In this book all the good stuff goes down in the woods. Nature is almost like a character in the world of The Scarlet Letter. It is often personified as listening, commenting on, and interacting with other characters. The society itself (Puritan Boston society) is like an island surrounded by nature. The town is bordered on one side by a huge expanse of woods, home to Native Americans (the Wampanoag tribes). On the other side lies the big blue Atlantic Ocean. From the beginning of this story, our narrator tells us that nature is “kind” and generous, contrasting heavily with the cold and strict ways of Puritan society.
[Mistress Hibbons:] “Wilt thou go with us tonight? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.” (8.39)
| We learn pretty quickly that the forest is a place of naughtiness – that is, it’s where the witches go to hang out with the Black Man (a.k.a. the Devil). Mistress Hibbons is often trying to convince and recruit people to go with her to the forest at night. This might be a good time to go research witchcraft in America and the Salem Witch Trials. What kind of person might be drawn to the idea of witchcraft in this time? Why do you think Miss Hibbons is so excited to have Hester Prynne on board? It straggled onward into the mystery of the primevil forest. This hemmed it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side, and imposed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above, that, to Hester’s mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering. (16.3)
| Our narrator is not shy in telling us that the woods mirror the internal “wilderness” Hester has been wandering around in all these years. The woods in The Scarlet Letter seem to be a place of both safety and violence, of freedom and confinement, and of clarity and confusion. What are we to make of these woods? What exactly goes down in them? All these giant trees and...
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