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The Importance of the Scaffold-the Scarlet Letter

By dtattam Jan 11, 2012 1001 Words
In the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne a young lady by the name of Hester becomes the focus of the town after committing adultery. Throughout the novel the scaffold scene becomes repeated, making it clear to the reader that it is of great importance. Each scaffold scene foreshadows what will happen later in the novel. With the scaffold scenes, Nathaniel Hawthorne conveys the theme and helps the reader to have a better understanding of the novel. In chapter five-“The point which drew all eyes’, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer,” was the. “SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom,”- Hester is brought onto the scaffold with her daughter Pearl. All of the leaders stand on the scaffold while the rest of the town stands below. Hawthorne does this to make it clear that the officials have the authority. Before, there was a group of women that thought Hester’s punishment was very lenient. Now that Hester stands before everyone, the sentence is not questioned. The leaders of the community then try to get Hester to say who her partner was. Hawthorne says without a doubt that both men are good but continues to say, “it would have been easy to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons, who should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring woman’s heart, and disentangling its mesh of good and evil, then the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester now turned her face.” Hester replied by saying, “that whatever sympathy she might expect lay in the larger and warmer heart of the multitude.” Hawthorne often makes reference about how the Puritans were not nice people. Hinting that the sympathy Hester expects will not be given. A few years later the author brings Hester back to the scaffold. This time, like before, Dimmesdale steps out onto the scaffold first in search of a confession for his sins. While doing this he sees Hester and Pearl walking down the street. They are asked to join Dimmesdale on the scaffold. Pearl wonders if the minister would do this in broad daylight. He answers no, admitting that he is too much of a coward to confess. Just then, a scarlet “A” shines in the sky. Almost making the setting as bright as day. Hawthorne refers to the meteor in the sky as a sign from God to his chosen people. Hawthorne asks, what should we say when one man “discovers a revelation, addressed to himself alone,” written across the sky? “In such a case, it could only be the symptom of a highly disordered mental state, when a man, rendered morbidly self contemplative by long, interior, and secret pain, had extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature, until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting page for his soul’s history and fate.” In this scene we see how truly guilty Dimmesdale feels when he goes home with Chillingworth, someone he fears and hates. In a way, seemingly to punish himself for the way he has acted. In the closing of the scene, it is made clear that Chillingworth feels triumphant that Dimmesdale is so vulnerable as to walk home with his enemy, making it easy for revenge. In the third and final scene taking place on the scaffold, Hawthorne focuses more on the letter worn for so long upon Hester’s breast. While the letter has become so familiar to all the people in the town, she is still tortured, “perhaps more than all the rest, with their cool, well-acquainted gaze at her familiar shame.” Like the last scene, Dimmesdale appears on the scaffold and summons Hester and Pearl to join him. It is obvious to the reader that this time is different though, it is in the middle of the day and there are people everywhere. Chillingworth, among the many people in the crowd acts differently as well. In the first two scenes he wishes for Hester to say the name of her lover and for Dimmesdale to admit it. In the third scene he tries to keep others from knowing. He whispers in the ear of his enemy and tells him, “I can yet save you.” He does not give in to the offer and steps further out onto the scaffold and calls for the attention of the people. Dimmesdale assures Hester that he is doing what God wants, and shows a scarlet letter of his own. “By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had been lost for ever! Praised be his name! His will be done! Farewell!” Dimmesdale makes a spectacle of himself and while confessing to his sins, acts as if he is a hero in his journey through life and religion. He states that he is “the one sinner in the world.” Obviously not true, this shows that he still thought highly of himself. The scene comes to a conclusion with Dimmesdale leaving Hester and Pearl forever. What seems to be an ordinary setting in the town becomes a very insightful and important focal point in the novel. The three scenes’ all signify a different emotion, adding to the theme of The Scarlet Letter. The first scene shows the love Hester has for Dimmesdale by not telling the town about her secret lover. The next, demonstrates the cowardice of the people in the novel. Dimmesdale longs to confess his sin, but cannot bring himself to do so. Lastly, the third scaffold scene illustrates bravery. It took Dimmesdale a lot of courage to confess to the town what he had done. Hester never asked for him to confess, but he did even though it was not necessary for him to do so.

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