Scarlet Letter Literature Review Title: The Scarlet Letter Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne Genre: Novel of character, romantic

novel Narrative Point of View: Omniscient Setting: Mid-to-late 1600s in Boston, Massachusetts. Plot: A young woman named Hester Prynne who has committed adultery is brought to shame in Boston and forced to wear a scarlet “A” as punishment; she refuses to reveal the father of the child. She married in Europe before she came to Boston to a man she did not love but had to marry for monetary reasons. Her husband does not show up until, almost two years later due to sailing problems, Hester is on the ceremonial scaffold of shame. He decides not to reveal himself as her husband and search for the father to take revenge as a doctor under the assumed name of Roger Chillingworth; Hester agrees not to reveal his identity. She longs to reunite with the child’s father, the esteemed Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and since he believes fully in the tenets of Puritanism he longs to confess his sin but does not to continue to hold his office as minister. Chillingworth suspects that Dimmesdale is the father, and since the stress the minister is putting himself through is damaging to his health, Chillingworth moves into the same boarding house as Dimmesdale to use medicine to keep him alive and pry into his heart. Dimmesdale survives longer than he should thanks to the physician’s drugs but lives in agony at his guilt and hypocrisy and from Chillingworth’s prying. The child, whom Hester names her Pearl since she is Hester’s prize possession, grows into a very rebellious young child in reflection of Hester’s act of passion. In the woods Hester and Dimmesdale meet and, after Hester reveals that Chillingworth is her husband, they decide to leave to return to Europe after confessing their sin together. After delivering his best sermon yet, Dimmesdale climbs onto the scaffold with Hester and Pearl to finally relieve himself of his burden and, now being free of Chillingworth’s torment, dies soon after from relief. Hester returns to England with Pearl and, without wearing the scarlet letter, she returns to Boston several years later without Pearl to be a counselor for young women; she puts the scarlet letter back on after returning. Opening Scene: The opening chapter describes the dismal jail and points out that a rosebush grows next to the door. Hawthorne writes that he hopes the bush will be a symbol of the moral of the story since the story begins and ends quite drearily. The opening scene contains people going to the scaffold to see the public punishment of Hester, which displays the character of the Puritans and sets the plot for the entire book. Closing Scene: The closing scene describes Hester’s return to Boston and her death. Her grave lies next to Dimmesdale’s grave and one tombstone serves both of them reading, “ON A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES.” This inscription means that on a black field lies a

red letter “A” for adultery. A minor conflict is between Hester and Pearl since Hester tries to raise Pearl to be a standard Puritan but Pearl’s nature prevents this from happening. Roger Chillingworth: He is a kind and respectable young man turned fiend out of intense desires for revenge against whoever violated the virginity of his wife. It is an effective symbol since she always has a passionate and rebellious side that comes out and since she is the result of Hester’s sin. and it is effective because Hawthorne stays with one plot line long enough to create suspense before moving on to another plot line. The first is an internal conflict within Dimmesdale. all of which carry equal yet strong significance. Structure: Hawthorne divided the book into twenty-four chapters. He is believable because often when people marry someone they think they can trust and find out that something has happened to violate that trust they become vindictive and wish to ruin whoever caused the trust to break. and it would not be unreasonable for one who breaks one of the Ten Commandments not only to punish himself for it but also to long to feel remorse for his sin like he should according to his religion’s rules. She is believable since it is perfectly reasonable for a stubborn woman whom society chastises to begin to wonder whether society is right in its austerity towards her. . this time within Hester since she longs to be with Dimmesdale but knows she must quietly accept society’s ostracism. acts ashamed for society. Symbols: Pearl: Pearl symbolizes the scarlet letter and Hester’s adulterous act of passion. The point-of-view does not change. Conflict: The novel has several basic conflicts. who longs to reveal the truth but cannot bring himself to do it. symbolizing how much their sin stands out once both have confessed to it. hoping that by paying enough penance for it he will begin to regret doing it. Another is an external conflict between Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. It does not come full out until Dimmesdale finds that Chillingworth continually has been prying at his heart to exact his revenge. The structure is not confusing. Minor Character: Pearl Prynne: She is the illegitimate child of Hester and Dimmesdale and her wild temperament reflects the act of passion that brought her into the world. He is believable because many Puritan ministers were extremely pious and believed fully in the tenets of Puritanism. Characters: Hester Prynne: Hester is a tenacious and passionate young woman who keeps her words. Theme: Confess dark secrets openly and do not torture those who do with exclusion. A second conflict is another internal conflict. Arthur Dimmesdale: Dimmesdale is a fiercely devout Puritan minister who continually punishes himself for his adultery with Hester. and begins to question whether the Puritans truly are right in their harshness. Her purpose is to be an ever-present reminder of Hester’s sin of passion and be a living symbol of the scarlet letter.

