In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter the story takes place in Puritanical America where the young Hester Prynne, after committing adultery is punished on the basis of what the town thinks is right. She is simultaneously a part of the town and is also pushed away from it. Hawthorne explores the theme of liminality between society and nature through the motif of setting to convey the isolation that comes with sin. The scaffold (where Hester stands to face her consequences), Hester and Pearl’s cottage, and the brook are all examples of setting that all contain elements of liminality in “The Scarlet Letter”.
Hester stands on the scaffold during the day to fulfill the consequences of her sin. She brings Pearl with her as she is the product of the sin. While the town has knowledge of what she has done they are still unaware of who took part in this crime with her. “They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor, as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.” (135). “They” is referring to Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale; the town’s minister who, the reader now knows, fathered young Pearl. The light and dark imagery indicates the liminal state between the three of them and the rest of the town, “The light that is to reveal all secrets.” The scaffold also shows a liminal state between Hester and Dimmesdale, “...and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two.” (135) When
the three of them are on the scaffold together it shows the unity between them, but also a side that shows they are not fully united with one another. “All the dread of public exposure, that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him.” (134). The passage “dread of public exposure” represents the guilt and fear Dimmesdale has about revealing the secret in his sin. This is what shows the liminal state between Hester and Dimmesdale; they sinned together,...
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