Honors American Lit. 4
March 9, 2008
Isolation within The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne, an American author who lived from 1804-1864, could be characterized as “an imaginative genius gifted with considerable linguistic skill” (Perkins 1 of 3). Hawthorne’s most famous works included The House of the Seven Gables and The Marble Faun, both novels portrayed the essence of sin and guilt and their emotional effects on mankind. One of Hawthorne’s most famous works The Scarlet Letter, takes place in Boston during the Puritan era. This novel tells the tale of Hester Prynne, the bearer of the scarlet letter “A”, and the Reverend Dimmesdale, the man who commits adultery with her, and their struggles with guilt, sin, and atonement. Hester and the minister Dimmesdale must remain secretive in order to protect one another, while her vengeful husband Chillingworth remains secretive in order to torture Dimmesdale. These secrets cause the group to experience much pain both physically and emotionally and also create a figurative distance between themselves and their peers. By keeping the secrets of their sins between one another, Hester, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale isolate themselves from their Puritan society within Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
Hester Prynne, one of the protagonists of the novel, withholds the secrets of both sides of the spectrum. While she swears to keep the secret of Chillingworth’s true identity, she also decides to keep the secret of her affair with her clandestine lover Dimmesdale: “‘I will keep thy secret as I have his [Dimmesdale]’” (Hawthorne 69; ch. 4). Because of these secrets, Hester finds herself in a dilemma in which she must maintain a balance. This dilemma causes Hester to become a conflicted person who has relatively fixed decisions. For example, when Chillingworth continuously questions her about the identity of the father of Pearl, she stays persistent with her answer: “‘Ask me not!’”...
Cited: Granger, Bruce Ingham, [pic]Arthur Dimmesdale as Tragic Hero,[pic] in Nineteenth-Century
Fiction, Vol. 19, No. 2, September, 1964, pp. 197-203. Reprinted in Novels for Students Vol. 1.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. 1850. New York: Modern Library, 2000.
Perkins, George, "Nathaniel Hawthorne: Overview," in Reference Guide to American
Literature, 3rd ed., edited by Jim Kamp, St. James Press, 1994.
Sewall, Richard B., [pic]The Scarlet Letter,[pic] in The Vision of Tragedy, new edition, Yale
University Press, 1980, pp. 86-91. Reprinted in Novels for Students Vol. 1.
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