Throughout The Scarlet Letter many people have been hurt both physically and emotionally. There has to be some way where these people can have closure for their problems and hopefully there will be a "happy" ending which satisfies the audience and forgives the sins which were evident in the story. That is what scene of "spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation" accomplishes, it helps the characters put the past behind them and continue living their lives.
The scene of moral reconciliation in this story occurs when the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold that Hester stood on seven years earlier and admits that he is the father of Pearl. This scene is extremely significant to The Scarlet Letter because this is the moment of closure for Hester Prynne and for Pearl. Hester was able to come to terms with her life after this point. Throughout the entire story, Hester Prynne had to carry the scarlet letter for her adulterous acts, which definitely took a toll on her, both physically and emotionally, because she was constantly ridiculed by the unforgiving public. Despite the setback, Hester tried to teach Pearl what was she felt was best, however, Pearl still felt confused about who her father was, since Hester never directly told her. It wasn't until the moment of moral reconciliation, the moment which Arthur Dimmesdale confessed that Pearl was put out of her doubt and understood who her true father was. Sadly Arthur Dimmesdale dies at the end after he confesses his sins, but the audience has the comfort of knowing that the villain, Roger Chillingworth, died as well because he had no one to seek revenge against and practically had nothing to live for now.
2. Given your earlier study of Puritan literature, trace the elements of Puritanism in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Discuss the extant to which Hawthorne embraces or critiques Puritan ideology. (Compare actual Puritans you have studied with Hawthorne's fictional characters: Anne Bradstreet with Hester Prynne; Edward Taylor with Arthur Dimmesdale; Jonathan Edwards with various ministers in Hawthorne, or with the narrator himself.) Incorporate your knowledge of Puritan society that you have acquired from your study of Arthur Miller's The Crucible.
Throughout The Scarlet Letter, the elements of Puritanism are displayed in every aspect of how each character behaves and operates. Basic elements of the Puritan beliefs included relationships, religion, community, discipline, and punishment. First, relationships between men and women were extremely strict and constrained, which made adultery an extremely bad sin throughout any Puritan community. Religion was also a very important part of everybody's daily life and people of those times often went to their ministers and reverends for help and support. Puritan punishments were harsh to try to prevent other people from committing the same offense as the criminal had committed. Marriage was also an important element of the Puritan times, and once a couple was married, it was a terrible offense if one or the other was not loyal to each other. Lastly, women had absolutely no say and no power within their communities. They were not represented in government and could not own land.
I believe that Nathanial Hawthorne embraced the Puritan ideology when he wrote The Scarlet Letter. After each and every page, he painted a picture of how Puritans lived their daily lives. He especially used the four main characters of the story, Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth, and Pearl to demonstrate to the audience how people had to live in those times and the everyday challenges that most people faced. Hawthorne also demonstrates how strict the people were back in Puritan times, as well as their punishments through Hester Prynne and her ordeal at scaffold. After her crime, she was jailed and then humiliated at the scaffold for three hours, but she would have a lifetime of humiliation and despair with the scarlet letter A on her chest for the rest of her life. Hawthorne also showed the audience the toll that the Scarlet Letter also took on Hester Prynne's daughter, Pearl, for she was disrespected by the community as well because of her mother's wrongdoing. Pearl was also in a state of psychological confusion because she didn't know who her father was or if she had one.
Nathanial Hawthorne's fictional characters have a distinct Puritan background to them and can so forth be compared to actual distinguished Puritans. For example, Hester Prynne can be compared with the writer Anne Bradstreet. Although Anne Bradstreet didn't exactly suffer the same way as Hester Prynne had and didn't commit such an offense as Hester had either, Anne suffered in different ways. Anne Bradstreet was an excellent writer, however, she couldn't get her work published because during Puritan times, it was frowned upon for women to have such intellectual knowledge. Anne's brother-in-law secretly brought copies of her work from America to England to have it published anonymously, and her work gained popularity in England. Just like Hester Prynne, Anne Bradstreet was looked down upon because of her education level and writing skills.
