Scarlet Letter Syntax

Scarlet Letter/ Syntax & Imagery Essay, Research Paper

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of The Scarlet Letter, has an extremely elaborate, and well-depicted vocabulary. Many of his sentences and paragraphs tend to be very verbose, but at the same time very helpful in giving the reader an accurate representation of the exactly how Chillingworth reacts when he first sees Hester. Within the passage on page sixty-seven Hawthorne is giving an intricate description of Chillingworth’s reaction when he first sees Hester after she is released from prison. With his usage of both syntax and imagery throughout this passage, he most effectively illustrates his vision of Chillingworth. Hawthorne gives us quite a bit of description within this passage, which allows us to see an intellectual side of Chillingworth. Generally people are intellectual or religious, the big bang vs. Genesis. Chillingworth is portrayed as intellectual, which conflicts with the Puritan views of religion.

Syntax is simply described by the arrangement of words; more complexly it is also made up of the Primary and Secondary structures of language. Primary Structures often consist of “an initial noun phrase, a verb phrase, and a final noun phrase”; while secondary structures consist of basically everything else in the sentence (all of the extra words used to make language more vivid and colorful). While looking at the second sentence of this passage Hawthorne writes,

“It was carelessly, at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to

look inward, and to whom external matters are of little value

and import unless they bear relation to something within his


The majority of this passage was composed of secondary structures. “It was careless,” was the only primary structure in this sentence. All of the other descriptions used were secondary structure, which helped us to understand the lackadaisical expression Chillingworth displayed when his gaze met that of Hester’s. Within the statement of external matters being of little value, while things are only important if they bear relation to something within his mind, we realize that Chillingworth was simply an intellectual person. We are also led to assume that religion is not an incredibly large factor in his life. The secondary structures helped to make the passage comprehensible and very easy to visualize. Another example of Hawthorne’s use of syntax is in the description of Chillingworth’s first sight of Hester.

“His face darkened with some powerful emotion, which,

nevertheless, he so instantaneously controlled by an effort of

his will, that, save at a single moment, its expression might

have passed for calmness.”

Once again, the majority of this passage was composed of secondary structures. There were two primary structures in this sentence, which consisted of, “His face darkened,” and “He controlled.” All of the other additives are its secondary structure. Within this passage and the previous, the simple primary structure allows us to understand what was occurring, while the secondary structures are what portray the image of cynicism. We are given this view through certain secondary structures and descriptive words, such as the opening one, “His face darkened with some powerful emotion.” We can picture a twisted expression as his face probably does not literally darken but the mood of his expression suddenly becomes very dark as his eyes meet Hester’s. While expressing his knowledge of primary and secondary structures, Hawthorne avoids the running style, or “verb style”, and mainly uses the “tight, rea

oned, intricate, periodic style.” The added language benefits the passage in more ways than one though. Secondary structure avoids the simple, “Dick and Jane language,” while also keeping us, the reader, interested in the detail and picturing it for ourselves.

Imagery is the other strong way in which Hawthorne helps us to depict his images. Imagery is the art of making images, the use of figurative language, and the ability to create mental images. Imagery’s hallmark is based on passion, using several similes and metaphors to create a vision in the readers mind. When placing two images next to each other to create a clear representation, you are probably using either a simile or a metaphor. A simile being when you would use the use of like or as such as in the first quote stated earlier.

“It was carelessly, at first, like a man chiefly accustomed to look inward…”

By using the simple word “like,” you are placing a new image next to the already existing one to explain how carelessly Chillingworth was entering the market place. This next passage, I feel, is an even finer example of Hawthorne’s use of imagery.

“A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a

snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause,

with all if its wreathed intervolutions in open sight.”

This describes when Chillingworths gaze had first met Hesters. With the slight recollection that he had of her, Chillingworth attempts to control his countenance, as he sees Hester standing on the scaffold. Hawthorne gives us the image of a snake gliding swiftly, which is something all of us can easily picture. The simple snake has become the archetypal symbol of evil; starting from the first image of a snake that was introduced to humanity, that of Adam and Eve’s encounter with a serpent. By using this imagery he is allowing us to create a very negative mental of image of Chillingworth. The original lackadaisical gaze has now been transformed to an evil, horrible gawk simply with the use of imgery and syntax. He not only uses a simile in this passage though he uses somewhat of a metaphor as well. A metaphor is avoiding the obvious use of like or as, and simply referring to one thing as another… in order to create a mental picture. Hawthorne describes Chillingworth’s expression as a “writhing horror.” This image leads us to believe that he had a horrible manifestation; the expression itself was not a horror. Generally a metaphor would be more direct and obvious than this subtle example. Such as if someone were to say, “You are such a pig!” They are probably not meaning that you are a short, round, mammal with four legs, and a curly tail that eats out of a trough. They are probably simply trying to express the fact that you have a large appetite. Throughout The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne uses numerous metaphors and similes to enhance our view of what he is trying to express.

Hawthorne is one of the most descriptive, detailed writers to have ever lived. Simply by beginning to read The Scarlet Letter I have already began to realize the great care and perfection that he exhibits in his writing. Imagery and Syntax definitely seem to be Hawthorne’s expertise. With the intricate word order, syntax, and the tremendous amount of comparisons he makes, imagery, he makes us, the reader, forget that we are doing just that, reading. While flipping each page of this novel it feels as if you were there living in the puritan society, feeling and seeing everything that occurs in Hester’s life. This is a very difficult goal to accomplish, but I feel Hawthorne gives a more than adequate representation of each occurrence in this tale.

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