The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an enrapturing story of personal suffering and inner conflict. Set in colonial (17th c.) New England, the book plays out the story of Hester Prynne, a young woman guilty of adultery, and how her punishment affects her. Hester holds the reader’s pity throughout: she was first married in England to a man she didn’t love, and was sent to the Massachusetts Bay colony before him to prepare their life. However, while there, she falls for the local priest, Arthur Dimmesdale, and they have an affair. The result is pregnancy and resulting punishment by the Puritan-dominated colony and local government.

Hester is harshly chastised in a unique way. In order that her shame may be apparent to all the inhabitants and newcomers to the colony, she is forced to wear a red letter A on her breast. In the seven years that follows, this scarlet letter will become almost part of her and a constant reminder of her sin. She will be shunned by other people (the inhabitants avoid her, and their children ridicule her) and forced to live alone with her daughter, Pearl.

Another interesting twist on Hester’s burden is that she will not, and does not, reveal who her partner in crime is. Reverend Dimmesdale is loved and held in high reverence by the people. He is very frail due to his apparently harsh fasting, and this, among other things, results in his being considered one of the holiest people in the colony. That he should have committed adultery was blasphemy; so it is a bit ironic, but not at all surprising, that when Hester was first punished (elevated in front of the population), he was called upon to demand of her the name of her accomplice. She adamantly refused and was thus forced on her journey of redemption alone. This, along with being proof of her love for him, reveals her unselfishness and determination.

In her long torment, Hester occupies herself with embroidery and the raising of her child, Pearl. Though the A was her human punishment, Pearl acts as a parallel of the letter, a mark from God. Another surprise is brought on when Hester’s former husband appears: Roger Chillingworth. He is there the day she is sentenced, and visits her in her cell, vowing to find the man who impregnated her. He is a doctor, and by intuition and chance, focuses himself on Reverend Dimmesdale, moves in with him, and eventually discovers his secret, for the Reverend had carved the letter A onto his left breast out of torment and guilt.

Hester warns Dimmesdale in a meeting in the woods, and they plan to leave the colony together on a ship. Unfortunately, Dimmesdale dies before this plan can be carried out. After giving an “Election Day” sermon, where many people were present, he calls Hester and Pearl over to the same scaffolding where Hester was sentenced. Here he makes his confession to the inhabitants and dies in her arms. Chillingworth never gets his revenge, and Hester never removes the A from her breast.

Though, despite being pardoned, she never parts with the letter, Pearl, her divine mark, is never seen in the Massachusetts bay colony again. Perhaps the author meant this to be as imagery: she had repented before God, but the A had become part of who she was, and people would never forget.

All in all, I’ve found this to be an excellent story. Hawthorne’s use of simile and metaphor (especially in such scenes as the forest meeting with Dimmesdale) brought the work alive, while still creating awesome parallels that were relevant to the plot and its concerns. I found it amazing that the author could provide such an in-depth look at the human soul from a third-person perspective; and yet he managed to illustrate all the intricacies of Hester’s shame, apprehensions over wild Pearl, Chillingworth’s anger, or Dimmesdale’s guilt.

In addition to its anti-Puritan sentiment, I believe this book held in it a lesson on human instinct. Each character acted on his or her own basic, primal feeling. For Hester it was love, for Dimmesdale shame, Chillingworth hate, and Pearl harsh innocence. For instance, all of Dimmesdale’s actions very much revolved around his self-hatred and desired redemption. Chillingworth was driven by revenge, Hester acted only out of compassion, and Pearl’s actions and words were often surreal in that they meant so much more than they seemed; she was innocent, but always touching a sore spot, so to speak. Pearl was my favorite character simply because of her wanton curiosity and the pain she caused others, especially her parents, by her actions. She would not kiss her father until he had made his violent confession; in the book she was like the hand of God.

The Scarlet Letter is definitely a work of art; It's definitely worth reading and rereading.

The Scarlet Letter: A Literary Analysis

The novel The Scarlet Letter is a classic piece of American Literature. Hawthorne uses his novel to convey his anti-transcendental philosophy and the influence of Puritan society on current day society. The validity of The Scarlet Letter as a work of American literature is also something that must be addressed in order to have a full understanding of the novel.

In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, he uses character development to convey his thematic purpose. The novel has many symbols, the most predominate is the scarlet "A". Each character embodies a different thematic goal, and together they all were used to express Hawthorne's anti-transcendental philosophy. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth exist on at least two different levels. In one they represent the original sin. On another they each embody the Greek fatal flaw. (The Cycle of American Literature, Robert Spiller, 63-64) Dimmesdale's cowardice to confess to his sin leads to his tragic downfall from the saint of the town. Chillingworth's obsession with revenge creates an almost schizophrenic personality. The physical changes that overcome him are used to demonstrate the evilness of his new personality. The darker and more disfigured he became the more the evil personality took over. The fact that he makes this metamorphosis expresses Hawthorne's anti-transcendental philosophy, for if man is good by default how can he become pure evil and hate. Hester embodies another of Hawthorne's arguments against transcendentalism. By being shunned and an outcast of society, Hester doesn't exist in the oversoul. According to Thoreou, every person is part of the oversoul, so Hester is a paradox in transcendentalism. Dimmesdale acts as a foil for Hester, he is her opposite and creates a comparison between the two paths. The real mystery of the novel is Pearl, she embodies the place in which she was conceived. The wild and untamed spirit of nature is part of her and she expresses that in several different ways. The questions she asks of Hester and the way she poses them creates a sense of mystery about her. The questions about a "black man" creates the comparison between Dimmesdale and the devil, as if to suggest that Dimmesdale was the devil for creating the situation Hester was in.