Another one of Nathanial Hawthorne's fictional characters, Arthur Dimmesdale, can be compared with Arthur Dimmesdale. Edward Taylor was an American poet, physician, and pastor. Three years after Edward Taylor graduated from Harvard University, he went to Westfield, Massachusetts where he fulfilled his duties as a pastor like Arthur Dimmesdale.
Nathanial Hawthorne's fictional ministers can be compared with Jonathan Edwards. Like the many ministers in The Scarlet Letter, Jonathan Edwards had a strong religious background. Jonathan Edwards was a famous preacher, theologian, and writer. Jonathan Edwards's most famous sermon was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God which mostly discussed about the image of hell.
3. Certain pervasive themes recur in Hawthorne's stories. These include: the individual's isolation from the community; the influence of the past on the present; the consequence of sin and guilt; the limitations of self-reliance; the evil of manipulation. How is each of these important to the development of the plot of The Scarlet Letter, and also to the development of each of the novel's 3 main adult characters?
The recurring themes in Nathanial Hawthorne's stories are important because they are the true meaning of the story. The first theme, the individual's isolation from the community, is important to the plot because it shows how people react when they feel as if they are the only people in the world. Hester Prynne was isolated from the community because of the scarlet letter, which singled her out as an "adulterer." The Scarlet Letter identified her wrongdoing to the townspeople who made fun of her and ridiculed her, furthering her isolation. Her cottage was on the outskirts of town right on the edge of the forest so she didn't have to leave near the abusive townspeople.
The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was isolated from the community in some different ways than Hester Prynne. He gets along fine with the townspeople; however, he is isolated because of guilt. He knew he had contributed to Hester Prynne's problem and that guilt of knowing was slowly eating away at his life inside of him. He was isolated and sickly and was always at the care of his physician, Roger Chillingworth, who was also isolated from the community as well. His need for revenge and the way he dressed scared the townspeople into thinking that he was sent by the devil to go and get Arthur Dimmesdale. Roger Chillingworth's obsession for revenge turned him into an older man and furthered him from the community.
Another recurring theme in The Scarlet Letter is the influence of the past on the present. This theme is relevant to the plot because it shows that the people during Puritan times will never forget the past. The events and actions of one particular person in the past will determine how that person will be judged and looked upon in the future by the general public. This was a common practice in Puritan society and is reflected in The Scarlet Letter. Every action that a Puritan person did could come under scrutiny from government officials, religious officials, or the general public.
Hester Prynne was definitely affected by this theme. Her extramarital affair was part of her past and the people of Boston were never going to forget about it. Her horrific behavior in the past determined who she would be in the future. As the story progressed, the scarlet letter on her chest was a constant reminder of her terrible sin. It reminded her and the people around her everyday of her transgressions. Hester came under fire from the townspeople who mocked her constantly and ridiculed her because of her past actions.
The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale was definitely affected by this theme. Although never publically humiliated as Hester Prynne had been, his past was isolated only to his emotional thoughts. Arthur Dimmesdale was extremely lucky that his evil secret was never released into public, because if it was he would have probably have been hanged for it. Although his past actions remained private, they constantly ate away at his health, making him weaker and weaker despite his young age. His physician, and the third major adult character, Roger Chillingworth, also had a questionable past of his own. Roger Chillingworth like Arthur Dimmesdale was fortunate, for Hester Prynne kept his past a secret so he wouldn't come under fire from the public. He was a demanding husband who wanted Hester to love him, but eventually sent her to America but he himself never came. He faked his death because of a shipwreck and showed up in Boston as a physician with a new alias, "Roger Chillingworth." His action in the past when he was with Hester shows the reader his true personality. He is an evil person who acts as a leech in the story, always hungry for revenge. His acts in the past in England influenced his future acts and the way he operated when he embarked in Boston.
