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Sin, Forgiveness, and Deception in The Scarlet Letter Essay



The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is an exceptional novel based on sin, forgiveness, and deception. Hester, the main character, has committed the sin of adultery to an unknown man. She lives in Boston and is a puritan, which does not accept sin and lives by the strict, Puritan code. Hesters sin is unveiled when she bears a child by the name of Pearl and has no husband at that time. Hester punishment is not death because her husband is gone, and temptation over ran her heart. Throughout the novel, the author uses symbols to entertain the reader and help explain the story. Many symbols come from settings such as, the scaffold scenes, the forest, and the light and darkness from the sun.

The scaffold scenes contain many symbols that prove to be essential to the novel. The definition of scaffold is a platform used for the execution of a criminal. Ironically, this is a puritan village, which in turn should not need a scaffold because of faith and love. The scaffold, in this novel, is a platform used for redemption and a symbol of the stern Puritan code. It was, in short, the platform of the pillory; and above it raised the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. (Hawthorne 51) Hester's punishment for her sin of adultery is to wear the letter A on her bosom and stand on the scaffold in front of the whole town to see her and her child. By using the scaffold as place where Hesters forgiven and repented, the author symbolizes how important the scaffold is to the novel. Because Hester had to stand on the scaffold for repentance so must the father of the baby, Dimmesdale, which is unknown to this point. Though many times Dimmesdale asks for forgiveness, he failed because he has not stood on the scaffold in front of the people, with Hester and Pearl. When Dimmesdale is dying, he feels that he is able to stand on the scaffold and ask for forgiveness, alongside with Hester and Pearl. Another symbol, at every scaffold scene Dimmesdale, Hester, Pearl, and Chillingworth, are all present showing how important the scaffold scenes are. The scaffold scenes, in Nathaniel Hawhthornes Scarlet Letter, are major settings used as symbols in the novel.

The forest in the novel is a symbol of darkness and gloom where evil is. In Puritan times, the forest was the devils playground and no good shall come from it. How the black man haunts the forest, and carries a book with him- a big, heavy book, with iron clasps; and how this ugly Black Man offers his book and an iron pen to everybody that meets him here among the trees. (Hawthorne 178) The witch of the town, Mistress Hibbins, knows they have been to the forest and have talked of escaping. This symbolizes the powers brought to her by the devil or Black Man. Not only does Mistress Hibbins know of the secret, she attends to the forest regularly, showing the powers of evil. From knowing that the forest is evil and nothing good shall come from it, Hester and Dimmesdale seem to scheme of a plan to escape the town without his redemption. The brook talked about in the novel is also symbolic in that it travels through the forest, like gloom. When Hester removes the A it becomes a boundary that separates the world she knows from the world without the A. As a symbolic setting used in Nathaniel Hawthornes, The Scarlet Letter, darkness and gloom interpret the forest.

The setting of the sun is an essential symbol of where good and evil takes place in the novel. The night is a symbol of concealment, and the day, a symbol of exposure. Dimmesdales mounting on the scaffold and standing with Pearl and Hester at night will not suffice, he knows that his symbolic acceptance of his guilt must take place in the daylight and in front of the town. As soon as Hester commits her sin, her beauty almost immediately banishes into darkness. Her hair no longer hangs freely about her face and instead she ties it up in a bonnet. Hester is not interpreted as an evil person, but her sin makes her light hide away. In addition, the sun plays roles when Pearl is playing, unrestricted by the laws of the strict Puritan community. While at the governors house, Pearl notices how brightly the sun shines through the windows. She requests that, the sunshine be stripped off its front and given to her to play with. (Hawthorne 99) Symbolism used in the setting of the sun by light and darkness, play essential roles in the characters, and the setting in Nathaniel Hawthornes, Scarlet Letter.

The scaffold scenes, the forest, and the sun are all essential settings used as symbols. The scaffold scenes are for repentance and attrition of the sin of adultery committed by Hester and Dimmesdale. The forest is a setting in the novel of mischief, where only a witch such as Mistress Hibbins should go because of the evil that attains it. From the forest came a plan not to repent, and an attempt to escape what burns in the soul of Dimmesdale, sin! The suns symbolism in the night and the day are key features when analyzing the novel, because of what goodness comes from the day and evil from the night. Together the Scaffold scenes, the forest and the sun play key settings of symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthornes, The Scarlet Letter.

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