The Scarlet Letter-Analysis The Scarlet Letter – Analysis Nathaniel Hawthorne’s background influenced him to write the bold novel The Scarlet Letter. One important influence on the story is money. Hawthorne had never made much money as an author and the birth of his first daughter added to the financial burden (Biographical Note VII). He received a job at the Salem Custom House only to lose it three years later and be forced to write again to support his family (IX). Consequently, The Scarlet Letter was published a year later (IX). It was only intended to be a long short story, but the extra money a novel would bring in was needed (Introduction XVI). Hawthorne then wrote an introduction section titled The Custom House to extend the length of the book and The Scarlet Letter became a full novel (XVI).
In addition to financial worries, another influence on the story is Hawthorne’s rejection of his ancestors. His forefathers were strict Puritans, and John Hathorne, his great-great-grandfather, was a judge presiding during the S! alem witch trials (Biographical Note VII). Hawthorne did not condone their acts and actually spent a great deal of his life renouncing the Puritans in general (VII). Similarly, The Scarlet Letter was a literal soapbox for Hawthorne to convey to the world that the majority of Puritans were strict and unfeeling. For example, before Hester emerges from the prison she is being scorned by a group of women who feel that she deserves a larger punishment than she actually receives.
Instead of only being made to stand on the scaffold and wear the scarlet letter on her chest, they suggest that she have it branded on her forehead or even be put to death (Hawthorne 51). Perhaps the most important influence on the story is the author’s interest in the dark side (Introduction VIII). Unlike the transcendentalists of the era, Hawthorne confronted reality, rather than evading it (VII). Likewise, The Scarlet Letter deals with adultery, a subject that caused much scandal when it w! as first published (XV). The book revolves around sin and punishment, a far outcry from writers of the time, such as Emerson and Thoreau, who dwelt on optimistic themes (VII). This background, together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and important literary devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the develop the theme of the heart as a prison.
The scaffold scenes are the most substantial situations in the story because they unify The Scarlet Letter in two influential ways. First of all, every scaffold scene reunites the main characters of the novel. In the first scene, everyone in the town is gathered in the market place because Hester is being questioned about the identity of the father of her child ( Hawthorne 52). In her arms is the product of her sin, Pearl, a three month old baby who is experiencing life outside the prison for the first time (53). Dimmesdale is standing beside the scaffold because he is Hester’s pastor and it is his job to convince her to repent and reveal the father’s name (65).
A short time later, Chillingworth unexpectedly shows up within the crowd of people who are watching Hester after he is released from his two year captivity by the Indians (61). In the second scene, Dimmesdale is standing on top of the scaffold alone in the middle of the night (152). He sees Hester and Pearl walk through the market place on their way back from Governor Winthrop’s bedside (157). When Dimmesdale recognizes them and tells them to join him, they walk up the steps to stand by his side (158). Chillingworth appears later standing beside the scaffold, staring at Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl.
In the final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale walks to the steps of the scaffold in front of the whole town after his Election day sermon (263). He tells Hester and Pearl to join him yet again on the scaffold (264). Chillingworth then runs through the crowd and tries to stop Dimmesdale from reaching the top of the scaffold, the one place where he can’t reach him (265). Another way in which the scenes are united is how each illustrates the immediate, delayed, and prolonged effects that the sin of adultery has on the main characters. The first scene shows Hester being publicly punished on the scaffold (52).
She is being forced to stand on it for three hours straight and listen to peop! le talk about her as a disgrace and a shame to the community (55). Dimmesdale’s instantaneous response to the sin is to lie. He stands before Hester and the rest of the town and proceeds to give a moving speech about how it would be in her and the father’s best interest for her to reveal the father’s name (67). Though he never actually says that he is not the other parent, he implies it by talking of the father in third person (67). Such as, If thou feelest it to be for thy soul’s peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer (67). Chillingworth’s first reaction is one of shock, but he quickly suppresses it (61). Since his first sight of his wife in two years is of her being punished for being unfaithful to him, he is naturally surprised.
It does not last for long though, because it is his nature to control his emotions (61). Pearl’s very existence in this scene is the largest immediate effect of her parents’ crime (52). She obviously would never had been there had her parents resisted their love for each other. The second scene occurs several years later and shows the effects after time has had a chance to play its part. It begins with Dimmesdale climbing the stairs of the scaffold in the middle of the night because it is the closest that he can come to confessing his sin (152).
This scene is especially important because it shows how pitiful he has become. Dimmesdale shows just how irrational he is when he screams aloud because he fears that the universe is staring at a scarlet token on his breast (153). It also shows how much guilt he is carrying by the way he perceives the light from a meteor as the letter A. He believes it stands for adulteress while other people think it stands for angel since the governor just passed away (161). This scene also shows how Hester is managing her new situation.
When Dimmesdale tells her to come up the scaffold and asks her where she has b! een, she replies that she has been measuring the robe that the governor is to be buried in (158). This statement implies that Hester’s reputation as a talented seamstress has spread. Ironically, her first well known piece of work was the scarlet letter that she wore on her chest. As a result, she owes her own success to her infamy. Besides growing older, Pearl’s most significant change is in her perceptibility (158). In this scene, she constantly asks Dimmesdale if he will be joining Hester and herself on the scaffold tomorrow at noon and accuses him of not being true (162).
Neither Hester nor Dimmesdale ever told Pearl who her father was, but she figures it out by the way he always holds his hand over his heart (159). Chillingworth’s derangement is evident in this scene also. His contempt for Dimmesdale is so acute that he risks his cover when he gives him a look so vivid as to remain painted on the darkness after the bright meteor that just passed, vanishes (161). The third scene is very critical because it is the last glimpse into every characters’ mind and the last time that everyone is alive. At this point in time, Dimmesdale’s fixation on his sin has utterly corroded him to the point of death.
After he gives his election day sermon, he goes to the scaffold and asks Hester and Pearl to join him because he is so weak that he can hardly support himself (265). He finally exposes the truth and tells his followers of how he deceived them (267). The only good that comes out of conceding his guilt is that he passed away without any secrets, for he was already too far gone to be able to be saved (269). This scene is important to the characterization of Hester because it is the first time that she is not in complete control of her emotions (264). Her dream of escaping to England with Dimmesdale is lost when he decides to confess (264). The unanticipated arrival of Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s feeble appearance distresses her, and for the first time, she can not control the outcome (264).
The greatest transformation in Pearl’s life occurs in this scene. While she used to be perceived as elfish, she now shows the first signs of normal human emotion. After Dimmesdale confesses his sin, she kisses his lips voluntarily (268). The great scene of griefhad developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it (268). Ultimately, Chillingworth takes a severe turn for the worse when Dimmesdale reveals his sin.
Since Chillingworth based the rest of his life on playing games on Dimmesdale’s mind, he was left without any goals, and his life became meaningless (268). On that account, it is clear that Hawt …