Scarlet Letter Themes

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Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Scarlet Letter

One of the most important aspects of a novel is the theme and the way by which it is communicated to the reader. The author of The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, is able to express theme by describing several events involving the main character that reveal the nature of the society the novel takes place in. He is also able to use pathos to evoke strong feelings in the reader. In chapters one through eight of his novel, Hawthorne conveys the themes of ignominy and public humiliation through the protagonist, Hester Prynne, who is compelled to wear a scarlet letter to mark her deeds of adultery, as well as the citizens of the Massachusetts colony and the culture they are immersed in.

Ignominy and public degradation are important themes that are shown through “every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom [Hester] came in contact” (Hawthorne, page 58). Hester Prynne was treated as if “she [were] banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind…like a ghost that revisits the familiar fireside, and can no longer make itself seen or felt” (Hawthorne, page 58). Hawthorne clearly reveals the nature of the Puritan society in this passage. Hester’s act of adultery causes everyone in her society to look upon her and treat her with scorn, as if she is unclean. In addition, the author evokes the reader’s emotions by creating a sense of pity for the protagonist, who is mercilessly excluded; the Puritan society makes absolutely no effort to conceal feelings of disapproval towards her. Also, Hester Prynne was forced to stand upon the scaffold, in which “the very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest” (page 39). Forced to display herself, her scarlet letter, and her infant to the entire town, Hester “felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs, and cast...
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