Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses Nature to symbolize both the negative and positive character traits which set the mood of the novel. By doing this, Hawthorne steps out of the traditional Romantic ideals, putting The Scarlet Letter into an her genre. I will call it post- Romanticism. Traditional Romantic writings only portray the positive side of human nature. They show the positive effects of individualism, the soul and freedom as only being positive. By comparing the imagery of nat e in relationship to the characters, we see the positive and negative, which is not a traditional Romantic theme.
Hawthorne uses many different negative variations of plant imagery to illustrate his ideas. First of all, living plant life, portraying the torturing of Dimmesdale by Chillingworth, remains evident throughout the novel. For example, when Chillingwo h went to the forest to gather herbs he dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest trees(1511) which symbolizes how Chillingworth was plucking the life out of Dimmesdale limb by limb. Also, Hawthorne describes grass as pure and without weeds o kill the grass; however, when poor Mr.
Dimmesdale was thinking of his grave, he questioned with himself whether the grass would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing must there be buried(1495). Dimmesdale feels himself dammed. It can not be a ued that Chillingworth is doing anything positive. From the beginning, when he first sees Hester, he had only selfish and hedonistic reasons for helping Dimmesdale. It Irks me, nevertheless, that the partner of her iniquity should not, at least, s nd on the scaffold by her side, But he will be known! – he will be known! – he will be known! (1455). When Dimmesdale dies Chillingworth has no one to torment with his evil schemes.
All his strength and energy- all his vital and intellectual force- emed at once to desert him; insomuch that he positively withered up, shriveled away, and almost vanished from mortal sight, like a uprooted weed that lies wilting in the sun(1552). During Chillingworth and Dimmesdales covert discussion about the powers of nature call[ing] so earnestly for the confession of sin,[and discussing] that these black weeds have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make manifest an unspoken crime(1 9) illustrates the idea of weeds filling the heart with sin and guilt.
Moreover, the black flower of civilized society(1448) refers to the Puritans harsh attitude towards sinners as they view Hesters punishment. Most importantly, the imagery used wi leaves allows for different interpretations. Thou shalt forgive me! cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him [Dimmesdale](1521) illustrates that Hester begs natures forgiveness for her sin by falling on the leaves. Similarly Hester threw it [the scarlet letter] to a distance among the withered leaves,(1525) for that instant, her guilty conscience was dying along with the withering leaves.
Although Hawthorne uses a great deal of negative nature imagery, he also uses some sitive nature imagery. Hester, [sitting] down on the heap of moss where she and Pearl had before been sitting(1519), shows that the moss acts as a comfort to Hester, and it is a place where she can forget her guilt. Dimmesdale and Hester, hand clasp in hand, on the mossy tree trunk of the fallen tree(1521) together rid themselves of their guilt for the time being. This type of self forgiveness is a Romantic ideal, but it is shortlasting. Furthermore, leaves also symbolize the positive aspects o lant imagery.
Dimmesdale tells Hester that I seem to have flung myself- sick, sinstained, and sorrow-blackened-the forest leaves, and to have risen up all made anew, and with new powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful! (1524) Their guilt was f given, and God had forgiven them. Nature is identified with sin against the Puritan way of life. Romantics do not confine nature to human morals The first example of the sinful nature is the rosebush. This rosebush is located “on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the thr hold”(1448) of the prison.
The prison naturally is the place where people that have sinned against the puritan way of life remain. Then Hawthorne suggests that the roses of the rose-bush “might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to e prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him”(1448). This clearly states that Nature is kind to prisoners and criminals that pass through the p son doors. Hawthorne strengthens this point by suggesting two possible reasons for the rosebush’s genesis.
The first is that “it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness… “(1448), while the second reason is that “there is fair authority for lieving [the rose-bush] had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson… “(1448). By Hawthorne’s wording it appears as if he is emphasizing the second reason because he suggests there is “fair authority. (1448)” Connecting the rosebush o ginating from Ann Hutchinson, an outcast from puritan society, shows the connection with Nature and sin against puritan way of life.
This rosebush symbolizes the sympathy of Nature towards the very people Puritan society has condemned. Nature’s sympathy and partiality with Pearl can be seen with the sunshine in the forest. Pearl attempts to “catch” the sunshine. “Pearl . . . did actually catch the sunshine . . . The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a pla ate . . . “(1515). Hawthorne describes another sign of acceptance as the “great black forest . . . became the playmate of the lonely infant”(1526).
Hawthorne eventually declares that “The truth seems to be . that the mother-forest, and these wild thi s which it nourished, all recognized a kindred wildness in the human child”(1526). For her entire life she has been ostracized from Puritan society so she has no choice but to accept her “kindred wildness” and therefore Nature accepts her. This is th key to why Pearl is such an odd child and why she acts so differently because she knows not the ways of man and Puritan society. She was born an “outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christene nfants”(1470).
She takes on the characteristics of Nature because Nature accepts her as one of its own. Nature, “that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth”(1525), is what Pearl is an image of. Pearl’s character “lacked reference, and adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could not be made amenable to rules”(1468). These two quotes show a striking resemblance in description. In both cases Nature and Pearl are referred to a ot adapting to Puritan society and not following its ways.
This is the characteristic that makes Pearl so different because she is unaffected by the ways of man, and is a product of Nature and its ways. Pearl has the positive and negative in her chara er, showing the joys and problems with nature. Pearl possesses positive character traits exemplified by the plant imagery used. Dimmesdale perceives Pearl to be of great value because of her name and by comparing her a Red Rose . On the other hand, P rl remains viewed as a demon child. For no apparent reason, Pearl threw one of the prickly burrs at the Reverend Mr.
Dimmesdale. The sensitive clergyman shrunk, with nervous dread, from the light missile(1490). This shows Pearls inconsideration towar others, and it also symbolizes how Dimmesdale dodged the missile filled with guilt that would have stuck to him had he not ducked. Pearl constantly reminds and tortures Hester of her mothers sin by arrange[ing] them [prickly burrs] along the lines of he scarlet letter that decorated the maternal bosom(1490). Nature’s reaction to Hester is very different.
The strange thing is that the sunshine runs from Hester even though it was her sin against the Puritan laws that produced Pearl who is accepted by the sunshine or Nature. In fact “[the sunshine] runs a y and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on [Hester’s] bosom” (1515), the Scarlet Letter, which represents Hester’s acceptance of Puritan law and way of life. Therefore her sin doesn’t invite the sympathy of Nature. This is why when she thr s the letter on the ground “forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest . . . “(1525).
Only then did Nature show its acceptance by flooding the forest with sunshine. The Romantic ideals of the goodness of human nature are explored in the Scarlet Letter. Also the evil and sin in humans are also explored which defines the problems with freedom and the conscience. Pearl is free but an outcast, Dimmesdales consc nce kills him. Nature also changes from it Romantic view from being objective to subjective. The sun only shines on Hester without the A. The Scarlet Letter is post-Romantic piece of literature, because is shows the positive and negative atributes as ciated with the Romantic ideals.