The Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
When Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the Scarlet Letter he based it on
a rigid Puritan society. Such a society was grounded on the belief that
God was their master and they lived under his watch and command. A
puritan society is one in which the individual is unable to divulge his or
her innermost thoughts and secrets. That was a major problem for the
main characters of the story as their lives were occupied with numerous
issues. As they were unable to release such secrets in public they were
forced to go elsewhere to discharge their personal sufferings and
desires. For the four main characters, Hester, Chillingsworth, Dimmesdale
and Pearl the forest symbolized a sanctuary or place of refuge from the
harsh Puritan world around them.
The forest was seen to be a dark and mysterious place, one where most
did not venture. The forest was thought to be home of the black man and
his corrupt followers. A meeting spot where they held immoral
ceremonies and participated in unrighteous acts. Yet to Hester, Pearl and
Dimmesdale the forest was a place of refuge, where they could be themselves
and not have to worry about acting like the rest of the Puritans. Not
only did they feel free but also they became in a sense, new people.
When Hester is first released from prison she steps into the world
with the sunshine beaming down upon her. Sunny rays would seem to most as
a sign of a fresh beginning, yet to Hester the sun’s only purpose was
to “reveal the scarlet letter on her breast.”(75) The sun’s purpose is
similar to that of the townspeople. They put the letter upon her breast
for all to see what evil sin she had committed and the sun’s beams were
present only to accentuate this. Despite all the townspeople looking
down upon her Hester refuses to give up, moving only to the edge of town
instead of far away. Here she lives with her daughter Pearl in a small
thatch cottage. They live near the forest and frequently spend time
there; this links them to the mystical forest and away from the town and
its people therefore “a mystic shadow of suspicion immediately attached
itself to the spot.”(78) There seemed to be a presence around her that
made everyone know something was different and shady about her.
“Children, too young to comprehend wherefore this woman should be out from the
sphere of human charities, would creep nigh enough, [and] would scamper
off with a strange, contagious fear.”(78)
When Dimmesdale gets sick he goes under the care of Chillingsworth.
Chillingsworth, a scholar and physician, proceeds to give earthly
medicine to Dimmesdale in hopes of curing him, using plants and weeds from the
forest to do so. Because the forest is seen as a place of freedom to
the characters it would be assumed that products from its rich soil would
be good for the body and soul. Yet when administered by the physician
in the town away from the forest they take the opposite effect.
Dimmesdale does not proceed to get better instead his condition worsens. While
the herbs are beneficial in their natural setting, in the hard Puritan
community they no longer have their original effect. Another thing that
reflects this is when Chillingsworth takes Dimmesdale for walks in the
forest “for the sake of the minister’s health, [they mingled] various
talk with the plash and murmur of the waves.” (119) They became two
carefree men enjoying a beautiful day in the midst of the tree’s cover, yet
back in town that carefree attitude was replaced with the dark, intense
watch of Chillingsworth.
The forest was seen as the very essence of nature. There is no watcher
in the woods to report misbehavior; thus it is in the forest that
people may do as they wish, and act as who they really are. This is true, as
it is the chosen place for Dimmesdale’s “meditative walks.”(178) He
chose the forest to wander into, as it was the one place he could be alone
with his innermost thoughts and feelings.