The Scaffold: The scaffold is a symbol of the Puritans’ harsh shame that they impose on those who commit very obvious sins. The Woods: The woods are a gloomy place of darkness where the evil Black man lives and witches supposedly hold meetings. It also serves as a refuge for the two sinners Hester and Dimmesdale as they finally discuss their act of adultery. He also uses hyperbole often. He uses well-developed diction. It successfully relates to the symbolism of the scarlet letter. but it is not dreadfully slow. He often uses parenthetical remarks set off by dashes to add further information and uses other punctuation extensively.The scarlet letter: The scarlet letter symbolizes Hester’s passion. It is an effective symbol since it is ubiquitous throughout the novel and Hawthorne constantly makes references to it. Purpose: Hawthorne is retelling a story that appeared as early as 1837. Sentence length varies. He wrote it partially to express his disappointment at the Puritans’ austerity but also to relate the moral of encouraging people to confess their sins and forgive others of theirs. Title: The title refers to the scarlet letter Hester must wear and it insinuates that the letter will have great importance. Quotes: . Tone: The tone generally is solemn but Hawthorne does use irony like on page 120 when it says that it is an absolute miracle of Heaven that the physician Chillingworth should happened to end up at the door of the ailing Dimmesdale’s study. It is effective because it causes the juxtaposition of clear evildoers. Pace: The pace is moderately slow because of its use of an old style of writing and some antiquated terms. like calling Dimmesdale’s voice powerful and sweet. and the color red. Recurring Motifs: iron. It is effective because it appears at the beginning of the novel and sets up the story remarkably well. plants. though does use the same words to describe the same things throughout the novel. and forced shame. but he wastes no words. the Black man and witches like Mistress Hibbins. according to the book’s forward. with the secretive pair of sinners of Hester and Dimmesdale. It is yet another example of Hawthorne’s internal struggle between his admiration and detestation of his Puritan ancestors. It is a successful symbol because it returns twice more to emphasize the secret sins of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth and the public sin of Hester. His use of symbolism is very obvious but his irony is not always as evident. like on page 242 in describing the dying Chillingworth. sin. The Prison: The prison symbolizes the severity of the Puritans’ punishment and the darkness of sin but yet the possibility for redemption in the rosebush at its door as well. Style: He writes in a style common of his time that is now out-of-date. truth. Use of Time: It is chronological within a flashback. the juxtaposition of light and darkness. Dimmesdale putting his hand on his heart.

“Brooding over all these matters. the mother felt like one who has evoked a spirit. but. Dimmesdale To: Hester Dimmesdale says this while Hester is on the scaffold originally and the lead Puritan ministers are trying to get Hester to reveal identity of the father of her child. but it was so like humility. by some irregularity in the process of conjuration. but pleading for her to do it since he knows he will not be able to bring himself to do it. Hester becomes a freethinking individual with all sorts of ideas about the Puritan religion that the ministers would have considered blasphemous. perchance. that it produced all the softening influence of the latter quality on the public mind. He hopes that Hester will expose him so he will not have to do it himself. has failed to win the master-word that should control this new and incomprehensible intelligence. “Meeting them in the street. “What can thy silence do but tempt him – yea. the gentleman she wots of. cup that is now presented to thy lips!” (Hawthorne 73) Character Speaker: Rev. “Then tell her… that I spake again with the black-a-visaged hump-shouldered old doctor. In this quote he is not just asking Hester to reveal himself as the father. and also shows Hester’s exasperation with the child. If they were resolute to accost her. she never raised her head to receive them in their greeting. but wholesome. and he engages to bring his friend. 3. This might be pride. Hester is not quite sure of what to make of the child or what to do with the child. They call on Dimmesdale to try to get her to confess since he is her pastor. She chooses not to mingle with people and passes off her pride cleverly as humility.” (229) Character Speaker: Seaman of the Spanish Main . One of her thoughts is that she is somehow higher that the rest of the public since she is not a blind sheep following the supposedly good shepherds of the Puritan hierarchy. as it were – to add hypocrisy to sin? …Take heed how thou deniest to him – who. 2. hath not the courage to grasp it for himself – the bitter.” (156) Character Speaker: Narrator To: Reader Over the course of her years with the scarlet letter. aboard with him. 4.” (95) Character Speaker: Narrator To: Reader This passage is from the chapter devoted to describing Pearl. and passed on. she laid her finger on the scarlet letter. It reveals the volatility of Pearl’s temperament by calling her a conjured spirit.1. compel him.

Chillingworth has not yet had his fill of it and plans on continuing his fiendish ways in Europe. This displays the tremendous tenacity that Chillingworth has in his revenge toward Dimmesdale. .To: Pearl Here the sailor wishes Pearl to carry a message to Hester that Chillingworth has bought a ticket for the same ship ride to Europe as she and Dimmesdale have.