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The Scarlet Letter As A Method Of Understanding Characters

1071 words - 4 pages

The Scarlet Letter as a Method of Understanding CharactersIn The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses his characters' reactions to the scarlet letter to illustrate society's influence on the beliefs of individuals. Generally, the individual will adopt the beliefs of those around him, but if a person is mistreated by, or separated from, the community, this tendency can be curtailed. The typical Bostonian treats the scarlet letter simply as a symbol of shame to be acknowledged with disdain, ensuring the effectiveness of the punishment. In contrast, Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale all react to the scarlet letter in different ways, reflecting their connection to Puritan Boston.Hester defiantly endures her punishment, almost to the point of being proud of her adultery and the mark it has left on her. She serves her penance dutifully, but nonetheless exudes a subtle aura of rebelliousness, stealing all satisfaction from the townspeople. One of her most clever methods of maintaining dignity is to decorate the scarlet letter, giving it "…all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore…" (50). Instead of wearing a utilitarian mark of shame, Hester transforms the letter into a fashionable work of art. By highlighting the letter through embroidery, an art that has always come naturally to Hester, and stoically refusing to remove it, she shows that the scarlet letter does not change who she is. Humiliated and shunned by the community, Hester no longer has any regard for the laws of the colony. Part of her willingness to mock her punishment comes from her deep roots in England. Even as she stands on the scaffold, the first stage of her punishment, she thinks of her home: "Standing on that miserable eminence, she saw again her native village, in Old England, and her paternal home; a decayed house of gray stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a half-obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of antique gentility." (54). A clear parallel is drawn between Hester and her childhood home: they are both worn down, but each bears a mark of nobility and dignity. Hester's religious link to the society obligates her to serve her penance, but her lack of personal connection to the Bostonians causes her subtle resistance.While Hester has a basic plan and moral foundation for coping with the effects of the scarlet letter, Pearl does not know what to think of it, other than that her mother has always worn it. Therefore, the townspeople's adverse reaction to it confuses her. This is just one example of Pearl's incompatibility with mainstream Bostonian society. In the same way that Hester clings to her homeland of England, Pearl reflects the nature of her origin: the sinful union of Hester and the Reverend Mister Dimmesdale. Just as she was conceived in a moment of untamed passion, Pearl is a wild child, completely at odds with the rigid structure of Puritan custom. Her defiance of Puritan social values is not...

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