A magnum opus by Nathaniel Hawthorne, widely discussed and book “The Scarlet Letter” is certainly worth to be read with utmost attention and involvement.
Despite the considerable time gap (it was written nearly two centuries ago in 1850), the leading themes and motifs of this romantic novel are completely relevant to the modern times. In this essay, I would try to outline all the prominent features of that contradictory narrative, centering my attention mainly on the merits of Hester Prynne’s character and the primary themes of sin, guilt and moral uprightness.
The settings of the story are the harsh Puritan town Salem, in which we observe the story’s main character of Hester Pryne. She suffers from disgrace and ostracism due to her adulterous affair with Arthur Dimmesdale that resulted in the illegitimate childbirth. What is interesting about the plot, is that the reader knows a little of Hester, by the time of that notorious occasion. It is known that she is in marriage with unloved husband Chillingworth and that before those times Hester was fostered in rather open-minded family environment. From the early chapters of the “Scarlet Letter” we know that she is rather passionate and incautious by her nature. Taking into account such peculiarities of Hester’s prior character, it is no wonder, that she was not able to keep her feelings under control.
Certainly, the author’s primary concern is the tension between the private and public life of the individual that was extremely acute and unavoidable in the XVII century Boston. While being unfairly criticized for her wrongdoing, Hester reveals unprecedented inner strength and spirit. Evidently, in the perspective of all the American fiction, Hester appears as one of its first true heroines. She suddenly finds herself trapped by restrictive rules of the society as well as radically alienated from it. To proceed with Hester’s analysis and justifying her behavior, the one should recall how she changed after her fall. Hester became extremely reflective and contemplative about eternal human nature, social hierarchy, and other moral matters. From this point of view, Hester Prynne is unexpectedly free-minded and stoic person. Interestingly, such an independent philosophizing, that Hester has come into, is artificially disapproved by the narrator, while his tone is full of secret admiration.
In her role of mother, Hester is much more moderate-tempered, as she is aware of the danger to lose her adorable Pearl. What is more, her even greater empathy is revealed, when she he helps deprived and poor people, willingly bringing clothes and food to them. That is an apparent sign of the respect to society. She is an exemplary mother figure, who reveals a host of sympathetic merits. Overall, throughout the Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”, Hester Prynne is depicted as independent, free-thinking and intelligent person. She even helps other women from the community to reject sexist forces of the town.
One more significant theme to reflect upon post-reading the romance, is an ultimate legalism of the Puritans’ community and the Prinn’s unconformity who rejected their beliefs and rules. What emphasizes the contradiction between the values of that young woman and the Salem villagers is that they do not mind her charities to the sick and poor members of their society. Apparently, Hester is obliged to spend her life alone, detached from the social and religious life of the community.
One more important character to remember, is one of little Hester’s daughter Pearl, who is a fair and primary symbol of her mother’s guilt. Despite her very young age (she has only seven years old at the moment of Dimmesdale’s death), she possess strikingly mature ability to provoke the older characters of the narrative with her curiosity and serious questions, pointed at the missed, overlooked and neglected truths of the adult life. Actually, it might be considered a part of the Hawtorne’s original concept – to portray children as more honest, perceptive, susceptible, conscientious creatures than all the adults in the Salem. Pearls continuously points at her mother’s scarlett letter and at the society, rightfully blamed for that shameful artifact. She is fixed on the emblem from her early childhood. Nataniele Hawtherne obviously has put his own inquiries into comments of the innocent, but highly intuitive child. Those Pearl’s questions about
In the similar manner, little girl is curious about relationships around her, and, particularly,about relationship of her parents, Hester and Dimmesdale, furthermore, she is perceptively criticizing them. It is Pearl, who voices the harshest and most penetrating judgment of Dimmesdale’s inability to admit his failure in the text.
What is also necessary to highlight in the current essay, is that the dramatic affair of Hester and minister Dimmesdale is an allusion to the well-known biblical story of Eve and Adam. The dramatic outcome of their sin is suffering along with expulsion. However, there is a profound knowledge of what it takes to be human. For Hester Prymme, the scarlet letter has a function of “her passport into regions where other women dared not tread,” (Hawthorne) that at the same time enables her to speculate boldly upon meaningful matters, what was not common at all for women in New England. In case of church minister Dimmesdale, that sin provides him “sympathies so intimate with the sinful brotherhood of mankind, so that his heart vibrates in unison with theirs” (Hawthorne). A reader witnesses his powerful, eloquent sermons as something as well derived from his knowledge. Both of the secret lovers, Hester and Dimmesdale, sincerely contemplate their own sinfulness every now and then, trying hard to reconcile it in terms of their earthly living experiences. “The Puritan elders, on the other hand, insist on seeing earthly experience as merely an obstacle on the path to heaven. Thus, they view sin as a threat to the community that should be punished and suppressed. Their answer to Hester’s sin is to ostracize her. Yet, Puritan society is stagnant, while Hester and Dimmesdale’s experience shows that a state of sinfulness can lead to personal growth, sympathy, and understanding of others.
Paradoxically, these qualities are shown to be incompatible with a state of purity” (Hawthorne &Sheldon, 54).
All in all, “The Scarlet Letter” by great American writer Nataniele Hawthorne is helpful in understanding to what extent the society should guide our individual’s behavior and how an individual would behave upon the extraordinary circumstances. It brilliantly explores ever-exisiting themes of sin and guilt and what kind of deed should be regarded as immoral. Hester Prynne is a great example of person who revealed courage and stamina in the bitter hardship Puritan times.
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