influence in 19th Century U.S. Literature. Rutgers University Press, 1997.
  3. Hawthorne, Nathaniel . 2007. Web.
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