Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
Freedom within a Forest
Often in society people are placed under a microscope and criticized, punished, and despised for their individual choices and flaws. In Nathaniel Hawthorne?s, The Scarlet Letter, life is centered around a rigid Puritan society in which one is unable to divulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Every human being needs the opportunity to express how he or she truly feels; otherwise the emotions are bottled up until they become so compacted they erupt. Unfortunately, Puritan society does not permit this kind of expression; thus characters must seek out alternate means to relieve their personal anguishes and desires. Luckily for Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl, and Roger Chillingworth, Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious forest. The forest is used to provide a shelter for members of society in need of a refuge from daily life. The Scarlet Letter expresses how certain characters live and deal with choices they have made and the consequences following their actions. Of these characters, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and his accomplice in sin, Hester Prynne are doomed to wear their own marks of punishment for eternity. The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne, ignoring their religious faith, fall blindly in to one night of temptation thus producing a daughter, and simultaneously concealing half of the child?s identity to protect her father?s respectable position and flawless reputation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although when Roger Chillingworth appears back in Hester?s life on the day of her public humiliation punishment on the scaffold, she keeps his true identity a secret even though his ultimate goal is to destroy Dimmesdale once he finds out who he is. In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the pivotal characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest track leads away from the settlement out into the wilderness where all signs of civilization vanish. The forest is precisely the escape from strict mandates of law and religion, to where men, as well as women, can openly be themselves, acknowledge and confront issues that would not otherwise be discussed, and rationalize their deed of sin.
The forest itself is the very embodiment of freedom. No one watches in the woods to report misbehavior because it is here that people may do as they wish without answering for their actions. It is here in the forest that Hester feels most comfortable and is able to show a side of her that she keeps hidden in front of most people ever since she was excluded from their society. ?Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods (196).? From one sinful night of passion, destiny is altered and reroute, thus complicating two lives, but at the same time intertwining them together. Obviously Hester and Dimmesdale can not be together under the circumstances of his position in the community and the sin that they committed and now are hiding. ?So speaking, she undid the clasp that fastened the scarlet letter, and, taking it from her bosom, threw it to a distance among the withered leaves (198).?
Although a simple feat, removing her clasp and letting her hair down, the real Hester whom has been hiding beneath a shield of shame emerges once more. Tearing off and throwing down the scarlet letter that jails her soul, Hester longs for the sorrowful emblem to wither and die such as the leaves that have exceeded their life and now rest in their grave underneath the feet of those who walk the forest floors. With the natural beauty that embalms her, she relives for a short time as she and Dimmesdale converse in the woods and for only a short while the two share a rare moment. Coming to life once more, Hester awakens, recalling the feelings and emotions of her past before her punishment went into effect. ?All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees (199).? The peaceful refuge conceals the ?star-crossed? lovers and for a time allows them to be together.
Puritan society is harsh and crippling to Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, and their daughter Pearl. The forest was created to give them a place to escape this cruel community and express their true thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. It is here in the forest that Hester openly acknowledges Dimmesdale and her true love for him. ?With a sudden desperate tenderness, she threw her arms around him, and pressed his head against her bosom; little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter (191).? Without being preoccupied with the constraints that Puritan society places on them, Hester is able to confess her feelings for Dimmesdale even though it is useless since nothing can come of it. The forest itself is free. To independent spirits like Hester Prynne?s, the wilderness beckons her and this is why she acts as she does in the secured woods. Truly, Hester takes advantage of her opportunity when Arthur Dimmesdale appears walking by. She openly talks with him about subjects that would never be mentioned in any place other than the forest and he responds because he realizes the power of being within the forest and knows that he can openly discuss what is on his mind with her here. ?I do forgive you, Hester,? replied the minister, at length, with a deep utterance out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger.? I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both! (191).? The thought of Hester and Dimmesdale having an intimate conversation in the confines of the society in which they live is incomprehensible. Yet here in the forest, they can throw away all reluctance, and finally be themselves, under an umbrella of security. ?Give up this name of Arthur Dimmesdale and make thyself another, and a high one, such as thou canst wear without fear or shame (194).? In this Puritan society, self-reliance is heavily stressed among many other things. However, self-reliance is more than stressed, it is assumed. It is assumed that you need only yourself, and therefore should hold no emotional necessity for a “shoulder to cry on”. Such this may be the case, it is not the truth. Once again, for people in the stations of life which Hester and Dimmesdale hold, it is unthinkable for them to comfort each other. In the forest however, these cares are tossed away.
Forgetting their cares, Hester and Dimmesdale continue to speak freely and meet in the forest. However, the relationship that they form is questionable if seen by prying eyes of the Puritan community. ?Arthur Dimmesdale gazed into Hester?s face with a look in which hope and joy shone out, indeed, but with fear betwixt them and a kind of horror at her boldness, who had spoken what he vaguely hinted at, but dared not speak (195).? When Dimmesdale expresses to Hester that he can not flee from Chillingworth?s hand of revenge, Hester suggests that they go to Europe to get away from him and the harsh society that dictates to them, controlling every step they take. The openness and freedom that the forest represents is that over the strict, repressive element of Puritan civilization. It is here that Hester and Dimmesdale find each other once more and decide what shall become of each other. ?Never, never!? whispered she. ?What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other! Hast thou forgotten it? (191).? In the eyes of Hester and Dimmesdale, their act was not immoral. They both agree that their act had a ?consecration of its own? and seemed to follow Nature?s law. Hester and Dimmesdale speak of this in the forest because it seems the only true place where passion and honesty reside. ?Thou shalt not go alone!? answered she, in a deep whisper. Then all was spoken (195).? It is only fitting therefor, that Hester and Arthur decide to leave this place and all the bad memories behind them by fleeing their religious persecution by going to Europe. It is only away from the colony and critical eyes that Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale may be a family and wipe away all of their hurtful memories.
With memories there comes feelings, which are triggered by emotions. There are no restraints in the natural world because it is just that, natural. No intrusion from people means no disturbance in the natural order. Hester and Dimmesdale may be of a faith that requires much out of them, but in the end they are just human. One of the greatest flaws in human beings are their emotions. Emotions allow them to feel mortal in a society where weakness is discouraged almost as much as sins themselves.
?Make way, good people, make way, in the King?s name!? cried he. ?Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman and child may have fair sight of her brave apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian. A blessing on the righteous Colony of the Massachusetts, where iniquity is dragged out into sunshine! Come along, Madam Hester, and show your scarlet letter in the market place!? (52)
Learning by example is the reoccurring theme in Hawthorne?s tale. It is the way of the land and Hester Prynne receives her lesson first hand. The order of displaying the stigma on her blouse is not the real issue at hand, for it is Pearl who is her walking, talking punishment. Hester was flawed, but with time she grew wiser and was able to take her mistakes and turn them around to use her knowledge to her advantage. ?Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers-stern and wild ones-and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss (196).? ?She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide their fate (196).? Hester is a leaf blowing in the breeze. She is an individual who thinks for herself and will not succumb to the demands of the smothering Puritan Colony. Truly a force to be reckoned with, Hester Prynne is a work of nature, not being totally traditional, but always working out in the best way. Michel Eyquem de Montaigne stated it most emphatically when he said, ?Let us permit nature to have her way: she understands her business better than we do.?