Nathaniel Hawthorne?S “The Scarlet Letter” Essay, Research Paper
The Signs of an Author
Symbols add so much to an authors work. To be able to play the game of figuring out those symbols is on reason most readers pick up certain author’s writings. Hawthorne is one of those writers. In this book we are showered with wonderful symbols and clues to conjure into our interpretation of the story.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, life is centered around a rigid, Puritanistic-structured society in which one is unable to divulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets. We get the honor of feeling those right along with the characters. Every human being needs the opportunity to express how they truly feel, or the emotion is bottled up until it becomes volatile. Beings our puzzle is placed in a puritanical setting the author gives us an inside ear to all of the “naughty” conversations and doings that we wouldn’t see if we were in the era along with the characters. A secret hiding place, if you will, for them to divulge the enter most wrongdoings in the novel. Luckily, for the four main characters, and us Hawthorne gives us a forest much like something out of one of Poe’s great gruesome poems. A dark and mysterious dwelling, and symbol, for the characters to fins sanctuary from the harshness of the society in which they live. From one of the scholarly articles we may point this point of the story out in Hawthorn’s own life. It was said that Hawthorne had an out look on women that was much unlike the “norm” in his day… He was in love with a woman whom he respected and loved as an equal, much like Hester Prinn is loved in “The Scarlet Letter.” “The article has retrieved a quote from Hawthorne which states, “I have always felt your letters were too sacred to read in the midst of people…” (1)
We watch so many characters reveal so many secrets in this forest that is why I the forest is the most important symbol in “The Scarlet Letter.” The hushed forest where none can be heard by the world hold all that we have in the story to make sense to us. The forest holds no religion, no law, and no harsh reality of right and wrong for the characters to be judged on. We have the omniscient powers of seeing all of the occurrences in the forest that hands us the insight that the other characters in the novel do not have.
Here Dimmesdale tells Hester of his would be persecuted love, if the world were to know about it, for her. Hester in the tree’s protection can do the same for Dimmesdale. It‘s here too that man and woman can hold one another’s words and actions as honesty. In the great majickal surroundings none have to worry about society and it’s strictness or hate. Freedom is held in this place, there are no sheriffs or noblemen to attack or persecute anyone, just the open air to take truth to one another’s souls.
“Throw off the shackles of law and religion. What good have they done you anyway? Look at you, a young and vibrant woman, grown old before you time. And no wonder, hemmed in, as you are, on every side by prohibitions. Why, you can hardly walk without tripping over one commandment or another. Come to me, and be masterless.” (p186) There are no commandments in nature only the animal like instincts and wants of the human beings flesh. The flowers and leaves will not tell, and the ground only absorbs footsteps.
“What we did…” she reminds him, “had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said to each other!”(p. 186) In this scene Dimmsdale tells Hester to hush, he didn’t want anyone to hear what it was that she was saying. Then after her look he realized what God (Hawthorne) had given him to stand with Hester in. It was then that he truly felt the freedom of his surroundings.
“Hawthorne brings Pearl and Dimmesdale together in a cause-effect relationship in the great forest scene, the critical stage of the communication phase between the two characters. (540) Pearl approaches Hester as a real-child, she demands that her mother pin the discarded A back on her breast. Pearl’s actions bring immediate results from Hester who returns the A to her chest, and the mother and child relationship is restored. Pearl does not speak to Dimmesdale in a human voice and he himself uses the word preternatural to describe her agitation. (542)” Another VERY important happening in the forest of truth. (3)
It is here in the forest that all of the “meat” of the story takes place. Everything that is accept the cruelties of the outside hypocrites and haters. In the forest they can be with one another’s true self without stones and burnings.
In the forest, we see care for one another and not care for laws, “Be thou strong for me,” Dimmesdale pleads. “Advise me what to do.”(p. 187) When he asks her to help him we see Hester take on a new role in the story. She becomes the strong one and he then is weak. This goes back too, to the article where we are shown Hawthorns love for a lady that weakened him and gave him an upper hand within the relationship between man and woman. When Dimmesdale asks for help, he is silently admitting that she is an equal and is strong in her convictions. She then uplifts him in words much like his own in sermons. “Begin all anew! … Preach! Write! Act!”(p. 188) She is taking a stand!
“Whither leads yonder forest-track? Backward to the settlement, thou sayest! Yea; but onward, too! Deeper it goes, and deeper into the wilderness… until, some few miles hence, the yellow leave will show no vestige of the white man’s tread.” (p. 187)
Man has tread in the forest for many things food, warmth from wood, herbal medicines for healing and (in this case) verbal medicines for the healing of the soul.
Where could man and woman unmarried carry on such unspeakable acts. Where could man and illegitimate child meet and feel no remorse. What would the characters do if there were no refuge to seek with one another? Where to escape to? Nowhere else but in the forest could such events occur.
Lastly we can view in the forest natural presence and natural beauty by those who utilize it in the story. Hester removes her cap and lets loose her person and her hair we see the true human being not the shackled servant to shame. Her comes to life with color and we see her again from chapter 1. Dimmesdale has taken on an energy as well in the forest for the last time in his life.
This is one of the most hidden symbols or most over looked occurrences in the entire book. Hawthorne gives the characters refuge in natural surroundings and a place to give the reader the inside story. We can all look and see that YES the “A” is a definite symbol or that young Pearl too is a blatant symbol. To have something stitched to your garb is very in the open and obvious. We all know why it was put there and we all see how others react to it being there. Pearl, the young daughter of lustful sin is a very apparent symbol. The jewel of that which was cracked open from an abyss. We see a man of the church, supposedly righteous and chaste, who gave himself fully to a married woman, and this brought about a jewel, a Pearl.
So yes, the other bits of symbolism that are most commonly talked about are somewhat obvious. The forest is one though that most can see but do not put much effort of thought into. It, to some, is simply another setting in the story. The forest is where it all began, the sin, the deceit, the lust, and the love, the child’s beginning and the main characters endings all had direct relationships to the forest.
1.Norko, Julie. “Hawthorn’s Love Letters: The Threshold World of Sophie Peabody.” ATQ (June 1993):127. 16 October 2000
2.Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Scarlet Letter.” P. 187
3. McNamara, Anne M. The Character of Flame: The Function of Pearl in The Scarlet Letter.” American Literature, Vol. 27(Mar. 1955-Jan.1956), 537-553.