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Character Evolution Through Three Scaffold Scenes

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Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804 (net). He attended Bowdoin College with famous writers such as Horatio Bridge and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (net). In 1850, Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter (1222). It is considered by many that The Scarlet Letter, "represents the height of Hawthorne's literary genius. At this time, Boston was the center of a very Puritan society. Throughout the novel Hawthorne uses many symbols. For example, one prominent symbol is the scaffold. During this period in time, the scaffold was used for public humiliation. Those who had committed either a crime or a sin were forced to stand upon it in front of everybody in the town, as a form of confession or public recognition of one's sin. In The Scarlet Letter, the scaffold not only represents the act of confessing but it also can be seen as a symbol of the stern, inflexible doctrine of the Puritan faith. The Scarlet Letter is centered on the three scaffold scenes, which unite the work, beginning, middle, and end. Hawthorne uses these scenes to aid in his development of the main characters, Hester Pryne, the Reverend Mr. Dimmsdale, and to a lesser degree, Roger Chillingsworth. In The Scarlet Letter, Reverend Dimmsdale commits the sin of adultery with Hester Pryne. As a result of this sinful act she bares a child which she names Pearl, the living evidence of their sin. The first scene takes place while Pearl is still an infant. Hester is made to climb the scaffold and stand with Pearl in her arms in front of the town. She is also made to where a red letter A on her dress for the remainder of her life as punishment, unless she were to, "Speak out the guilty name.(1342)" Among the members of the clergy urging her to speak is Dimmsdale. However, Hester does not give the crowd the name. In the Puritan faith it is considered a necessity to confess one's sins. To not do so, in their doctrine, would be harmful to the group. In this scene Dimmsdale could have given himself up and joined Hester on the scaffold to share in their mutual shame. However, he is thankful that, "She will not speak," and is in awe of the "wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart!"(1343) As a minister of the village Dimmsdale is aware of this however, his weakness causes him to deny his sin and internalize it. In this scene Hester is introduced to the burden she is to bear for the remainder of her life of isolation. Chillingsworth in this scene can be seen roaming through and around the edges of the crowd in a sadistic manner as though he is plotting something. The second scene takes place during the middle of the night as Dimmsdale awakes from his sleep and goes to the town to ascend the scaffold in darkness. In an attempt to alleviate his pangs of guilt and personal shame he exposes his chest. This symbolizes Dimmsdale's personal acceptance of his sin. Since he is on the scaffold it ties in to the public confession, the fact that it takes place at night symbolizes a concealed confession. At this point Dimmsdale is no longer internalizing his grief. Shortly afterwards Hester and Pearl pass by. They are beckoned by Dimmsdale to join him on the scaffold. When Pearl inquires if he will do this again with them the following day at noon, Dimmsdale replies that it will have to take place at a latter day. This shows that while he has finally been able to admit and accept his sin on a personal level, he is not yet ready for a full public confession. Chillingsworth, hidden from site, spots the trio on the scaffold. This is all the proof that he needs to begin drawing nearer to Dimmsdale. The leeches in the novel are to symbolize Chillingsworth, as he sucks the life out of Dimmsdale as his revenge. The third scaffold scene takes place during Election Day in Boston. Dimmsdale gives a speech that enlivens the crowd, during which he seems quite full of life himself. However, immediately afterwards he begins to get extremely pale and sickly looking. He begins to make his way to the scaffold. Chillingsworth attempts to stop him. As Dimmsdale makes his way to the top of the scaffold he calls for Hester and Pearl to join him. He finally admits to his part in the sin. After Pearl kisses his cheek, Dimmsdale dies upon the scaffold. He finally concurred his personal turmoil. Due to this Chillingsworth's revenge has been thwarted. Each of the main characters evolved through the aid of the scaffold scenes. Dimmsdale at first hid his sin from others and himself. However, after a personal acceptance of it, he was finally able to admit his sin to the town. Chillingsworth at the beginning of the story was as character that the reader had very little need to suspect. However, as the story went on his dark side began to grow more and more evident. His efforts at revenge were foiled in the final seen with Dimmsdale's confession. Hester grew from being a character that was uneasy with her new role in society as evident by the first scaffold scene, to a woman of complete strength in the last seen as her lover dies before her eyes. Hawthorne's theme of being true to the world is made evident throughout the novel. Dimmsdale learned to be true to his inner feelings and eventually he spoke out. Hester learned to show her strength in the face of adversity. Chillingsworth learned that he could not hide his evil was from the world.

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