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The Scarlet Letter: Reference To Mirrors Essay, Research Paper

The Scarlet Letter: Reference to Mirrors

Nathaniel Hawthorne has a sufficient reason for repeatedly making reference to mirrors

throughout his refined novel, The Scarlet Letter. The use of mirrors in the story serve a beneficial

purpose of giving the reader a window to the character’s soul. The truth is always portrayed in

the author’s mirrors; thus, his introspective devices will continuously point out the flaws to whom

gazes in it. Hester’s “A” has now become the most noticeable part of not only her physical

features, but her spiritual being. The reflection of Pearl Prynne uncovers her hard shell and brings

out the loneliness, the innocent recklessness, and the wild beauty within her. Reverend

Dimesdale’s image only radiates the dark, gloomy truth of his impurities. The looking glass

Nathaniel Hawthorne places in front of his characters, therefore, focuses on the realms that each

beholder attempts to hide from the world around them.

In chapter two while Hester is standing on the scaffold, she tries to run from reality by

reminiscing of her youth. At that moment, “she saw her own face, glowing with girlish beauty,

and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.”

Sadly, the mirror will never again give Hester that immaculate reflection. Instead, the image will

always resemble that of the breastplate at the governor’s mansion in chapter seven, “owing to the

peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and

gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature to her appearance.”

Ironically, the two symbols of her sin and suffering, the scarlet letter and Pearl, are now the most

significant elements of her life. Hester is no longer looked at as a woman in society, and in the

mirror, “she seemed absolutely hidden behind it (the scarlet letter).” As for her child, “that look

of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of

effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an

imp who was seeking to mold itself into Pearl’s shape.” Pearl’s mischievous looks are magnified

in the mirroring surface to remind Hester that her child is in fact a part of the punishment of her

sin. “Once this freakish, elvish cast came into the child’s eyes while Hester was looking at her

own image in them. . . . she fancied that she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but another

face, in the small black mirror of Pearl’s eye. It was a face, fiendlike, full of smiling malice, yet

bearing the resemblance of features that she had known full well, through seldom with a smile,

and never with malice in them.” This is another indicator in chapter six that Pearl’s presence

does in fact haunt Hester. It also speaks the truth that Roger Chillingworth is not the same man

he once was, and Hester will continue to be haunted by him also.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s use of mirrors plays a crucial part in portraying the hidden side of

Pearl Prynne. Though Pearl has a reputation to be “of witchcraft” and gives the reader an

impression of being a “brat”, the child has a very fragile and endearing soul that wanders on the

other side of the mirroring surface. In chapter fourteen by the ocean, Pearl “came to a full stop,

and peeped curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in.

Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark glistening curls around her head and an elf-smile

in her eyes, the image of a little maid, whom Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take her

hand and run a race with her.” The reflecting pool portrays Pearl as an innocent and beautiful

child who is very lonely. That is very understandable, for Pearl is not like the other children; her

only two friends are nature and her mother, Hester. In chapter fifteen, Pearl “flirted fancifully

with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom forth, and–as it declined

venture–seeking a passage for herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky.

Soon finding however, that either she or the image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for better


Pearl’s reflection is very real, and chapter sixteen smoothly continues this concept through

another body of water–the brook in the forest. “Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the

current of her life gushed from. . . . like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy

without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of

somber hue.” As interpreted through the description of the brook, Pearl lacked many simple

encumbrances growing up, and therefore, lacks sympathy and emotions that numerous individuals

take for granted. In chapter nineteen, Pearl’s alliance to nature is clearly shown as “the brook

chanced to form a pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure,

with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers and wreathed

foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality.” Nathaniel Hawthorne was wise to

use the forest brook in relation to Pearl, for she is untamed like the forest. Branching from that

wild gift within Pearl, the wrath she is compelled to carry is also lustered through the brook that

flows beneath her. “Seen in the brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath of Pearl’s image,

crowned and girdled with flowers, but stamping its foot, wildly gesticulating, and, in the midst of

it all, still pointing its small forefinger at Hester’s bosom!” The speculum reveals the hard truth

that Pearl is a part of the scarlet letter, and that she feels emotionally nonexistent when she

realizes her mother had abandoned the emblem on the ground.

The weak mortality of Reverend Dimesdale is also depicted by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s

exercise of mirrors throughout the novel. In chapter eleven, Arthur is desperate to flush away his

sins and absorb righteousness back into his soul. “He kept vigils, likewise, night after night. . . .

sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking glass, by the most powerful light which he could

throw upon it.” Unfortunately, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mirrors show no mercy. “He thus

typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself.” Little

does Arthur know that the looking glass is only functions as a tool to represent truth, and in

actuality, the reverend is not acquitted of his sins. The very limited light that shines onto the

looking glass is used to burn deep into the minister’s soul, grasp the shameful secret he hides

within his heart, and shine the consequences back in his face over and over again. “In these

lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled and visions seemed to flit before him perhaps seen

doubtfully, and by a faint light of their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more

vividly, and close beside him, within the looking glass.” Reverend Dimesdale tried to overcome

these ghastly images, but he couldn’t fight the fact “that they were, in one sense, the truest and

most substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with.” The looking glass frankly

reveals that Reverend Dimesdale’s existence now relies on “the anguish in his inmost soul.”

Within The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne analyzes his main characters’ distinctions

through his use of mirrors. By using this device of imagery, the reader of the novel can easily

grasp Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dark opinions of the world, man, society and their relationships to

each other. Most importantly, the author wants to exhibit to the reader the close relationship

between good and evil, and the importance in telling the truth under all circumstances. Nathaniel

Hawthorne has done a wonderful job in this piece of literature by referring to mirrors as a tool to

dig into the “truth of the human heart.”

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