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Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
Often in literature, themes are often influenced and developed through literary techniques. There is no exception for The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The main theme of this novel is suffering, punishment, and redemption. Many characters such as: Hester, Dimmesdale and Pearl go through these stages somewhere in the novel. The three literary techniques that show how this theme is influenced and developed are symbols, setting, and structure. Some of these symbols are the forest, and the scarlet letter A . The setting, such as the marketplace and the forest help add to the theme. An example of the technique of structure is the scaffold, which also contributes to the theme. The Scarlet Letter has many literary techniques that influence the theme of suffering, punishment, and redemption.
There are a few characters in this novel that support the theme of suffering, punishment, and redemption. The first character is Hester Prynne. She has committed adultery and now she must endue her punishment. Her punishment is that she must stand on the scaffold, (a place for punishment and shame) for one afternoon with her daughter, Pearl. A townsman speaks of Hester, the woman has been a dweller here in Boston, no tidings have come of this learned gentleman (Dimmesdale), Master Prynne; and his young wife, look you, being left to her own misguidance. (p. 58) Another part of the punishment is she to wear the scarlet, A on her chest all the time to show the town what crime she has committed. Hester stands with pride on the scaffold and is strong. Through all of this punishment comes her suffering. She is not allowed to be with the one man that she loves, in public. Hester is a beautiful woman, but you would not be able to tell because how she wears a cap that keeps her hair up and has to wear the A . She is isolated and is always stared at by the townspeople. Hester s only redemption is at the end of the novel when she is finally with Dimmesdale and Pearl on the scaffold.
Another character that supports this theme is Arthur Dimmesdale. He is the other character who commits the sin of adultery along with Hester. No one knows he committed the sin and that he is the father of Pearl. He suffers a terrific amount from the guilt he has. On page 131 Hawthorne states, 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! Dimmesdale fasts for periods of time and he carves an A onto his chest. He also would use a scourge (whip, used for punishment) on himself, oftentimes, this Protestant and Puritan divine had plied it on his own shoulders; laughing bitterly at himself the while, and smiting so much the more pitilessly because of that bitter laugh. (p. 133) One night he went to the scaffold and he starts yelling out all of his guilt, but no one understood what he was doing. He isolates himself from others and he always appears gloomy. His redemption also comes at the end of the novel on election day, after he gives an unbelievable sermon, where he takes the hands of Hester and Pearl and goes on the scaffold with them. He then dies in the arms of Hester and God forgives his confessed sin.
Another character that proves this theme is Pearl. Her only punishment is being a symbol of sin. She suffers worse than any other character in this novel. She has no maternal guidance and no friends, she is isolated from the other children because she is an offspring of a sin. Hawthorne writes about Pearl on page 88, She never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing, broadcast the dragon s teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle. It was inexpressibly sad-then what depth of sorrow to a mother, who felt her own heart the cause. Her only true friend is the environment. Pearl uses the environment as a basis of her imagination. She plays with the brook and the ugly weeds in the forest and the sun always seems to shine on her. Pearl gets her compensation from Roger Chillingworth, who leaves her a lot of land that he owns. Eventually, Pearl becomes a rich, attractive woman.
The first of the literary techniques that influence and develop the theme of suffering, punishment and redemption is symbols. The forest is a symbol in this novel. It symbolizes a place of truth and happiness. There is a book in the forest, which is signed by people who have sinned. After they have signed the book, they leave the forest feeling rejuvenated. Dimmesdale signs the book and then leaves the forest feeling so good that he did not even have to take his medicine. Also the forest is where Dimmesdale and Hester can finally be together, here they are allow to show their love for each other. Hester can be herself, a beautiful, young woman. The forest is also Pearl s playmate, which makes her happy and not think about the kids making fun of her.
