The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a novel that was written over a series of months and published in March 1850. The book is based on the Puritan movement in the early 1600’s as immigration to the new found land of America was becoming popular. The protagonist of this work is Hester Prynn. Prynn was sent to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England with her three month old child. She is a strong woman for going to the new area with her own baby, which at the time women were meant to only take care of the home, not support a family. The antagonist of the novel is Roger Chillingworth.
Mr. Chillingworth is a very persistent character who had a burning passion to bring turmoil to Hester Prynn. Chillingworth had convinced Hester to marry him, and then sent her across the ocean, where he did not show up for two years. After learning that she cheated on him, Roger made it his goal to “follow her to her grave. ” The novel opens up with a tour of the jail Hester Prynn has been kept in. Hester was sent to the Massachusetts Bay Colony by her husband for he had to “take care of things on his own. ” It is found that Hester has committed adultery, and her three month old baby was enough proof to get her indicted.
Hester refuses to blow the whistle on the father, reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and is forced to wear the scarlet “A” to show to the world the crime she had committed. As the shaming parade begun to unfold, Hester’s husband from across the sea had arrived in disguise. Her husband declares himself to be a “Roger Chillingworth” and vows to seek revenge on Hester’s lover. He visits Hester in prison and makes her agree not to soil his plan. After seven years of stalking and questioning, Roger announces his true identity to Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale soon confesses his crime to the town, and in the following events Roger dies a year later.
Roger left all of his belongings and wealth to Pearl, Hester’s child, and Hester planned to move back to England. However, Hester moves back to the colony and lives out her life, where she is buried next to her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale. The Scarlet Letter unravels numerous themes as the plot unfolds. Of these themes, the few major ones that stick out the most are revenge, sin, and isolation. Revenge is shown through the novel as Roger Chillingworth swears on his life to get revenge on Dimmesdale. The novel teaches that revenge can turn a sweet person into a bitter evil.
The next theme that sticks out is sin. Adultery is commonly a mortal sin in numerous religions; the novel portrays Arthur Dimmesdale struggling to live in his own skin after committing adultery. The final theme that is unveiled is isolation. Isolation between Hester and her husband drove her to have an affair with the reverend, and this action is what influences the whole plot of the novel. The setting of the novel takes place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but also features England at times. The colonial development is shown to be very religious and the citizens take their Puritan views very seriously.
The story is told from a third person omniscient point of view, for it is told by a narrator outside of the text. The Scarlet Letter is a novel that tells a tale of intimacy and romance and how the themes of isolation and revenge can turn a family into adultery and evil. II Entry 1: In the opening chapter, “The Prison Door,” the author gives a distinct description of the prison setting. “…some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains and other indications of age which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front.
The rust on the ponderous iron-work of the oaken door looked more antique than anything… it seemed never to have known a youthful era. ” This passage from the opening of the novel is used by the author to set a tone. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses word phrases such as “beetle-browed and gloomy,” “more antique than anything,” and “seemed never to have known a youthful era,” (pg. 55), to portray to the readers that the prison sticks out like a sore toe in comparison to the rest of the community.
This passage makes the authors purpose effective because it sets up the readers to later infer Hester Prynn’s feelings towards being in jail. Hester may feel out of place, desolate, and lost being in jail. On page 56, the author continues the passage by using symbolism when he says “… rooted almost at the threshold was a wild rosebush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems…” “This rosebush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history… to symbolize some sweet moral blossom… or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow,” (pg. 6).
Here, Hawthorne uses the rose bush to symbolize the light at the end of the tunnel for all people, specifically for Hester Prynn. The rosebush stands for fertility, and promotes the will to live, for not everything is as bad as it may seem. Entry 2: In chapter 3, “The Recognition,” Hester Prynn’s husband, known in the Massachusetts area as Roger Chillingworth, has made his first appearance. Hester is at the scaffold as she looks upon the crowd to find a familiar face of a white man accompanied with an Indian.
Hawthorne describes the man to entirety, which is then followed by eye contact between the two. “When he found the eyes of Hester Prynn fastened on his own, and saw that he appeared to recognize him, he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips,” (pg. 67). This scene is important because after two years of being on her own, Hester has finally found her husband among a crowd of people. Her husband, and soon to be antagonist, have been revealed.
The gesture with his finger suggests that Mr. Chillingworth does not want Hester to speak out about his presence. This also sets a precedent for the rest of the novel, suggesting that Roger does not want his identity to be known by a single civilian soul in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Entry 3: After Hester and Pearl make their trek to the governors hall, they are greeted in chapter 8, “The Elf Child and the Minister,” by four people. These four people include Governor Bellingham, Roger Chillingworth, Arthur Dimmesdale, and John Wilson. The group of men immediately begins to tease Pearl. Roger then explained to the governor who the child was.
