Structure In The Scarlet Letter By Hawthorne, Nathaniel.

961 words - 4 pages

The ScaffoldPublic penitence is no longer widely used as punishment in today's western society. However, back in Puritan society, it was in some ways considered worse than death. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the criminals of the law be it governmental or religious, were taken in sight of all onto the scaffold to publicly display their wrongdoing. Just as the scaffold is the center of the town, it is also the center of the story. The scenes that take place at the scaffold are the most important events in the story; they establish the environment for the story and are pivotal to the plot.The first action at the scaffold is in chapter two; this sets the background for the whole novel. At the beginning of the chapter, we see the Puritan society standing, waiting for Hester Prynne to come out of the jail and make her trip to the scaffold. The coarseness of the society is illustrated by this scene, in which Hester's fellow citizens are awaiting her. A few of the women are discussing their disagreement with her punishment, one saying, "'this woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die'" (49). These gossiping women, despite their small roles, tell the readers of the general Puritan belief of law and order. This scene explains Hester Prynne's humble position in the society and graphically describes the humiliation she suffers. As Hester remains on the scaffold her husband, Roger Chillingworth, and her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, are standing nearby. Through this scene, Hawthorne hints to us that they are very important characters, and will be developed throughout the novel. Chillingworth is introduced to us as a stranger through "the eyes of Hester Prynne [which] were fastened on his" (57). The importance of Arthur Dimmesdale is initiated by the Governor, "'...the responsibility of this woman's soul lies greatly with you'" (61). The idea that Dimmesdale is Pearl's father can be inferred from that statement. Thus, the idea of the story has been outlined as the scene has been established and the forthcoming chapters have been foreshadowed.It was night, throughout "The Minister's Vigil" (129). In this chapter, the attention of the story is returned to the scaffold where the mystical milieu of societal beliefs is presented and the turning point of the plot is revealed. Dimmesdale is approaching madness from his inner suffering and returns to the scaffold showing his desire to be free of his secret. The scene also contains two supernatural overtones, the "appearance of old Mistress Hibbins... looking anxiously upward... had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry..." (131) and with light from a meteor causing a strange glow in the sky. The ideals of witchcraft were common in the puritan society, and Miss Hibbins constant appearing at times of suffering goes to deepen the...

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