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Kaya Rodrigues

Ms. Moss

Pre-AP English

24 October 2017

Hester’s Inner Fire

In ​The Scarlet Letter​, ​Nathaniel Hawthorne clearly showcases the internal struggle, both

conscious and subconscious, of Hester concerning her sin. Hester Prynne feels attached to New

England even though it is a place of extreme disturbance in her life. Through lengthy syntax, a

more solemn and critical tone established through irony, and similes, Hester’s turmoil is obvious.

Concerning syntax, Hawthorne tends to formulate long sentences using commas, perhaps

mimicking the frantic contradictory nature of a guilty mind. Hawthorne details the inner

workings of Hester’s mind by saying “There dwelt, there trode the feet of one with whom she

deemed herself connected in a union, that… would bring them together before the bar of final

judgement and make that their marriage altar.” The way Hawthorne writes about how Hester

“deems herself” connected in this way further proves that Hester feels the need to justify, in her

own mind, reasons for not leaving New England. Furthermore, referring to “judgement”,

“futurity”, and “retribution” displays the deep thought that goes into such a serious matter.

Hester is deeply analyzing the ultimate consequences to her actions. The reigning train of

thought: if she stays in the place where she committed the sin, Hester may go to heaven and

fulfill her utmost goal in life. If Hester has to justify her own motives to herself, one must infer

that she has numerous, overwhelming opposing thoughts.
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Hawthorne’s use of similes further details Hester’s inner conflict. Hawthorne attempts to

provide a picture of Hester’s suffering by expressing that she “grew pale whenever it struggled

out of her heart, like a serpent from its hole.” Hester’s thoughts are depicted as sinister; evil

secrets, mimicking the eerie slyness of a serpent. The dark tone offered by the figurative

language itself gives the idea of Hester’s loneliness and inevitable vulnerability. Her attachment

to this place where the sin was committed, although existing, seems to drain Hester of all joyous,

or even content, thoughts. Whether Hester moves or stays, the guilt follows, portraying a

creeping serpent.

Hawthorne’s implementation of irony provides a more critical tone to the solemn matter.

Hawthorne concludes the passage in writing “here should be the scene of her earthly

punishment.” Solemnity of the tone is in the simple concept of retribution; Hester has committed

a crime, and therefore has to serve a punishment. However, as Hawthorne furthers the

explanation Hester established for herself, the motive seems to take a more complex route:

“perchance, the torture of her daily shame would at length purge her soul, and work out another

purity than that which she had lost; more saint-like.” The criticism is in the thought process;

Hester has thought long and hard to tie in the need to face guilt and hope to be repaid and

recognized as “saint-like.” It continues to display Hester’s desperate need to get back on the right

track; to be accepted and to go to heaven. The consequent irony in this is that Hester admits to

and outright faces her sinful actions in order to gain access to heaven; that is, facing the exact

reason for rejection, just to obtain acceptance.

Throughout the ​The Scarlet Letter​,​ Hawthorne makes Hester’s suffering more apparent

through the characters’ thoughts. Hester’s self-criticising nature after the sin took place makes
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this turmoil more real and viable. The seriousness and respective solemn tone prove effective in

setting the stage for hopeful irony, dark similes, and extensive syntax, unlocking the possibility

for even darker story progression along the lines of an all-too darkness-consumed mindset.

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