The forest in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter, represents an array of personas. Both rumors and scandal surround the forest, causing a biased view of this secluded location within the Puritan community. Yet, Hawthorne designates the forest as a place of truth, independence, and joy to those with secrets.
Boston’s Puritan society of the mid 1600’s feared the near-bye forest. Believing that “the black man that haunts the forest” (71) and that the witches who do the devil’s work there, the townspeople are warned to stay away the sinful place. Another reason why the Puritans may have discouraged people from entering the forest was because it was an isolated setting in which no one could spy on its visitors. This completely goes against Puritan values which encourages gossip and spying in order to prevent sin. Yet some like the forest for this exact reason, finding it a safe place to escape.
Banished from the Puritan society for committing adultery, Hester Prynne is considered an outcast, “outlawed from society”(189). With her illegitimate daughter Pearl, Prynne moves with her daughter to the outskirts of the community at the mouth of the forest. It is there in their own secluded life that they are free, not subjected to the regular ridicule and embarrassment that they usually experience in their strict Puritan town. Unknown to the town was the identity of Pearl’s father, Arthur Dimmesdale, who was both a respected and revered reverend and “the head of the [Puritan] social system”(189). Their “sin of passion” (190) caused him to believe that his soul was “irrevocably doomed” (189) causing him to commit self inflicted punishments. They had Pearl behind Prynne’s husband, who was out of the country at the time. Unaware of her affair, her husband came to Boston. When he found out he hid his true identity, rechristening himself Roger Chillingworth. Claiming to be a doctor due to his Medicinal knowledge, Chillingworth becomes Reverend Dimmesdale’s doctor. Unlike the rest of the Puritan society, they find the forest to be a free and easy escape rather than it being the devil’s ‘second home.’
Hawthorne delegates the Forest as the setting for many important conversations in the novel. It is in the...