The third recurring theme in The Scarlet Letter is the consequence of sin and guilt. This is important to the story because Puritans felt that sin was extremely evil. They felt that if a crime was committed a serious offense would have to accompany it to set an example to scare people so they would understand the consequences for that particular offense. Puritans often tried to use guilt to get people to confess to crimes. This theme definitely played an important role in the adult characters of The Scarlet Letter.
Hester Prynne is the primary example of how this theme affected the characters of the story. She experienced firsthand the consequences of sin, by being harassed by the townspeople and constantly mocked for her actions. The scarlet letter on her chest was a symbol of shame and openly shamed her on a daily basis. She was on the frontline of the assault and took the heat for her sin, which in turn, took a toll on her health and wellbeing. She got weaker and weaker as the story went on, as both her consequence and her guilt began eating away at her, both physically and emotionally. Her guilt wasn't just because of the scarlet letter and her offense, it was also because she was holding the secrets of two men, Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth. She had to conceal Arthur Dimmesdale's transgressions similar to hers and she had to also conceal Roger Chillingworth's true identity, which definitely took a tremendous emotional strain on her. Hester Prynne also had a child Pearl as a result of her sin.
Arthur Dimmesdale, just like Hester Prynne, had a secret of his own, which is why his health started to go down the drain at such a young age. His sin with Hester Prynne definitely made him feel guilty and wrong. His emotional strain made his body physically weaker and weaker. Arthur Dimmesdale eventually confessed his sins at the last minute before his death; however, he was still an active minister preaching to the community despite him being a hypocrite. His physician, Roger Chillingworth was most definitely affected by this theme as well. Lying to the community and falsifying his identity was his sin. Just like Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth lived as a hypocrite. In a desperate act, stimulated by revenge and probably guilt, he tried to find Hester's lover. After Arthur Dimmesdale confesses and dies, Roger Chillingworth has nothing else to live for, so he eventually dies himself.
The fourth element in The Scarlet Letter is the limitation of self-reliance. This theme is relevant to The Scarlet Letter because it shows how strict the rules and regulations were back during Puritan times. There was no room for error in anybody's actions. Any wrong move that a person made could come under question by high ranking officials. Hester Prynne experienced this because of the scarlet letter on her chest. She wasn't a normal person and couldn't live a normal life either because of her public humiliation. Even her freedom to create beautiful needlework was limited because her work couldn't be worn by brides because it was deemed inappropriate. Chaste brides were not permitted to wear any clothes from people who committed adulterous sins, thus limiting Hester's work. It was not just Hester Prynne who suffered from the limitation of self-reliance. Both Arthur Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth suffered as well. They suffered because their guilty consciences were slowly eating away at them, limiting their self-reliance.
The final theme in The Scarlet Letter is the evil of manipulation. This theme is important to the plot because it demonstrated how people took advantage of each other in Puritan times. This theme is shown primarily between Roger Chillingworth and Hester Prynne. Roger Chillingworth was a master manipulator and took full advantage of Hester Prynne back when they lived together in England. He expected Hester to submit to him and show affection to him despite the fact that he ignored her most of the time. He manipulated Hester when he sent her to America and never showed up like he promised. He eventually showed up as Roger Chillingworth, in some sense, he manipulated and deceived the entire town because of his false identity. Arthur Dimmesdale indirectly is a manipulator as well. Hester Prynne was imprisoned alone with her baby and when she was humiliated on the scaffold, she stood there obediently with her baby. Where was the father this entire time? Arthur Dimmesdale kept his sin a secret until the very minute of his death. He let Hester stand and take the punishment at the beginning of the story. He stood and watched wear the Scarlet Letter, yet he never admitted his wrongdoing. He is equally as guilty as Roger Chillingworth is for manipulating Hester Prynne and taking full advantage of her.
Nathanial Hawthorne did an excellent job incorporating these five themes into the story. These relevant themes were not just problems in the past; they are still existent today and wreak havoc in the daily lives of all people around the world.
