Term Paper on Scarlet Letter2

This essay has a total of 2713 words and 10 pages.


Scarlet Letter2





In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthrone masterfully weaves many themes and uses character
development to format the plot of this novel. The themes of The Scarlet Letter are carried out through the
four main characters -- Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingsworth, and Pearl -- and also
through symbolism. In this novel, Hawthrone hoped to show that although Hester and Dimmesdale sinned,
they achieved the wisdom of self knowledge and inner growth through their suffering.

Background
Before the novel actually starts, there is a section of the book entitled "The Custom House".
While this is not an integral part of the novel, it provides insight into Nathaniel Hawthrone, the man. Here
it is learned that Hawthrone’s ancestors were strict Puritans (he was born in Salem). One of his ancestors
was considered a "hanging judge" and was actually a judge in the Salem Witch Trails. This is why
Hawthrone has an interest in the Puritan period.
Although Hawthrone did not actually participate in the Puritan period, he still felt guilty about
what his ancestors did. He was angered by the hypocrisy of the church who condemned sins, yet
committed them and was also angered by the government. This becomes apparent to the reader throughout
the course of the novel. In fact, The Scarlet Letter was a way for Hawthrone to vent his frustrations with
the institutions.

Brief Summary of the Novel
The Scarlet Letter is a novel revolving around a woman who committed the sin of adultery in a
small Puritan town in seventeenth-century Boston. Hester Prynne, the adulteress, refuses to reveal her
lover’s name, and as a result is forced to wear a large, red "A" on her bosom. This is to tell everyone of her
sin. Hester is also forced to live isolated with her daughter, Pearl, who is the result of her sin. Meanwhile,
the small Puritan town remains very devoted to and very proud of their young minister, Arthur
Dimmesdale. What they do not know is that it is Dimmesdale who is Hester’s Lover and Pearl’s father.
The fact that Dimmesdale keeps his sin a secret is tearing him up, both physically and emotionally. To
complicate matters even more, Hester’s old and slightly deformed husband is back. He had stayed in
England for quite a while allowing Hester to settle into their new home. Her husband, Roger
Chillingsworth, comes to the town at precisely the moment that Hester is!
being presented to the world as an adulteress. Chillingsworth sees Hester with the scarlet letter upon her
breast and in the moment of Hester’s greatest humiliation. He is outraged and vows that "he (the lover)
will be known." (p. 69) He pretends to be a physician and eventually suspects Dimmesdale of the breaking
the seventh commandment. Chillingsworth’s mission becomes that of revenge.

Themes and Character Development

Hester
In The Scarlet Letter, the themes are played out by the characters. Hester’s development, for
example, illustrates the theme that recognition of our weaknesses may make people stronger and more
sympathetic to the weaknesses of others.
The punishment that is chosen for Hester is a long and drawn-out one. It is a mental punishment,
one that will last her her entire lifetime. Like Chillingsworth stated on page 69, "A wise sentence! Thus
she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone."
Because of her great punishment, Hester grows and matures throughout the years. The letter
causes her to be an outsider in her own home and for her to have no friends. As a result, she matures much.
Whenever a person matures, he or she can look at the world through a different pair of eyes and therefore
be more perceptive to other people’s pain.
Hester, in part of a punishment imposed on herself, helps the poor. She uses her surplus to give to
the less fortunate, although they feel superior to her and show it. But due to Hester’s maturity she
continues to help the poor.
Because Hester felt pain, she learned to be "warm and rich; a wellspring of human tenderness,
unfailing to every real demand...she was a self-ordained Sister of Mercy."(p.156) In fact, it is ironic how a
person who was shunned by a town in receiving the scarlet letter was later praised by it -- how the
supposed most vile person was really the kindest and most sincere. She want from Adulteress to "Able."
(p.156)
Hester also shows her great emotional growth with Dimmesdale. When she is with him, it is she
who is the strong one. She is the one who made the decision to leave and it was her who bore the
humiliation of the town’s justice alone, without betraying her lover.
Hester’s growth can be especially seen when compared to Dimmesdale’s deterioration. Hester
grew because she faced her sin, while Dimmesdale slowly killed himself as a result of hiding his sin and
living with guilt.
Hester also embodies the theme that the truth can set you free. While Dimmesdale grew frailer
every day, Hester chose to overcome the punishment imposed on her by the community. The reason she
could overcome the punishment is that she had not hidden the truth as Dimmesdale did. Her salvation lied
in the truth. This is evident in chapter seventeen, where Hester and Dimmesdale met in the woods after a
separation of seven years. While Hester has made her peace, Dimmesdale is consumed with guilt of his
double life. He does not know what to do with himself. Dimmesdale goes as far as to say. "Happy are you,
Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly on your bosom! Mine burns in secret!"(p.183) This shows the
reader that the reason that Hester has been able to walk through the town and survive the seven years of
punishment is that she has allowed the truth to be told.

Dimmesdale
Dimmesdale brings about the themes that guilt can be more destructive than punishment imposed
on others and that deception and secrecy can be destructive.
Throughout the whole novel, Dimmesdale’s character can be seen going through many different
changes. Dimmesdale is literally killed because of his guilt and remorse and the knowledge that eats away
at his heart -- that the right thing to do is confess his sin openly and to stop hiding behind his high place in
the community and church.
In chapter three, page 72, Mr. Dimmesdale is described as "a person of very striking aspect." He
must also be very passionate to commit such a sin, especially considering the time and his position. But
from there on, Dimmesdale’s health and appearance start to decline. Dimmesdale can not come to terms
with the consequences of a confession and as a result he keeps his silence.
In the first scaffold scene, for example, when Dimmesdale is told to convince Hester to reveal her
lover, he is noticeably shaken. The situation "drove the blood from his cheek, and made his lips
tremulous."(p.72).
It is on the first time at the scaffold that Dimmesdale is first seen with his hand over his heart, as
it is throughout the novel. Dimmesdale is constantly shown with his hand over his heart as if he, too, had a
scarlet letter.
Three years later, when Hester goes to the Governor’s house, the minister’s health has "severely
suffered."(p.109)
Towards the end of the novel, Hester and Dimmesdale meet again in the woods after a separation
of seven years. The pastor is described as "leaning on a staff...he looked haggard and feeble."(p.179)
When Dimmesdale meets Hester in the woods, "there was a listlessness in his gait, as if he saw no reason
for taking one step further."(p.180)
Arthur Dimmesdale’s mental health also suffered as a result of his secrecy. For example, there is
Dimmesdale’s nightmare of the diabolic shapes that mock him, his mother turning her face away at him,
and of Hester with Pearl, walking. And Hester "pointing her forefinger, first at the scarlet letter on her
bosom, and then at the clergyman’s own breast."(p.142)
As mentioned before, Dimmesdale is always seen with his hand over his heart. A question
plague’s Pearl’s mind...why? It also plagues Chillingsworth because in chapter ten, he "laid his hand upon
his (Dimmesdale’s) bosom, and thrust aside the vestment." After a brief pause, Chillingsworth turns away
with "a wild look of wonder, joy, and horror."(p.135)
So certainly, there is something over his heart. Even little Pearl knows: she tells Hester that that
the reason that she wears the letter is "the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart."
Continues for 5 more pages >>