Butting Heads Essay

978 words - 4 pages

The major motif, which is a structure or device that assists in developing themes, in The Scarlet Letter follows the same basic principle throughout, a binary opposition. Whether it be light-vs.-dark, civilization-vs.-the wilderness, or truth-vs.-fallacy, binary opposition dominates the entire novel. These conflicts may all be seen in a short passage from the book. "And yet they lingered. The forest path back to the settlement looked dreary: There Hester Prynne would once again take up the burden of her shame, and the minister the hollow mockery of his reputation! So they lingered another moment. No golden light was ever so precious as the gloom of this dark forest. Here, seen only by his ...view middle of the document...

In the passage above, the narrator states that the forest is the only real place where they may stay true to themselves. The forest was a place where "here, seen only by her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale—false to God and to man—might, for one moment, be true!" (162). To an outsider, Dimmesdale is a very flat character; while to the reader, he one perhaps the roundest of all. On the exterior, Dimmesdale is a perfect Christian; he gives excellent sermons, he has outstanding virtue, and his wisdom and judgment is universally obeyed, even by those much older that himself. However, a reader understands that Dimmesdale is completely defined by his guilt.
For most, one's confidence and morale would boost as more people respect and admire him. However for Dimmesdale, his sense of guilt and lack of confidence grows until it is even affecting himself physically. When it becomes apparent that there is something seriously wrong with him, the people sympathize instead of question him. This drives Dimmesdale to further internalize his guilt and self-punishment and leads to still more deterioration in his physical and spiritual condition. This feeling of self-loathing is completely brought upon by his inability face the consequences for his actions. Finally, at the peak of his public popularity, he is so consumed with self-disgust that it overcomes him. It is understandable why Hester and Dimmesdale would wish to linger in the forest. Only there can they fully be true to themselves and not be consumed with the guilt and shamefulness that crushes them. Truth-vs.-fallacy is a conflict that only exists within a single person at a time. Truth-vs.-fallacy is therefore a person-vs.-self conflict.
Light-vs.-dark is a very significant and recurrent theme in the novel. In the forest where Hester and Dimmesdale lingered, "no golden light was ever so precious as the gloom of this dark forest" (162). Light and darkness symbolize...

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