The Scaffold Scenes in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
In Nathaniel Hawthorne?s The Scarlet Letter, the Puritans constantly look down upon sinners like Hester Prynne, both literally and symbolically. The use of the three scaffold scenes throughout the course of the novel proved to be an effective method in proving this theory and showing how Puritan society differs from that of today?s.
In the first scaffold scene, Hester is being led from the prison where she has spent the last few months, towards the scaffold clutching her newborn baby to her bosom, covering the scarlet letter-the two symbols representing truth and her lost innocence. She stands on the scaffold, with the magistrates and ministers standing above her on the pulpit, symbolizing that they will always be closer to God than she will ever be, however, the reader is unaware that Hester?s minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, who also stands above her on the pulpit, which is a bit of dramatic irony, considering the fact that he is the father of the infant, and her accomplice in her sin. Also during this scene, the man the reader comes to know as Roger Chillingworth hides in the shadows, looking up at Hester, the evil already swelling within him, blackening his soul.
The events leading up to the next scaffold scene, some years later, are some of the most significant scenes in the entire novel. The treatment of Dimmesdale by Chillingworth, who Dimmesdale had taken in as his physician, plays a key role, due to the fact that Chillingworth?s intentions are less than pure. Chillingworth is bent on revenge, and is willing to do anything necessary, even destroy another man?s life in order to soothe the savage beast within. However, deep inside Chillingworth?s soul, he realizes that his hunger for revenge will never fade, and one can begin to assume that like most villains, Chillingworth wants to be caught. It is for this reason that he allows Hester to reveal his true identity to Dimmesdale, even thought he realizes that it could be his demise.
This new information is a shock to Dimmesdale, his doctor, his friend; his confidante was his enemy all along. Bent on revenge and destroying him, Dimmesdale realizes that the ?Black Man? has his soul after all, and if he doesn?t submit to his will, his life and his reputation will pay the price
In a daze, confused and hurt, Dimmesdale wanders to the place where seven years ago Hester had stood clutching their child to her bosom, to the scaffold where he should have stood beside...