The Themes Of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1942 words - 8 pages

The Themes of The Scarlet Letter

 
     The Scarlet Letter is a romantic novel, mainly because it is a long, fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary events.  Unfolding over a seven year period, we are treated to the heroism of Hester Prynne and her adulterous beloved, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and the mysterious actions and behavior of their love child, Pearl, and the witch, Mistress Hibbins.  The story is set against the background of Puritan, New England, a stern, authoritarian, colony founded by a group of religious reformers.  Before the novel begins, Hester is guilty of an affair which produced Pearl while her husband was abroad.  Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, comes to America just as Hester is being pilloried.  He determines to remain in Boston in disguise in order to discover the man with whom she had the affair.  Chillingworth soon uncovers the identity of Pearl's father, the young and emotionally captivating pastor.  He proceeds to torment Dimmesdale's soul, eventually foiling the escape of the pastor, Hester, and Pearl.  At the end of the novel, Hester and Dimmesdale mount the pillory with Pearl together, where he reveals that he, too, has a scarlet "A" etched on his chest from remorse.  However, this act of public repentance allows him to be free of the Satanic clutches of Chillingworth.  Pearl, too, a child that barely seems human to others in the novel, reclaims her humanity by giving her real father a kiss and crying for the first time in the story.  There are two main themes at work in the novel.  The first is the conflict between romanticism and religion.  The second is the nature of sin, which the novel suggests is a guilty secret of all people.  The novel also portrays the sin of Chillingworth as being more reprehensible than either Dimmesdale's or Hester's, because he has invaded the inviolate ground of another man's soul.

 

The conflict between romanticism and religion is not difficult to understand, as everyone in the novel including the narrator is ambivalent or dualistic regarding point of view.  If we look at the primary symbol of the novel, Hester's adulterous "A", we can see the conflict between romance (individuality) and religion (community).  For the "A" is symbolic of two main aspects of existence.  On the one hand, it symbolizes the imposed will or enforced judgement of the Puritan community regarding adulterous sex.  On the other hand, it must represent individuality and the conflict of personal identity over community.  For, though it may symbolize a weakness or intemperance in Hester and Dimmesdale, it, too, surely symbolizes their rejection of what they know are community values in favor of their own personal desires.  Brodhead (Gross, Bradley, Beatty, and Long, 397) points to the duality underlying the wearing of the "A", and the inherent conflict between community and individuality it symbolizes:

 

He converts the isolated symbol into a badge fashioned by a historical...

Find Another Essay On The Themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Passion in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1371 words - 5 pages in every relationship is what side the coin will land on. Works Cited Easton, Alison. “A Critique of Puritan Society.” Modern Critical Interpretations: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. 114-126 Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Signet Classics Edition. New York: New American Library, 1999. Thrailkill, Jane F. “The Doctor and the Minister.” From Studies in

The Righteous Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1213 words - 5 pages The Strong and Righteous Hester of The Scarlet Letter     "What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us," stated Oliver Wendell Holmes. This eventually proves to be especially true for Hester Prynne, the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne, a fair young maiden whose husband had disappeared two years prior to the opening of the novel, has an affair with

The Pillory in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter

652 words - 3 pages description exemplifies the heinous sense of justice of the Puritans. It reflects and firmly establishes the outrage against human nature of which the Puritans are guilty. All of the ugly and immoral practices of their society are replicated in the pillory, and its very existence is a defiance of that which is good and natural. Through this defiance, justice cannot truly be achieved to the fullest extent.   Works Cited 1.  Hawthorne, Nathaniel.  The Scarlet Letter. The Cornwall Press, inc., Cornwall, New York. 1948.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" Character Analysis of Arthur Dimmesdale

1643 words - 7 pages Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, provides us with intricate characters to analyze and evaluate. Hawthorne carefully constructs his characters, giving them each different emotions, values, physical attributes, and thus creating different souls. One sees character development throughout the book, until at the end, one is left with an image of a seemingly 'real' person. One of Hawthorne's carefully constructed characters is, Arthur