4. Two major symbols in The Scarlet Letter are "the scaffold of the pillory", and "the natural environment (particularly, the forest and the seashore) outside of Boston". It might be said that Hawthorne intended for "the scaffold" to symbolize time, while the natural environment symbolizes the conflict between Puritanism and individual freedom. Explain in detail, with specific examples from the novel, to what degree each of these 2 symbols succeeds in accomplishing the author's purpose.
The two major symbols in The Scarlet Letter the "scaffold of the pillory" and "the natural environment outside of Boston" are very important symbols in this novel. These symbols are also settings in this novel. Nathanial Hawthorne definitely succeeded in using "the scaffold of the pillory" to represent time. We see the scaffold at various intervals in The Scarlet Letter, first at the beginning of the story when Hester is being humiliated there. Secondly, we see the scaffold when the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale asks to meet Hester and Pearl there, and lastly, we see the scaffold at the end, where Arthur Dimmesdale shows his true self and reveals to the general public, his true sins. Hawthorne made the scaffold to act like a central meeting place for the main characters of the story, especially for Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale. Every time Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale meet at the scaffold, they seem to be celebrating a new milestone as they move closer to becoming a complete family with Pearl. This might be so, until the end of the story when Arthur Dimmesdale dies at the scaffold after his confession. That is the moment of how long time has passed until Arthur Dimmesdale confessed his sins and transgressions. It also shows how much time has passed since Hester Prynne was there being humiliated as a punishment for her transgressions.
The other symbol which Nathanial Hawthorne uses in The Scarlet Letter is "the natural environment outside of Boston" which symbolizes the conflict between Puritanism and individual freedom. The author uses this to demonstrate the completely different aspects of each of the communities as well as the different ways of living which can be found in these completely separate places. The town of Boston represents a civilized community with its own set of laws and regulations which have to be recognized by every citizen living there. However, in the woods right outside the borders of the town, is a completely different world, not represented by any laws or regulations. The woods provide a place for both Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale to open up to each other. They are for a few moments a young couple once again, not separated by the laws and regulations of an abusive city. Both Hester and Arthur were true to each other when they were out talking in the forest. The forest was also a place for Mistress Hobbins to conduct her midnight rides unnoticed from the rest of the town.
The author Nathanial Hawthorne uses these two important symbols to represent who his characters were. He puts his characters into a position in which they continually look back on the past without knowing how much time has actually gone by between the beginning of the book and the end of the book. He gives his characters a place to be themselves and express who they really are to each other, not have to act like robots to fit into a single-minded society which won't accept them.
5. The Scarlet Letter shows how individual people react to different circumstances in different ways. How are Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger (Prynne) Chillingworth changed by the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves? Discuss each of their changes from the persons that they are at the beginning of the novel to the persons they evolve into at the end. Your essay must focus on 3 aspects of change for each character: physical change, emotional change, and spiritual change.
The three main characters throughout The Scarlet Letter change tremendously throughout the story. Each character changed depending on their personality and their viewpoint on life, as well as the circumstances and daily pressures which each one faced. Hester Prynne, the protagonist of the story, changed the most throughout the course of the novel. Physically, Hester Prynne looks stunning with radiant hair and a complexion which is dark and deep, thus giving her a beautiful appearance. Throughout the story she had her hair tied up and the large scarlet letter A on her chest. Those both hid her true beauty so the reader couldn't who she really was. It wasn't until Hester removed the Scarlet Letter and untied her hair in the forest for a brief moment do we see the true Hester Prynne once again. It seemed as if a truckload of bricks were removed from her shoulders at that moment and she was once again the happy woman she used to be before the incident happened.
