Scarlet Letter 3 Essay, Research Paper
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, life centers around a rigid Puritan society in which one is unable to indulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Every human being needs the opportunity to express how he or she truly feels, otherwise the emotion builds up until they become volatile. Unfortunately, Puritan society allows no expression of this kind, so the characters have to seek alternate means in order to relieve their personal anguishes and desires. Luckily, at least for the four main characters, Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a kind of shelter for members of society in need of a refuge from daily Puritan life.
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. This secluded trail is the escape route from strict mandates of law and religion to a refuge where men, as well as women, are able to open up and be themselves. It is here [the forest] that Dimmesdale openly acknowledges Hester and his love for her. It is also here, in the forest, that Hester does the same for Dimmesdale. The forest is where the two of them engage in conversation, without the constraints that Puritan society places on them.
The forest is the very embodiment of freedom. Nobody watches in the woods to report misbehavior, thus it is here that people may do as they wish. To independent spirits, such as Hester Prynne’s, the wilderness beckons her: 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 your 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 (Hawthorne 186). Truly, Hester takes advantage of this, as soon as Arthur Dimmesdale appears. She openly talks with Dimmesdale about unmentionable subjects which seem inappropriate in any place other than the forest: What we did…had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said to each other! (Hawthorne 194). This exclamation shocks Dimmesdale. He tells Hester to stop and quiet down, but he eventually realizes that he is in an environment where he can express his emotions. The thought of Hester and Dimmesdale in an intimate conversation in the confines of the society in which they live is incomprehensible. Yet here, in the forest, they throw away all reluctance and act as themselves under the umbrella of security which exists there in the forest.
In Puritan society, people stress self reliance, among many other things. However, the people more than stress self reliance- they assume it. The Puritan people assume that you need only yourself and God, and therefore have no need for emotional necessity, no need to have a shoulder to cry on. Once again, for people in the stations of life which Hester and Dimmesdale hold, it is unthinkable for them to comfort each other. Yet, in the forest, they toss these cares away: Be thou strong for me, Dimmesdale pleads, Advise me what to do (Hawthorne 187). His request is a cry for help from Dimmesdale. He admits that he is unable to go through this ordeal [the guilt of adultry on his heart] by himself. With this plea comes an interesting sort of role-reversal. People believe that he is morally higher than Hester, but here, he admits that she is an equal, or even above him. These political positions are possibly one of the reasons that Puritans refuse to accept these emotional displays- because the social status is their basis of society. Hester assumes her new position of power and gives a heartfelt, moving speech. The eloquence of her words is simply beautiful, and the most powerful statement that she makes. Hester’s speech turns out to bear a remarkable resemblance to one of Dimmesdale’s sermons: Begin all anew! … Preach! Write! Act! (Hawthorne 188). The questions that she asks are also like the articulate questions which Dimmesdale soon poses during his sermons. The answer is obvious, yet upon closer examination they seem to give a surprise result: 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 (Hawthorne 187). The title of this chapter, The Pastor and His Parishioner, reveals that the roles of Hester and Dimmesdale switch. There is no place else that an incongruity such as this occurs, but in the forest. There is no other platform for a man of high regard in the community to pour his soul out to a woman that the same community shuns for a grave sin.
Another reason that the forest brings comfort to the Puritan people is the pity it seems to have for them: Such was the sympathy of Nature that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjected by human law, nor illumined by higher truth (Fogle 308). The forest s sees only truth, the sadness of people s lives, and ignores their rank in society and moral standards. The forest pities Dimmesdale and Hester and their troubles, …it [the forest] sympathizes with the forlorn lovers and gives them hope (Fogle 308). Dimmesdale and Hester are able to say what they need to say to each other. They talk with no one to watch them, critisize their feelings and persacute their sins. The forest looks on with eyes unclouded (Princess Mononoke). The forest has no concept of holiness or evil, or of political power and moral beliefs. It sees only what matters, which is the feelings of others, their guilt and their sadness. The forest s sympathy for everyone makes itself the perfect place of refuge for a person living in a strictly religious town, such as that of the Puritain s.
Finally, the forest brings out the natural appearance and personality of the people who use it correctly. When Hester takes off her cap and unloosens her hair, the reader see a new person: …in her rendezvous with Dimmesdale, she removed the scarlet letter, and shook her hair loose her hair, she was at once transformed (Hoffman 344). They [the readers] see the real Hester who escapes her sheild of shame. Her eyes grow radiant and a flush comes to her cheek. The reader recognizes her as the Hester from Chapter One. The beautiful, attractive person who shows her hair and displays her beauty. The sunlight, which previously shuns Hester, now seeks her out, and the forest seems to glow. Dimmesdale has also come back to life, if only for a short time, and he is now hopeful and energetic. The now reader sees, for the first time, a liveliness from Dimmesdale, but he never displays this excitement ever again.
Puritan society is harsh and cripples one’s inner self. Hawthorne creates the forest to give the characters a place to escape and express their true thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. It is here that thoughts and ideas flow as endlessly as a babbling brook (Hawthorne 188), and emotion is as wild as the forest itself. The strict Puritan restraints never exist in the natural world, simply because it is natural. No intrusion from people means no disturbance in the natural order, and therefore serves its inhabitants and brings them away from their world into an older one. The forest is an enchanting world in which anyone from anywhere are able to feel free and be themselves.
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