“A Scarlet Letter”: Analysis

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a masterpiece of American literature. It reveals the themes of sin, guilt, and redemption through the struggle of the adulteress, Hester Prynne, and the sufferings of the people around her.

Many critics have been made about Hawthorne’s opinion on the adultery between Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale. I believe that Hawthorne both condemns and condones the relationship.

Hawthorne reveals his disapproval of the adultery through the contrast of lights and shadows. During the walk in the forest, Pearl noticed that the “sportive sunlight […] withdrew itself as they came nigh”. When Hester attempted to touch the light, “the sunshine vanished” (A Forest Walk). Light makes a person vulnerable to punishment and reveals their sin in the Puritan society. However, darkness allows the originally intolerable or shameful actions in daylight to occur. Hawthorne shows that Hester’s guilt and sin always cast shadows on her heart. The avoidance of the sunshine reveals the shameful actions of Hester, thus showing that Hawthorne disapproves her adultery. In addition, throughout the novel, except for the rare instances such as Hester standing on the scaffold in the beginning, Hawthorne often conceals Hester’s character with shadows. Such as at minister’s home, Hester had been standing in the shadow of the curtain while her daughter and others were in daylight (The Elf-Child and the Minister).

On the other hand, Hawthorne condones the adultery through the characterization of Pearl. When Pearl and her mother met Dimmesdale by the brook, she asked her mother with “acute intelligence” whether Dimmesdale would “ ‘go back with [them], hand in hand’” back to town (The Child at the Brook-Side). Pearl often sees connections and truths that others cannot see. Her question at the brook reveals that she is aware that Dimmesdale is her father. As a seven-year-old child, Pearl is surprisingly sharp. The other Puritan kids in town are described as childish, fitting their age. However, Pearl talks like an adult when comparing her to other children. Throughout the story, Pearl has been one of the main forces that lead and develop the story with her speech. If the author truly despises the relationship, he would have set Pearl as a faithful Puritan’s child to contrast against Hester’s sin. However, Hawthorne creates such an intelligent and precious figure as an adulteress’s daughter, thus reveals that he condones the adultery.

Hawthorne skillfully weaves themes and ideas within the plot, characters, and an historical background, producing an eloquent masterpiece.

Work Cited: Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. N.p.: Dover, 1994. Print.


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