Sigmund Freud believes the attributes of the unconsciousness in the human mind are the Id, Ego, and Superego. All humans have these characteristics, but one may be more prominent than another. The Id is the impulsive selfishness of the human mind. The Superego is the moral, rational part of the mind. The Ego mediates between the selfishness and the rational thoughts in humans. In the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne, each character represents one attribute. Even though Hester Prynne sinned, her moral behavior afterward represents the Superego; Roger Chillingworth’s selfish behavior shows the Id, and Pearl, who mediates the impulsive and rational thoughts of Hester Prynne and Author Dimmesdale, represents the ego.
Hester’s behavior after her sin is saintly. Hester gives to the poor and less fortunate even though she is considered the worst sinner and most unfortunate out of everyone in the town. She “bestowed all her superfluous means in charity, on wretches less fortunate than herself, and who not infrequently insulted the hand that fed them” (Hawthorne 97). Hester continually gives to the poor even when they don’t appreciate that she is helping them and they only judge her for her sin. The moral act she did was charity when she could have done a different job where she would not be insulted for doing well in the community. Another reason Hester is moral is because she begged Chillingworth to punish her instead of Dimmesdale. She believes Dimmesdale has suffered too much and she would rather suffer than watch Dimmesdale
suffer. Hester impulsively tore off her the scarlet letter from her bosom because she wanted to be free of her sin. A moral person who commits a sin and wears the Scarlet Letter acknowledges their sin and will never truly feel moral. By ripping off the Scarlet letter, Hester hoped to get rid of her sin. By riding herself of her sin, she can become the person she hopes to be. Roger Chillingworth’s selfish and impulsive acts symbolize the Id. Everything Chillingworth does is to punish the co-sinner, Author Dimmesdale. He finds pleasure in the sinner’s internal pain and punishment. He would not listen to the moral and rational thoughts of Hester telling him he has tortured Dimmesdale enough and therefore should receive penance. Chillingworth’s response to the moral thought was “No! - No! He has but increased the debt! ” (Hawthorne 206). By saying that Dimmesdale has increased his debt, he represents the Id because it shows that he is selfish. The rational thoughts of Hester are telling him to not be cruel and continue to torture Dimmesdale. Chillingworth ignores any rational thoughts and focus only on the pleasure of making Dimmesdale suffer to make him pay for the sin he committed.
Little Pearl, who sees the Id and Superego in her daily life, controls the impulsive, selfish behaviors and the moral, rational behaviors; she represents the Ego. When Pearl, Hester, and Dimmesdale were in the woods, Pearl acted as Ego for Hester when she ripped off the Scarlet Letter. When Pearl discovered that her mother was no longer wearing the Scarlet Letter, Pearl reacted by a “wild outbreak with piercing shrieks, which the woods reverberated on all sides; so that, alone as she was in her childish and unreasonable wrath, but stamping its foot, wildly gesticulating, and in the midst of all, still pointing its small forefinger at Hester’s bosom!” (Hawthorne 251-252). By throwing a temper tantrum, she was telling Hester that she has not
served her penance for her sin and that she does not deserve to have the Scarlet Letter removed. Pearl making Hester act on what is right and not act by doing what she wants. Pearl is acting as Hester’s moral compass.
Each character in The Scarlet Letter represents the psychological view of the human mind. After Hester sins, her behavior becomes saintly. She represents the moral and rational Superego. Chillingworth’s impulsive and selfish behavior towards Dimmesdale represents the selfish wants of the Id. Pearl controls the moral and selfish behaviors and thoughts of Hester. Pearl represents the medium between good and evil. She symbolizes the Ego. The three psychological attributes are present in all human minds, but in various degrees.