Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter would be a great asset to the American Literature syllabus. The Scarlet Letter is by many people considered to be a classic novel. The story deals with spiritual as well as moral concerns that consume us all as Americans. The story is full of symbolism and allegory. Hawthorne also uses many literary elements in The Scarlet Letter, such as symbolism and irony. The novel explores sin, individuality and our moral turpitude.
The story begins with Hester Prynnes release from prison. She was convicted of adultery. As part of her punishment Hester is forced to wear a scarlet A for the rest of her life as a reminder of her sin. Hesters sin was not felt by her as it was to her community. Puritan society was mundane but the sin of Hester and Dimmesdale, the minister who shared in Hesters sin, their sin led to moral awakenings. The scarlet letter is meant to represent shame but as the story goes on the meaning of the letter changes. The letter becomes part of who Hester is. On the way to the scaffold after her release where she is to be observed by all the community saw something different than they expected, Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped(1381). It is a reminder of her past and the experiences that she has been through that have gotten her to this point in her life. At the Election Day Pageant the letter is mistaken by the Native Americans who have come to watch the pageant as a symbol of importance.
Pearl, the daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale is also a very important symbol. She is a living form of the scarlet letter, a living reminder of her mothers sin. Hester saw Pearls outbursts as reminder of her sin, These outbreaks of a fierce temper had a kind of value, and even comfort, for her mother; because there was at least an intelligible earnestness in the mood, instead of the fitful caprice that so often thwarted her in the childs manifestations. It appalled her, nevertheless, to discern here, again, a shadowy reflection of the evil that had existed in her self (1404). It is Pearl who leads her mother and Dimmesdale to accept their sin. Pearl is not only a representation of sin but she is also a blessing to her mother. She represents the spirit of what creates sin. Hester is reminded of her sin through Pearl, who as a baby, noticed first, not the mothers smile, responding to it, as other babies do, by that faint, embryo smile of the little mouth, remembered so doubtfully afterwards, and with such fond discussion whether it were indeed a smile. By no means! But that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware wasshall we say it?the scarlet letter on Hesters bosom! (1404).
Hester refuses to let society dictate the way she lives her life. She is forced to wear the scarlet letter but she wears it with pride. She refuses to leave the town of Boston and run away from her sins. If she left town she could remove the letter and fit right into society. She refuses to acknowledge the letter for what the townspeople intended for it to represent. She does not try to escape from her sin but accepts it. The Puritan community sees sin as an embarrassment and a threat to the entire community. All sin should be punished and then suppressed. A townswoman in the story says, This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly there is, both in the scripture and the statute-book(1380).
This story is truly important in American Literature because it addresses so many issues that people are faced with and have been since the beginning of literature. Such questions as good and evil, the nature of sin, the rules and ways of society, individuality, knowledge and the human condition. It is a timeless novel that surely deserves a place in American Literature classrooms throughout America