The governor exclaimed, “Here is a child of three years old, and she cannot tell who made her! Without question she is equally in the dark as to her soul…,” (pg. 112). As the heckling continued, Hester grasped her child stating “God gave me the child… she is my happiness,” (pg. 112). In this scene Hester is growing as a character. In the early stages of the novel, Hester is shamed for what she has done, but she has grown to accept her own fate. As the four men continue to converse with her, she repeats herself in a plea that the child is a gift from god and that she will never give her up.
Hester has transformed into a proper mother for her child. She explains how she can teach her child not to condone the ways of her mother. Hester is now fighting back for what is hers and is very defensive over the safety and well being of her beloved Pearl. Later, on page 113, Dimmesdale says, “There is truth in what she says… God gave her the child, and gave her, too, an instinctive knowledge of its nature… which no other mortal being can possess…” Dimmesdale is now speaking out in defense of Hester, showing he is a dynamic character in the eyes of his entourage.
The two men are still clueless to the fact that Dimmesdale is the father, but his defense over Hester only deepens Roger’s suspicion over the reverend. Entry 4: “Mother… the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom… It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet! ” “Nor ever will my child, I Hope,” said Hester, (pg. 175. ) This conversation between Hester and Pearl takes place in the woods before the encounter with Dimmesdale.
This passage describes how Hester is still tortured by the scarlet “A. Earlier in the novel, Hester explains how she will teach her child not follow the ways of herself, referring to her crime of adultery. This passage is important to the devolvement of Hester’s character because it shows how truly passionate she is about raising her child the right way and creating the best for her. She does not want her child to be aware that she is the product of a crime because it could negatively impact her both physically and mentally. It could physically lead to separation between her mother and herself and mentally send Pearl into a state of depression.
This passage also helps the readers to better understand what is going on. This passage helps infer that at some point in the upcoming chapters Pearl will find out about her mother and Dimmesdale. It also shows how relentless Pearl is to try to find out what the marking on her bosom stands for. This passage sets a precedent for the chapters to come because it sets up suspense between Hester and Pearl while also thickening the conflict between both Pearl and Hester and even Hester with herself.
Entry 5: Hester has drawn out plans to move herself and her daughter Pearl out of the colonial area and back to England. In chapter 22, Hester and Pearl see Dimmesdale in the marketplace, bearing a different appearance than what they had previously seen a few days earlier in the woods. Pearl says, “Mother… was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook? ” Hester replies with “We must not always talk in the market-place of what happened to us in the forest,” (pg. 225). This passage is ironic because Hester had made plans in the forest that would be frowned upon in society.
Hester wants her child to be modest in the marketplace, but Hester is the one who was in the forest decrypting an elaborate scheme. Aside from irony, this statement explains that the decisions made in the forest do not live up to the expectations and standards of the Puritan town. III The novel The Scarlet Letter took place in the early 1600’s as the protestant Puritan group made its way from England to the newly found western lands. The main character, Hester Prynn, was sent from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony by her husband because he had to take care of things on his own.
In the early 1600’s, religion was what kept communities glued together and also provided a basis on how people should act. When it was determined that Hester had committed adultery, she immediately became a victim to the Puritan community. The Puritan Protestant movement was a religious group who advocated for religious purity in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Puritans believed that every individual was a direct representation of god. This differs from other religions because other religions rely on a medium to spread the word of god.
At the time of the novel, the Puritans that had inhabited the Massachusetts Bay Colony area were separatist Puritans. A separatist Puritan was a follower of the religion that was forced out of their home nation, which was either England or Holland. In the novel, the Puritan civilization treat Hester’s crime of adultery very different compared to how it would be treated today. Hester was thrown in jail and was forced to wear the scarlet “A” on her bosom as a mark to show the world what she had done; hence the books title “The Scarlet Letter. This was the tradition of the Puritan religion when it came to handling mishaps such as adultery. This persecution compared to the ethics of present day civilizations can be considered foolish. The Puritan people set up what was a public shaming for what Hester had done. Hester was placed on a pillory for the townspeople to shame her for what she had done. This event could be compared to what is now an episode of Jerry Springer.
As Hester sat on the stage, Reverend Dimmesdale announced that she should fess up and say who her partner in crime was “even if he had to step down from a position of authority. However, Hester kept her thoughts to herself and the crowd of people continued to heckle her for what she had done. Another Puritan belief within the story is in relation to the rosebush outside the prison. The Puritan people of Boston believe the rosebush is the product of the jail housing Ann Hutchinson, who was an activist for the Puritan means of every person should focus on their personal relationship with God. From this work, I have learned the unorthodox ways of punishment that the Puritan people enforced in their early years of religious existence.