Emotionally, Hester Prynne was strong woman despite the fact that she now had a public deterrent on her chest. At the beginning of the story, instead of going around feeling bad about her situation, Hester Prynne tries to fix her problems by going around and doing charitable works throughout the community. She does the charitable works with the hopes that she will win the hearts of the community and hopefully will gain their trust and respect, but most importantly, the community's forgiveness. Eventually people begin to accept her, and instead of the scarlet letter on her chest meaning, "adulterer," people began to feel that it meant, "able," or at one point, "angel," for her good works and deeds. As the story progresses, Hester is emotionally sound and her self-esteem begins to get higher, especially when she had to fight for her daughter, Pearl, in order to continue to keep custody of her and take care of her. Up until the very last moment, Hester remained strong.
Spiritually, Hester Prynne has gained great insight from the scarlet letter mounted on her chest. Instead of frowning upon the scarlet letter like she did at the beginning, she tries to make light of her situation, and throughout the story she tries to learn her lesson right so it will never happen to her again. Hester also has to take care of Pearl now, and throughout the story she tries to teach Pearl what she feels is best. In order to raise a child, Hester had to be spiritually strong, and she was able to overcome the problems the scarlet letter has brought to her while raising Pearl. She, however, doesn't answer Pearl's questions about the scarlet letter. Despite that, Hester Prynne remained spiritually strong with Pearl by her side until the end of the story.
The next character, the revered Arthur Dimmesdale, really only had one problem affecting him throughout this story. He knew that he had an extramarital affair with Hester Prynne and he knew he was the father of Pearl. This one secret thought of his eventually brought him to his grave. Maybe if he had spoken out sooner, he may have received a steep punishment, but his conscience would have been cleared of guilt and his spirits would have been lifted. He however chose the coward's way out by hiding under the radar and letting Hester Prynne take the heat and trouble. While Hester Prynne moved up in the world, Arthur Dimmesdale began to sink in his own guilt and his own shame. His physical appearances changed dramatically throughout this story. Arthur's face got older and older at the turn of every page, and he continued to develop serious health problems. His emotions got weaker and weaker as well, over the burden of guilt which lay over him. Arthur's spiritual aspects were beginning to decline as well over this one thought. He was a hypocrite at his work because he himself had committed a serious offense just as bad a Hester Prynne had.
Arthur Dimmesdale eventually had the courage to admit his wrongdoings; however, by the time he went to the scaffold, he only had a small amount of remaining energy left to do so. He confessed but never had the chance to continue living his life, for the guilt and shame had already consumed him, only leaving his lifeless body laying on the scaffold at the end of the story.
The last character, Roger Chillingworth, has problems of his own as well. He is a physical train wreck, which gets worse as the story progresses, up until the very end. Roger Chillingworth has many physical imperfections of his own, especially in the way he dresses. The combination of his black clothing and hat makes him look like an associate of the devil, which really scares the residents living in Boston. Roger's physical features include an old look, a small frame, and a slight deformity in his shoulders, for one is higher than the other. Throughout the novel, his physical features add to his overly obsessive nature. As his obsession grows throughout the book, his features begin to get scarier and scarier, even calling himself at one point, a "fiend." This adds to the suspense of the novel for the reader since Roger Chillingworth acts as the evil of the story.
Roger Chillingworth's only emotion is his obsession with the revenge. He wants to get revenge on the man whom Hester Prynne had an affair with, and that has been his intention up until the very end of the story. His emotions get more and more intense as the story progresses, especially at the end of the story, which makes him appear scarier. Roger Chillingworth also shows signs of his spiritual side, which is his evil. For most of the story, Roger Chillingworth was out to get Arthur Dimmesdale. That was his main goal to seek revenge against him since he found out that he was Hester's lover. The story of Roger Chillingworth's life at this point was evil and revenge. He never realized that evil and revenge was taking away his physical characteristics and was turning them into evil as well.
Roger Chillingworth's plan for revenge never did work out for him. Throughout the story, his obsession with revenge and the evil inside of him just ate away at him, as it had done to the reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Arthur Dimmesdale died at the end of The Scarlet Letter, but Roger Chillingworth proved not to be any better. His mind was in a weak state because the evil had poisoned his thoughts. Roger Chillingworth eventually died at the end of the story as well, so weakened by his dangerous obsessions.