Another symbol that supports this theme is the actual scarlet letter. The A has as different meaning for each of the characters. For Hester, the A symbolizes her sin and punishment. The A shows criticism of Puritans and unjust humiliation. Hester makes the A beautiful and bright, even though it is suppose to stand for evil and dark. After years of wearing the A it becomes know that it means able instead of adultery. For Dimmesdale, the A represents his sin with Hester. The A Dimmesdale carve on himself is under his clothes which can represent unrevealed sin and guilt. Also the meteor that forms in the shape of a red A lights up the sky, Dimmesdale thinks it stands for adultery. That night Governor Winthrop died, and the next day a sexton is talking to Dimmesdale about the meteor the night before and what the community thinks it meant, a great red letter in the sky, the letter A, which we interpret to stand for Angel. For, as our good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was doubtless held to fit that there should be some notice thereof! (p. 145) For Pearl, Hester s A is a symbol of her. She is the living scarlet letter. She plays with it all the time and always asking Hester about it. She also makes her own A out of seaweed. This represents her curiosity and imagination about the letter. The A had a different meaning for Chillingworth. It represents his obsession for revenge.
The second literary technique that contributes to the theme of suffering, punishment, and redemption is setting. Two major places that the novel takes place is the forest and the marketplace. The forest is where people go to be themselves. The forest appears to be sunny when Pearl is playing in it. When Hester is in the forest it seems to be dark because of the sin she has committed. The sun only shines on her one time in the entire book, when she let her hair down and took the scarlet letter off. The brook in the forest is peaceful it can represent happiness or sadness because this is where Pearl plays by herself. Towards the end of the book, Pearl would not cross the brook with Hester and Dimmesdale, until Hester put the letter back on and put her hair back up.
The second major place in the novel is the marketplace. In the marketplace is where all the townspeople go to buy their goods and do their requirements for life. In the marketplace contains the scaffold. This is where the community finds out about Hester s sin. Now when Hester goes into the marketplace, people stare at her, but she becomes used to it and eventually the people will also. On Election Day however, there are people from outside the town there and they hear about her sin and they began to stare at her. All of this contributes to the theme because Hester suffer in the marketplace and it is where she endures her punishment. Also her redemption takes place here, when she gets up on the scaffold with Pearl after Dimmesdale finishes his amazing sermon.
The third literary technique that contributes to the theme of suffering, punishment and redemption is structure. The scaffold is an example of structure, it represents shame and public humiliation. Also it means of being true in the public eye. The scaffold appears three times throughout the novel. The first time it appears is at the beginning of the book when Hester is on it for her punishment. She is holding Pearl in her arms and is wearing her scarlet letter. This is a scene of embarrassment and shame.
The second time the scaffold appears is in the middle of the book, when Dimmesdale goes on it in the middle of the night and tries to release his built up guilt and starts yelling out his torments. This is ineffective because his sin is still not revealed to the community. Hester and Pearl see Dimmesdale on the scaffold, they join him on it. Pearl asks, Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, tomorrow noontide? (p. 140) Dimmesdale s response was, Nay; not so, my little Pearl. (p. 140) Then the sky gets lit up with the red A from the meteor, which Dimmesdale thinks it is a message from God, which builds up his guilt even more.
The third time the scaffold appears was after Dimmesdale said his remarkable sermon and goes to the marketplace. He sees Hester and Pearl and has them come with him. At first Hester was resisting to go but finally goes along with it. He makes his confession to the public and then dies on the scaffold in Hester s arms. Everyone is shocked and does not know what to do. This represents relief and public salvation.
In conclusive, the literary techniques of symbol, setting, and structure all can contribute to the theme of suffering, punishment, and redemption. A symbol that represents suffering and punishment is the scarlet A. The forest symbolizes redemption. Setting also helps because the forest is where redemption is achieved and the marketplace is where suffering and punishment are endued. The scaffold is an example of structure that helps the theme. Suffering and punishment are endowed in the beginning of the book when the scaffold is seen and redemption takes place in the end with Dimmesdale finally makes his confession to the public and dies on it. All the characters, Hester, Dimmesdale and Pearl endure this theme one way or another throughout the novel.
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