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Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1195 words Published: 27th Apr 2017

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s purpose in delivering The Scarlet Letter to the public is to show how individuals can be alienated from the society simply because they are different from others. Hawthorne uses Hester Prynne who lives in an oppressive Puritan society as an example of those who are judged and cast out by the society. Hester is publicly humiliated and banished as a punishment for adultery. She also has to wear the letter “A” on her chest as a reminder of her misdeed. The narrator explains, “Thus the young an pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast as the figure, the body, the reality of sin” (83). Hester has to endure being scorned at and seen as an outcast. Although the society looks down on her, she takes on her shame and embraces it; she cares for the poor with pure willingness to repent. She “bestow[s] all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less miserable than herself, who not infrequently insulted the hand that fed them” (87). As a result, Hester is able to gain some respect from the society, but not until after the people realize Hester’s talent and good works, they are able to accept her even though she has made a mistake.

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Hawthorne delivers his message with a formal and direct tone. He describes Heser’s shame of breaking the laws, “The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, but never to fling down; for the accumulating days, and added years, would pile up their misery upon the heap of shame” (73). The narrator simply reveals Hester’s feelings directly to the audience. Occasionally, the narrator uses a sympathetic tone toward Hester Prynne. He explains, “Such helpfulness was found in her- so much power to do and power to sympathize- that many people refused to interpret the scarlet “A” by its original signification. They said that it meant “Able”: so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength” (156). This passage suggests that the narrator looks up to Hester for her actions and spirit to rise up again.

Hawthorne uses symbolism to enhance his purpose. One of the symbols in The Scarlet Letter is the letter “A”. The scarlet letter itself stands for many different things to different people who see it. To Hester, it is a symbol of grace and dignity. The narrator describes the scarlet letter as “fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread” with “gorgeous luxuriance of fancy” (50). Because Hester sews this letter herself, it represents the ideas that she is in control of her own punishment and her power over the society’s judgment. Also the letter displays Hester’s talent at sewing, her strength and independence, which set the difference between her and other women in the Puritan society.

4. What is Hawthorne’s message on the following:

a. the clergy

The message on the clergy is to not let reputations become more important than our lives. Arthur Dimmesdale has sinned but keeps it a secret from the public for almost all of his life. While he does not get the humiliation and shame from the public, his health declines and the guilt destroys his own self. When he finally reveals the truth about himself, his own daughter finally loves him for who he really is.

b. women

The author’s message on women is that women can prove to be strong even in a society where men were considered dominant. Hester Prynne has to endure public humiliation and isolation from the rest of the society. She manages to raise her daughter, Pearl, work, and also give to the poor while the society is looking down on her. She accepts her own identity and takes on her shame while the other two men, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth, refuse to reveal their identities. She eventually gains some respect and is able to rise up after she has fallen.

c. government

The narrator describes the customhouse as a very dark and unwelcoming place with an eagle that looks like it is ready to attack. The customhouse has symbols that represent protection, fairness and freedom for the people, but the place described by the narrator suggests differently. The narrator gets fired from the company that he has been working for for a very long time, so he feels connected to Hester Prynne in a way that they are both being treated harshly. The message on the government is that no matter how much time has changed, the laws and consequences of making a mistake can be very hard and cruel.

d. sin/guilt

Sin and guilt affect different people in different ways, but they can lead a person to understand others better. Arthur Dimmesdale’s guilt leads him to punish himself which worsen his health, but this experience lets him have more sympathy and understanding of others. For Hester, she takes on shame and embraces it, and this allows her to be able to think about herself and the society and grow from it.

e. society

The society can easily misjudge its own citizens. When one accepts the society’s judgment of his or her own self, one has lost the power over the society and him or herself. Hester recognizes that the letter A is a part of her character and not a mark of shame like how the society wants it to be.

f. revenge

The author’s message on revenge is that nobody should seek revenge on anybody else, but he or she should forgive instead. Roger Chillingworth tries to seek revenge on Dimmesdale, but fails to succeed. Hester also asks the minister to forgive and leave the punishment to God.

At first, the letter “A” represents “adultery” which sets Hester Prynne apart from everybody else. The society looks down on her and humiliates her, but instead of trying to hide or remove it, Hester keeps it and sees the scarlet letter as a part of her character. As the story progresses, the society starts to realize Hester’s good deeds and her honesty that some people see the letter “A” as “Able”. The scarlet letter’s evolution matches Hawthorne’s purpose of showing a point where individuals are cast off for being different by the society to a point where the society starts to accept those individuals again despite their mistakes in the past.

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One relatively current event that can be connected to The Scarlet Letter is the scandal involving Tiger Woods. Both Tiger Woods and Hester Prynne get public humiliation for their misconducts. Tiger Woods lost the respect and acceptance from the public after the media burst out multiple accusations of adultery. Although he stated his apologies to the public, his profile has been ruined and his career crumbled. His name and pictures all over the internet and television have been plastered with the misconduct and all the troubles he has gone through, similar to Hester Prynne who has the letter “A” on her chest.


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