"The Necessity of Identity" - The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Discusses Hawthorne's themes of isolation versus communal sin

764 words - 3 pages . Nathaniel Hawthorne demonstrates their austere standards for society throughout his novel, The Scarlet Letter. In a Puritan society dominated by the necessity to conform, only those who isolate themselves from the strict expectations of the community may fully develop their individuality. Hester Prynne, despite the resentment felt for her by the society, is able to find her identity through her isolation. Though there is no punishment preventing her

Light and Darkness in the Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"

757 words - 3 pages Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is one of the most analyzed and most discussed literary works in American literature and for good reason. Hawthorne's ambiguity and his intense use of symbols have made this work incredibly complex and incredibly bothersome. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses many symbols to give insight into characters and promote his views on society. The scaffold scenes in The Scarlet Letter tell the

The Scaffold Scenes in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

894 words - 4 pages 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

Symbols and Symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1243 words - 5 pages Symbols in The Scarlet Letter      In nearly every work of literature, readers can find symbols that represent feelings, thoughts or ideas within the text.  Such symbols can be found in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Hawthorne's book about an affair between a woman named Hester and a minister named Arthur Dimmmesdale is full of feelings of sin, guilt, hate, secrecy, and honesty.  There are many symbols within the novel

Justice Explored in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1034 words - 4 pages Justice Explored in The Scarlet Letter   Nathaniel Hawthorne created themes in The Scarlet Letter just as significant as the obvious ideas pertaining to sin and Puritan society. Roger Chillingworth is a character through which one of these themes resonates, and a character that is often underplayed in analysis. His weakness and path of destruction of himself and others are summed up in one of Chillingworth's last sentences in the

Dealing With Guilt in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

732 words - 3 pages realistic in the sense that she didn't have to hide her past and was able to use her guilt to help others. Arthur Dimmesdale's approach to his guilt could almost be considered selfish because he refused to tell the truth to save his name and life. In reviewing the actions of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, it is apparent that the means in which guilt was handled brought either personal prosperity or decay. Ultimately, this was probably Nathaniel Hawthorne's objective when he created differing personalities between Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter.

Pearl's Life Without Shame in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1217 words - 5 pages only alive, but married, and happy, and mindful of her mother" (177). Pearl was successful after her outcast childhood, free from the mistakes Hester had made and able to be true to everyone around her. Pearl was a better person because her mother was brave enough to keep them there in the fire and teach her daughter how to lead a life without shame. Works Cited: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Similar Essays

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Essay

1605 words - 6 pages Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is, at times, a piece that seems intended to drive one beyond any hope of reasoning. Its occasionally overpowering allegorical symbolism or its seemingly eclectic mythology can certainly seem like a purist allegory designed to imbue in one the fear of eternal sin. However, when one takes the time to read beyond the simple story and to realize the true nature of Hawthorne's verbal artistry, it becomes

Main Themes Of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter And The Minister's Black Veil

796 words - 3 pages Main Themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and The Minister's Black Veil Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works often have parallel themes and similar characters. His approach is quite gloomy and the atmosphere for his stories is many times sad and depressing. Hawthorne concentrates his novel and short stories around the Puritan community, which adds to the tense and unforgiving atmosphere. One of his most renowned novels, The Scarlet

Sin In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

2142 words - 9 pages      Nathaniel Hawthorne's bold novel, The Scarlet Letter, revolves around sin and punishment.  The main characters of the novel sharply contrast each other in the way they react to the sin that has been committed             Dimmesdale's instantaneous response to the sin is to lie.  He stands before Hester and the rest of the town and proceeds to give a moving speech about how it would be in her and the father's best interest for her to

Individualism In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1065 words - 4 pages Individualism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Often in society people are criticized, punished and despised for their individual choices and flaws. In the novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author uses Hester Prynne to symbolize that those who challenge social conformities can benefit society as a whole. Though she has been banished for committing adultery, she sees that the community needs her. Through her