The Scarlet Letter Essay Research Paper When

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.


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