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Scalet Letter Essay, Research Paper
The Scarlet Letter
The 6th Sense of Sinners
In the Novel, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the society of a Puritan town of Boston excludes anyone who is a nonconformist or is in any way deviant from their thoughts, laws, and standards. However, the townspeople themselves are not without fault. However, they try to conceal and contain their passions and all their faults due to their own fear of being excluded. All the characters in the book who are excluded from society are the ones who are the most natural and true at heart, possessing a sixth-sense perception and almost magical intuition that allows them to see through the public facade that others project in order to protect themselves. There are five main characters, throughout the novel that either obtain or this sixth-sense or have it used against them to see through their own facades. These characters are Hester Prynne; Pearl, her daughter; Roger Chillingworth, Hester s husband; Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the priest that Hester committed adultery with; and finally Mistress Hibbins, the governor s sister that is a witch.
Hester Prynne’s separation from the townspeople is both physical and mental. The townspeople expel her from the town and label her as an adulteress. She goes to live with her illegitimate daughter, who s name is ironically Pearl, in a cottage, not in close vicinity to any other habitation (68). The whole town despises them, children throw stones at and chase them down the street. People do not dare to come close to Hester because they are afraid of her mark, the scarlet A, as an outcast. To the townspeople, Hester’s character is something different and uncertain from the values to which they are accustomed. Wherever Hester stood, a small, vacant area – a sort of magic circle – had formed about her, into which none ventured, or felt disposed to intrude (206). Hester is destined to wear a scarlet letter A on her chest A for adulteress – a sign of her sin, shame, and separation from the righteous people.
However, by becoming isolated from the Puritanical town of Boston and all its prejudices, Hester is able to look at the people objectively and see much she was not able to see before. Walking to and fro, with those lonely footsteps, in the little world with which she was outwardly connected, it now and then appeared to Hester that [the scarlet letter] gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts (73). The people of the town are so busy looking for each other’s faults and covering up their thoughts and human passions, that they cannot see their own faults. Hester, who wears her Cain’s mark of exclusion openly, does not have to worry about the opinion of others, and gains an intuition – an insight into the hearts of the people who threw her out.
Hester’s mark of shame becomes a mark of being different, a mark of nonconformity. Hawthorne suggests that Hester’s A could mean Able (141), for her natural energy and for her strength as a woman. Even after the death of her husband and Dimmesdale, the man with whom she committed adultery, Hester does not take off the scarlet letter and return to live in the town. In the beginning of her punishment and solitary life, Hester has enough courage to beautifully decorate her letter, mocking her sentence. She shows her skill, and it seems like she takes pride in her token of isolation. When Hester is led back to the prison from the platform of the pillory, it was whispered that the scarlet letter threw a lurid gleam along the dark passage-way of the interior (58). Hester’s mark becomes the guiding light throughout her whole life, because the scarlet letter keeps the people and their prejudices at bay.
Pearl, the illegitimate daughter of Hester is also an outcast. Raised by Hester who never tries to impose any discipline on her, Pearl “could not be made amenable to the rules. In giving her existence, a great law has been broken; and the result was a being, whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder (76).” Pearl is the most natural and pure character in the book. She goes “dancing and cavorting on the streets, chases sunlight, and she is full of energy and is constantly in motion. Like Hester, she receives a very acute sense of the people around her. For example, she recognizes her father through her sixth-sense. [Pearl], that wild and flighty little elf, stole softly toward Mr. Dimmesdale, and, taking his hand in the grasp of both of her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so tender that her mother asked herself, Is this my Pearl? (98). Pearl, not bound by anything except her own fancies, always does whatever she feels like in that instant. She is completely in tune with the world around her. She asks Hester many uncomfortable questions about; her scarlet letter, the Black Man, and Mr. Dimmesdale. One of the questions asked by Pearl is about her scarlet letter; what it means, and is she; Pearl, going to get one of her own when she becomes a woman. Hester finds these questions very uncomfortable and awkward to answer, yet she comes up with an answer nevertheless. Pearl also asks Hester about the Black Man. Didst thou ever meet the Black Man, mother (116)? The Black Man to whom Pearl is referring is Satan. Mistress Hibbins has told Pearl that the Black Man walks throughout the forest in search of people who will sign his iron book with their own blood and sell their soul to him. Again, Pearl is trying to get Hester to tell her what the A means. Hester says, Wilt thou let me be at peace, if I once tell thee? Once in my life I met the Black Man! This scarlet letter is his mark (117)! After hearing this Pearl does not ask her mother what the A means anymore. Pearl asks Hester many questions about Reverend Dimmesdale. One of the most important ones is, Mother, why does the Reverend hold his hand over his heart (75)? Pearl is referring to, what appears as, Mr. Dimmesdale s mark of shame; his scarlet letter, that we are persuaded to believe is burned onto his chest; over his heart. Pearl is a very, if not the most, intriguing character in the whole book.
