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The Scarlet Letter

By Armstrjf Sep 27, 2010 2272 Words
In the world of literature, there are many ways to indirectly convey or foreshadow events, settings, and situations. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter uses a great deal of literary devices and techniques in order to effectively lead the reader towards his viewpoint and, finally, towards his purpose. The sin of adultery, which acts as the base and impetus for much of the plot in The Scarlet Letter, affects Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth the most; however, each of the preceding is affected differently by the sin and each of their fates is decided accordingly. Every one of the aforementioned also gains a sort of wisdom, be it good or be it evil, from their suffering. Hawthorne uses symbolism, metaphors, and imagery to convey each character's intrinsic traits which are forced to surface as a result of the sin. The author uses internal and external conflict to represent each character's wisdom gained from their suffering.Hester's external release of pain is in great contrast with Dimmesdale's internal accumulation of pain. Dimmesdale's suffering is very much internal and continues to build slowly and strenuously. The air of regret from the sin of adultery is held in Dimmesdale like a balloon being sl Dimmesdale gains a pious wisdom from his suffering that his own congregation praises and elevates him for. Chillingworth's obsession with a most painful revenge on Dimmesdale's soul leads Chillingworth to a one-way-only path. Hester gains a sort of moral wisdom from her sin's punishment. He sees revenge to the perpetrator as a perfectly valid solution to his suffering, so Chillingworth turns into the human version of a demon or a leech. The same air of regret is exhaled from Hester by the scarlet letter like a ventilation grate; the scarlet letter, despite the ignominy and shame it causes, acts as a form of releasing the sin's pain. Though the three are all affected in different ways by the sin, Hester, who rotates the sin into its most positive light, turns out to be the only one to live a long, healthy life in the end. Just as Dimmesdale's hypocrisy and pain originating from hiding the truth finally brought the reverend to his knees, Chillingworth's own thirst for revenge brought him into the ground dry and shriveled up without a host. He sees that without his host, his dedicated purpose in life, he cannot survive. His nerve seemed absolutely destroyed. And Chillingworth becomes comparable to an uncontrollable black flower. His only outputs for his pain are his sermons, which are not taken for what they really are by the adoring public eye. Unlike Hester, Dimmesdale lacks any way to vent his pain. Let the black flower blossom as it may!" Chillingworth becomes a demonic parasite feeding off of the reverend as a form of revenge Through careful analysis of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthrone and The Crucible by Arthur Miller; one will discover similar themes.  These themes include sin, punishment of sin, the devil, and love/lust.  Through careful analysis and discussion one can see the evident relationship that exists between these two works.

            The most obvious theme contained in both works is sin. In The Scarlet Letter, the sin that has been committed is adultery and has produced an illegitimate child.  Hester Prynne, and the outspoken and praised minister of the Puritan community Arthur Dimmsdale were the adulters who committed the sin and produced the child Pearl.  Throughout the story Hester is dehumanized for her sin, while Dimmsdale is still thought to be the "almighty" minister.  In similarity from The Crucible, sin is put on trial.  The Crucible directly addresses the themes and ideas from Salem Witch Trials.  The young girls and their "leader" Abigail are the core of sin and evil in the girls and the community.  Throughout the story accusations are "thrown" at others from the community who are believed righteous.  Ultimately in this story the sin is "coming" directly from the black-man or the devil.  The girls are believed to have formed a pact with the devil and are now attempting to lure others to come with them.  Overall, in both works sin and how sin affects the lives of the people and their communities is the recurring theme. 

            The scaffold in The Scarlet Letter is extremely important. The most pivotal scenes in the book take place on it. The scaffold is a place of public humiliation.  The lawbreaker must stand in front of all his or her peers with them fully knowing of his or her crime. Standing on the scaffold as a guilty sinner would also mean that they would be shunned, as Hester was, for the rest of their lives. It seems a terrible punishment by today's standards; but the scaffold was not merely a cruel device of humiliation and scorn.  The scaffold was the society's way of righting a wrong and preventing it from being repeated. The entire town was ashamed to see Hester, one of their own standing in front of them for a horrendous crime. It strengthened their resolve to continue to do what in their minds was righteous. The scaffold was not only a place of punishment.  It was a place of atonement as well. It gave the guilty person relief knowing that they were acknowledged as a sinner and that they did not have to deal with the prison and the guilt of their minds anymore.

            The difference between Hester's emotional state and Dimmesdale's state was enormous. Hester was an acknowledged lawbreaker, she felt that she had been punished and was continually punished by the "A." Dimmesdale, however, never underwent punishment before his peers, so his guilt, his prison, festered inside him until he started to physically deteriorate. His lack of peace from hiding from the scaffold, from truth, was his undoing. As Dimmesdale found out at the very end of his life, the scaffold was every guilty Puritan’s only way of redemption. Chillingworth himself said, "Hast thou sought the whole earth over . . . there was no place so secret, no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have escaped me, save on this very scaffold!"

