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Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper

Frank Lee

8/17/00

Essay- Scarlet Letter

In modern times battles are fought everyday, but in the end, it is only the outcome of the wars that count. Sometimes the good guys win and sometimes the bad guys win, but in literature, it is different. “In literature, Evil wins the battles, but Good wins the wars.” says Henry Gaedon. This is particularly evident in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter where Good is portrayed by Hester Prynne and Evil by Roger Chillingworth. Hester’s painful losses in battle were overshadowed only by the relief and satisfaction of being victorious in the long fought-out war.

The Characterization in the first few chapters easily depicts Hester as the persecuted heroine by the description in which she walks to face the crowd of rambunctious Puritans. She holds her head up high, and Hawthorne also emphasizes the way in which such as disgraceful symbol as a scarlet “A” was so beautifully and eloquently sewn upon her breast. Chillingworth on the other hand is quickly picked out as the antagonist by the deformities in his physical appearance and cold “raspy” voice. This contrasting characterization right away sets the tone for the ensuing mental battles against each other, and against themselves.

The first battle occurs in the jail cell where Hester nurses Pearl, and Chillingworth comes as a doctor to sooth the crying baby. Although it might seem insignificant, Hester swearing to keep the “leech’s” secret actually laid the foundation for this entire story. It was also so the source of an emotional ulcer which burns at the heroine for the following years. Evil also triumphs when Dimmesdale and Chillingworth confront. The young pastor my not be the purest symbol of God, but is likewise far better than “Satan’s emissary”. The “leech” doctor, as the town describes him, knows of Dimmesdale’s heart condition and takes advantage by using his skills as a lever to pry into the man’s private and personal life. He also finds with glee that the young pastor was also publicly marked as a sinner during his early life. In such events, he succeeds in tormenting a decent person merely trying to make emotional amends towards God and his community.

The war ends only when Hester and Dimmesdale stop suffering from guilt and no longer have to bear the weight of their “Scarlet Letter” as Dimmesdale bears his Scarlet Letter to his followers. Because the Puritans see that such a righteous and holy man such as their beloved pastor could be branded with an “A”, they start to see that Hester may not be such an evil person. On top of that, her charity work made people think the “A” on her chest meant “Able”, especially those who were not present when she was publicly shamed on the scaffold. Chillingworth loses in the end because he no longer holds in his hand the chips in which to blackmail and torture two honest and good people. Chillingworth in the end also realizes what he has become. From the one knowledge loving scholar to the embodiment of evil, he finally realizes the guilt he must bear for his mistreatment of those who once put faith in him.

It may not have been a picture perfect storybook ending, but justice was served in the end. This justice is usually evident in literature and as Henry Gaedon says, “…Evil wins the battle, but Good wins the war.” If only it was so in the here and now, we would be living in a much better place.


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