Another character, not a part of the common people of Boston, is Hester s husband who goes by the alias of Roger Chillingworth. His main purpose in the book is to find out who the father of Pearl is and slowly punish Hester’s lover with whom she had committed adultery. People sense at once that Roger Chillingworth is not one of them because of his great skill and knowledge, and many see something ugly and evil in his face (109). Some people even call him a guise of Satan, or Satan’s emissary (109). People are afraid of him; no one knows who he really is when he comes into the town all by himself. No one knows much about his past, or about his purpose, which provokes rumors and stories behind his back. Roger Chillingworth, as an outsider, can also sense people very well. Almost immediately, he discerns Dimmesdale to be Hester’s former lover, even though only Dimmesdale and Hester know the secret. Old Roger Chillingworth had perceptions that were almost intuitive (112). Chillingworth is a cold, passionless, and unforgiving man who has no purpose in life but to ruin the lives of others who have, really, done nothing wrong. It is not granted me to pardon. I have no such power as thou tallest me of. My old faith, long forgotten, comes back to me, and explains all that we do and all we suffer. But thy first step awry, thou didst plant the germ of evil; but, since that moment, it has all been a dark necessity (115). Before he tells her that he cannot forgive Dimmesdale, she tells him that she must reveal his identity to Dimmesdale; she cannot stand to see him, the one she truly loved, being tortured like Chillingworth was doing to him. Chillingworth realizes that he will not have much more time once Hester tells Dimmesdale the secret to inflict emotional and mental pain on the reverend; so, he tries his best to get Dimmesdale to crack. All of his efforts pay off for him in the end. He gets what he wants, and yet he still dies, many years later, a sad, passionless, and coldhearted man.
Dimmesdale although a man of great knowledge and imagination becomes obsessed with hiding his secret because he is afraid of losing his Holiness in the people’s eye and being down from his respectable position in society. He strives to remain a part of the town and therefore does not have the ability of perception like those who can look at the townspeople at a distance do. Trusting no man as his friend, Dimmesdale could not recognize his enemy when the latter actually appeared (112). Roger Chillingworth, so determined in his persecution of the man who has wronged him (63), moves in with Dimmesdale, meanwhile pressuring him psychologically all the time to confess his sin. Dimmesdale’s health becomes worse and worse, but he still cannot see that his physician is ruining his life. Dimmesdale conceals his passions, like his love for Hester and desire to redeem his sin by confession in order to remain within the society and is therefore untrue towards himself and other people. However, he reveals his love for Hester and Pearl in the forest meeting. The forest represents a place of secrecy and security. Hester and the pious Reverend Dimmesdale can reveal many secrets and feelings there without having to worry about the confinements of society or the pressures of society. In their forest encounter, Dimmesdale reveals that he has sensed an evil presence around him. That is when Hester reveals the secret that she has kept from him for seven years. She tells him, Thou hast long had such an enemy, and dwellest with him under the same roof (120)! Dimmesdale soon comes to find out the identity of this enemy that dwells under the same roof as he. Once he finds out Chillingworth s identity, he is very cautious, unnoticeable to Chillingworth himself, and plays Chillingworth s own game and outsmarts him in the end.
Another character in the story who possesses magical perception is Mistress Hibbins. She is a venerable witch-lady (130) and a bitter-tempered sister (99). A few years later, [she] was executed as a witch. During her life, she is the woman viewed as Satan’s snare (100), the evil to remain unnoticed by any respectable member of the society. The crowd gave way before her, and seemed to fear the touch of her garment as if it carried a plague among its gorgeous folds (212). However, Mistress Hibbins has the ability to see as well. She knows other people’s secrets and talks to them openly about them, but she does not spread them around as gossip, unlike the townspeople who gossip. She says to Hester, about Hester’s secret meeting with Dimmesdale in the woods, Couldst thou surely tell, Hester, whether he was the same man that encountered thee on the forest-path? I know, Hester, for I behold the token (213). Even though she is supposedly satanic, Mistress Hibbins has no pretense or falseness in her. Pearl, who accepts only the most natural people and things, talks eagerly (213) to her, and calls her good Mistress Hibbins (213). Mistress Hibbins tells Hester, during Dimmesdale s last sermon, Yonder that divine man! That saint on earth, as the people uphold him to be, and as I must needs say he really looks! Who, now, that saw him pass in the procession, would think how little while it is since he went forth out of his study Couldst thou surely tell, Hester, whether he was the same man that encountered thee on the forest-path (125)! This is saying that Mistress Hibbins, also, has the sixth-sense ability to see the sin in other sinners souls. She probably obtained this power by selling her soul to the Black Man. Mistress Hibbins may be satanic, but she does not hide it or act in any way fake, like Dimmesdale or Chillingworth for example.
Hawthorne shows how Hester reacts to Mistress Hibbins remarks as being shocked at her confidence in her accusations. Hester was surprised by the confidence by which [Mistress Hibbins] affirmed a personal connection between so many persons (herself among them) and the Evil One (213). The passions of Roger Chillingworth are evil, and so are the raw passions of Dimmesdale, after he meets with Hester in the woods. As a [pure and saintly maiden] drew nigh, the arch-fiend whispered [Dimmesdale] to drop into her tender bosom a germ of evil (193). Even Hester worries about Pearl, the devilish imp (71): It had appalled [Hester], nevertheless, to discern here a shadowy reflection of evil that had existed in herself (89). All these people have secret passions; and wear their own scarlet letter of being deviant from the ways of the Puritanical society. All of them have some streak of evil in them.
Hawthorne connects passion with evil. The people who are excluded from the society are those with passions and therefore with something evil and immoral in them. Rigid rules of society that supposedly make people moral and righteous take away the most natural aspects and abilities from people, such as passion. Hawthorne criticizes Puritans, who criticize others to cause them to turn their own passions to evil. They, in turn, become blind and untrue to themselves and lose their natural instinct and intuition. The people labeled evil, by society, are just those who have passions that duffer from the majorities. People who are different and pose a threat toward the society s persona are the ones who are banished. Society is scared of change, and Hawthorne shows this clearly in his novel.
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