            The forest outside of Salem was unknown country, liking that of hell or the world of the devil. It was where the dreaded "Black Man" was fabled to meet with witches and sinners. The forest was also away from Salem, its prying eyes and harsh judgements. Here events could be open and free. Here was the only place where Hester and Dimmesdale can meet and talk freely of the sin they shared seven years previously. In this respect the Puritans were accurate in their superstition of the Black Man living in the forest. There was indeed in the forest a place where free thinking could go unfettered by Puritan code. This "Black Man" was no more than the freedom to form ideas outside of the Puritan way of life. It was dangerous to Hester and Arthur as they conspired to flee the colony instead of facing their problem. Mistress Hibbins recognized the change in Dimmesdale and acknowledged that he has had un-Puritan ideas. So he had, in a sense, met with the Black Man. The forest, at its most basic level was simply that place in the Puritan mind that non-conforming Puritan thoughts caould enter.  The forest is not only an important location for meeting of "sinners" but also conjuring of spirts and greeting the devil.  As seen in The Crucible the girls "met" with and conjured the spirits of the devil and the underworld.  This was a meeting place of the mortal world and that of the dead.  In both works the forest, or other darkened place, symbolizes an evil realm that only few enter, and never return from.

            Love versus lust is a characteristic that is expressed through the relationships between several leading characters in both works.  From The Scarlet Letter, the illegitimate and inappropriate relationship between Hester and Dimmsdale was the most noticeable. Their love for each other extends far beyond a mere "crush" or aching to be with the person, for they have consummated a relationship together which ended with the birth of the daughter Pearl.  Throughout the book Dimmsdale had outward expressions of love for his daughter Pearl and her mother Hester, "Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which . . . " (233) expresses the fondness of Dimmsdale for his daughter Pearl.  However, in The Crucible, such types of relationships are not evident.  The only relationship in the story occurred between John Proctor and Abigail.  This "relationship" was more of a crush and lusting by Abigail than a true relationship of love as that of Hester and Dimmsdale.  Proctor and Abigail have simply been in a "relationship" without the knowing of Goody Proctor, John's wife,  nor the knowledge of the other townspeople.  Proctor becomes determined that his affair with Abigail will not continue, " . . .  I will no longer come for you." (77) Relationships in both works were not the main focus of the stories, although they were evident, and both were not appropriate in the Puritan society of the time.  Both were often punished by death or public humiliation such as that of Hester Prynne.

            After a complete analysis of such themes of The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible, one would be able to better understand the viewpoints of both authors, Hawthorne and Miller.  One can also see that such themes were prevalent throughout many works which have been written dealing with such eras in history.  Sin, guilt, love, lust, and the devil have always existed in the minds and the lives of authors and readers, and always will; thereby leading to the creation of gripping works of literature to prize for years to come. The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a novel about adultery committed by young Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale in the Puritan world of seventeenth century Boston. Even though, they share the relationship of extremely opposing each other throughout the book, Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth, an alchemist, antagonist, and Hester’s husband, are different and similar in appearance, respect, and how they change throughout the novel.

Chillngworth and Dimmesdale come from very different backgrounds, but both are still respected and educated men. Chillingworth has “learning and intelligence and possess more than a common nature,” because he is “extensively acquainted with the medieval science of the day” (pg.109). The colony believes that “Roger Chillingworth is a brilliant acquisition;” he is “an absolute miracle, Doctor of Physics, from a German University” (pg.111). Not many Puritan citizens in the colony possess a college education. The skills, that Chillingworth possesses makes “this learned stranger exemplary” and he is now “known to be a man of skill” (pg.111). On the other hand, “Reverend Dimmesdale; a young clergyman,” who had come from a “great English University,” and also possessed great skill” (pg.62). Dimmesdale “has eloquence and fervor,” which gives him the “earnest of high eminence in his profession” of ministry (pg.62). Being a priest brings a degree of respect; Dimmesdale is believed to be a “true priest, a true religionist, ’a little less than an ordained apostle” (pg.113). The colony praises Dimmesdale and hopes he would “do as great deed...for the New England Church as early Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith” (pg.110).

Many changes occur in a person over time. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale both sin and are mentally distraught by their sins. Dimmesdale commits adultery with Chillingworth’s wife; Chillingworth seeks vengeance and indirectly kill Dimmesdale. In the beginning of the novel, Chillingworth's “expression had been calm, meditative, scholar like,” after frequently sinning, “there was something evil in his face” which grows “still the more obvious to sight” (pg.118). Sin controls Chillingworth so much he starts “transforming himself into a devil, in a reasonable space of time, he will undertake the devil’s office” (pg.154).

One thing that is a very obvious contrast in the novel is the initial appearance of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale. Chillngworth is deformed because “one of the men’s shoulders rose higher than the other” (pg.109). However, Dimmesdale is “a person of aspect, white, lofty, and impending, large brown, melancholy eyes and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it was apt to be tremulous” (pg.109). Dimmesdale is very attractive and healthy looking; Chillingworth is a “man elderly and travel worn” and he does not compare to Dimmesdale (pg.159).

Dimmesdale progresses through a more vulnerable change rather than an evil change like Chillingworth. Dimmesdale begins to look like an “emaciated figure, his thin cheek, his white, heavy, pain wrinkled brow” (pg.199) because Chillingworth “dug into the poor clergyman’s heart, like a miner searching to gold, possibly in a quest for a jewel that had been burned in the dead man’s bosom,” to seek revenge (pg.119). Even citizens of the colony feel the change in Dimmesdale. Chillingworth started to believe “Reverend Dimmesdale is haunted by either Satan himself, or Satan’s emissary” (pg.117).

Chillingworth and Dimmesdale sins eventually led to their fates. Both men compare and contrast in many different areas including sin, appearance, and overall attitude. Both men seemed to have a good argument but neither came out on top. Their characters are very unique and contribute to the suspense of The Scarlet Letter. They were important characters throughout the novel, and served their purposes as rivaling forces in the novel

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