The Puritan Boston setting is used as a comparison towards Hawthorne's present day New England society and the revival of some Puritan beliefs. The morals and beliefs that Hawthorne presents in The Scarlet Letter explain American society's views on topics such as sex. The Puritan roots have persisted even to this day, they were certainly evident in Hawthorne's time. The Scarlet Letter also acts as a criticism of the blind punishment and the hypocrisy of the Puritan society, by embodying the element of hypocrisy in the "angelic" minister Hawthorne shows the blind faith and assumptions of the society.

The novel which deals with inner conflicts, and human character evolution created an art form because of many factors. The use of a historical setting and "The Custom House" as an introduction creates a very believable historical account. The background of 17th century puritan Boston adds to the unique characterization and plot. The sparing use of the supernatural adds to the mystery and believability of the novel. The scarlet "A" on Dimmesdale's chest and Mistress Hibbins' image to the townspeople are two examples that subtly add a supernatural feel to the novel. As can be seen, The Scarlet Letter is classic American Literature and set the pattern for character development in novels.

As the previous examples have shown, the novel The Scarlet Letter is both a work of literary art, and it also provides a historical account of Puritan Boston. Although the story is fictional it is written with believable, dynamic characters. The themes that run throughout it convey Hawthorne's anti-transcendental message and also the impact that Puritan society has had upon current day America. While this book doesn't have the strongest plot, it succeeds in the areas in which Hawthorne was emphasizing.

Works Cited:
Robert Spiller, The Cycle of American Literature, p. 63-64

The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850 takes a different view than most authors of the time who were excited with the present and looking toward the future; Hawthorne’s novel looks back to colonial Massachusetts where the dominating religious culture are puritans. It was well written and received many different views when it was written than it does now, and though Victorian and modern American views differ the basic underlying principles are remain evident. While many people end up squabbling about deeper meanings, the point of guilt and how it is dealt with differently stays the same; although it may seem that it’s the tangible punishment of man that redeems Hester and damns Dimmesdale, instead good and evil play a part, even if some transcendentalist views are evident.

When it’s first discovered that Hester is an adulterer and she won’t reveal with whom, many of the radical Puritans suggest that she be tortured until she reveal her paramour. This probably would have made things a little easier, especially for Dimmesdale, to break Hester’s spirit fast just seems a wholly efficient and human way to do things, but instead, she is given a red letter “A” on her breast that represents adultery. She is treated with much disrespect but just takes it; she feels that she has sinned and needs to repent. She wears the “A” for seven years even though the colonists probably wouldn’t have given her too much trouble if she took it off, they begin to respect her tenacity instead of mocking it.

“It lies not in the pleasure of the magistrates to take of this badge.” Calmly replied Hester. “Were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something that should speak a different purport.”

The different characters act as acolytes of one of the different powers of good or evil. When Hester gets sick of wearing the letter and just wants to run away, Pearl makes her put it back on, Pearl represents a sort of “messenger” from God to make Hester never forget what she did, and to constantly repent.

But it was a remarkable attribute of this garb, and, indeed, of the child’s whole appearance, that it irresistibly and inevitably reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life! The mother herself—as if the red ignominy were so deeply scorched into her brain, that all the conceptions assumed its form—had carefully wrought out the similitude; lavishing many hours of morbid ingenuity, to create an analogy between the object of her affection, and the emblem of her guilt and torture. But, in truth, Pearl was the one, as well as the other; and only in consequence of that identity that Hester contrived so perfectly to represent the scarlet letter in her appearance.
Where as Dimmesdale has a similar relationship with Chillingworth, it’s foundation is hate, whereas Pearl and Hester’s is revolved around love. If Chillingworth wasn’t around Dimmesdale probably would have moved on and been able to put his sin aside, or at least to no let it rip him apart, it’s much harder to feel guilty when there is no blame. However Chillingworth represents an acolyte of Satan, or even God. Perhaps since Dimmesdale never has the strength to admit to anyone, hardly even him self that he’s not perfect, instead of getting a caring reminder he instead gets Chillingworth who hates him. In the end, Dimmesdale confesses, and although we can’t be certain if it was enough to save him from damnation, at least he admitted it to himself. Hester has dealt with her sin since the beginning, and had to deal with raising a child when nobody respects her, Hester’s repentance was open and she died with dignity and respect, Dimmesdale let it burn inside of him, and even though he tried to punish himself, he was never brave enough to admit it until the very end and so he died weak, with no sympathy.

Considering all these points has been a bit of a revelation, it took considering both points to realize that really both types of penitence are necessary, to accept your sin, and to accept your punishment perhaps leads to the true path of redemption.

This node is part of the node your homework project, it was done in a few minutes and doesn't neccessarily reflect my views or beliefs.

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