Scarlet Letter-The Forest Essay, Research Paper
The Secret World
In The Scarlet Letter, life is centered around a rigid Puritan society, where one is unable to express his or her innermost thoughts and feelings. Everyone needs the opportunity to express how they truly feel; otherwise the emotions stay bottled up until they become explosive. Puritan society however did not permit this kind of expression. People had to seek alternative means of relieving their personal anguish and distress. In the Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne provides a refuge, in the form of a forest. The forest provides a shelter for the characters, especially Hester and Dimmesdale from the restrictions of daily Puritan life.
In the deep portions of the forest, Hester and Dimmesdale bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest is set away from the village where all forms of civilization vanish. It is a retreat where men as well as women can open up and be themselves. It is here that Dimmesdale can openly acknowledge Hester and his love for her. In the forest the two of them can openly engage in conversation without being preoccupied with the restrictions that the Puritan society has placed on them.
The forest represents freedom. There is no one in the forest to watch for misconduct, so people can do as they please. The wilderness calls to independent spirits such as Hester and Pearl.
When Hester comes across Dimmesdale in the forest, she openly talks to him. She talks of subjects that would never be mentioned in any place other than the forest. “What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other! Hast thou forgotten it”(179)? At first Dimmesdale is shocked by Hester’s statement and he tries to quiet her “Hush, Hester!”(179). He soon realizes however that he is in an environment where he is allowed to openly express his feelings to Her. It would have been inconceivable for Hester and Dimmesdale to have an intimate conversation in the limits of the society in which they lived. Here in the forest, they can be themselves and let go of their reluctance to express their feelings.
In the Puritan society self-reliance is assumed. It is assumed that you need only yourself, and therefore there was no need for a “shoulder to cry on.” It would be unthinkable for Hester and Dimmesdale to comfort each other, not only because of Hester’s sin, but because of the stations in life that each of them held. In the forest, these cares are thrown away. “Be thou strong for me…Advise me what to do” (180). Dimmesdale pleads with Hester to help him. He admits that he cannot deal with this suffering by himself. With this plea, there is a role reversal between him and Hester. He is no longer holding onto the belief that he is above Hester. He is admitting that Hester is an equal to him. This is unheard of in the socially oriented Puritan society. A parishioner could never be above their pastor. A pastor would never go to one of his parishioners for help. Hester assumes a new position of power and gives Dimmesdale encouragement.
Begin all anew! … There is happiness to be enjoyed! There is good to be done! Exchange this false life of thine for a true one. Preach! Write! Act! (181)
Hester tells Dimmesdale to start a new life and to forget the sins of the past. When he replies “there is not the strength or courage left me to venture into the wide, strange, difficult world, alone!” (182), Hester replies that he would not have to go alone for she would go with him! “Thou shalt not go alone” (182). No other place than in the forest could such plans to run away be discussed between the two of them. Only in the forest could a man of such high regard in the community share his innermost thoughts to a woman who had been outcast by society. Only in the forest could such an event take place.
The forest brings out the natural appearance and natural personality of Hester. A new person is revealed as Hester takes off her cap and lets down her hair. Once again the reader can view the true Hester, who had been hidden by the shame of the scarlet letter. The Hester that is revealed in the forest is the same woman that was seen in the beginning of the novel. She once again became the beautiful, attractive person who is not afraid to show her hair and to display her beauty. The sunlight that once seemed to run away from her, now sought her out.
Her sex, her youth, and the whole richness of her beauty, came back from what men call the irrevocable past and clustered themselves, with her maiden hope, and a happiness before unknown, within the magic circle of this hour (186).
Dimmesdale also comes back to life for a short period of time. Hester’s talk of leaving Boston had given him hope for the future. He now had energy, something that he had not had in quite a long time.
Do I feel joy again? . . . Me thought the germ of it was dead in me! O Hester, thou are my better angel! I seem to have flung myself- sick, sin-stained, and sorrow blackened-down upon these forest leaves, and to have risen up all made anew, and with new powers to glorify Him that hath been merciful! This is already the better life! Why did we not find it sooner (185).
The Puritan society can be unsympathetic to one’s inner feelings. Hawthorne created the forest to give the characters a place to escape. It was a place where they could express their true thoughts and feelings, and not be worried about how society would look upon them. There are no restraints in the natural world. People are free to do and act as they please.