Scaffold Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter

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The Scaffold

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the character Arthur Dimmesdale is the central conflict of the story. He is torn between his need to accept and pronounce his sin and Pearl as his daughter and his love of freedom. His behavior drastically changes from the first scaffold scene, where he is seen as a hypocrite to the third and final scaffold scene, where he acknowledges his sin publicly. The three scaffold scenes in the book are very important, as they portray Dimmesdale’s gradual advancement from total hypocrite towards complete atonement for his sin. In the first scaffold scene, Hester Prynne is seen on the scaffold, holding Pearl in her arms, accepting her sin publicly. The Reverend Dimmesdale is there as well, taking on the role of her accuser and demanding that she reveal the person who committed the act of adultery as well, knowing that he was the one. Hester Prynne absolutely refuses to name the father of her child to the crowd. This scene shows Reverend Dimmesdale as a clear hypocrite and, while he constantly acts as if he wants Hester to name her lover, he secretly prays that she maintains her silence in order to keep his reputation from being destroyed. He knows that if his name was revealed, it would be much worse for him because he is a minster and the act of adultery defies what he stands for.

At the second scaffold scene, Dimmesdale, who is still maintaining his position as Hester Prynne’s accuser and a hypocrite, finds himself suffering with the struggle of his perfect reputation battling his guilt for the crime he committed. During the middle of the night, while the townspeople are all asleep, Dimmesdale makes his way to the scaffold, holding a silent vigil. At the scaffold, he cries out in physical and mental pain. Hester and Pearl hear his crying as they are on their way home and go to him. There, at Dimmesdale’s request, they join him on the scaffold where they stand in the darkness, holding each other. Pearl...
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