Essay On The Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
The Road of a Religion
Throughout The Scarlet Letter, author Nathaniel Hawthorne continuously uses the
image of a road or path as a metaphor for the limited individual freedom within the Puritan
religion. The road, an entity that demands adherence to a dictated direction, is similar to
the structure of Puritanism, which defines a set of strict moral laws that must be followed.
On pages 159-160, the passage that begins with ?The road? and ends with ?…find them
bright,? is an ideal example of Hawthorne?s use of the road as a metaphor. Hawthorne?s
diction in this passage also suggests that the physical and therefore metaphoric Puritan
road is constructed in such a way that makes deviancy almost inevitable. In this passage
Hester and Pearl walk on a physical road whose qualities make it difficult to follow. In the
same way, Puritans must traverse a religion that is inherently flawed and often leads the
individual astray from it?s path.
Hawthorne employs the symbolic connotations of a road or path in order to
demonstrate the strict religious beliefs of the Puritan life. Roads are traditionally used to
symbolize something that is planed out, easy to follow, or hard to stray off from. In this
passage, Hawthorne wisely uses a road to portray the Puritan lifestyle that both Hester
and Pearl are a part of. The idea of uniformity was practiced throughout the Puritan
community. Puritans were required to follow a strict set of religious laws and ideals to
stay pure. To deviate from these laws and ideals broke the uniformity, and therefore was
sinful and was punished to a great extent. The idea of uniformity is identical to the
connotations of a road or path. A road, just like the Puritan society, is uniform; it?s
distinguishable, planed out, paved, easy to follow, and it doesn?t change. Another main
idea within the Puritan community was the disallowance of toleration. They did not
tolerate any behavior outside their ideals and laws because it broke the uniformity of the
religion. Again, Hawthorne uses the metaphor of a road to portray this idea within the
Puritan society. He suggests the idea that everything outside the path is evil and should
not be tolerated. For a road is meant to be followed, and whatever lies outside the
established boundaries of a road is irrelevant to one?s destination. This road that
Hawthorne creates effectively demonstrates the idea of a strict Puritan society.
The passage on page 159-160 demonstrates not only the path the Puritans are
made to follow, but also what is forbidden to them while they are restricted to the path.
Traditionally, a forest or woods are used to symbolize the wild and untamed, and the
inhabitants are usually depicted as savages or outlaws. Hawthorne uses the forest to
depict the things that Puritans are meant to avoid and that are forbidden; things that will
make them sinful or turn them into savages or outlaws. In the beginning of the passage,
Hawthorne describes the ?mystery of the primeval forest.?(159) He states that the forest
is a ?mystery?, which contradicts what the Puritans want in their society — uniformity.
The forest symbolizes what they don?t want, a change from the path that everyone must
follow. Change is not tolerated in their religion, it is ?evil.? The forest represents this
change; it is wild, and untamed — not uniform. To become curious and want to explore,
and stray off the path and venture into the ?mysterious forest,? would be the ultimate sin.
The strict laws and rules within the Puritan religion cause the Puritans to want an
alternative to the path. The untamed mysterious forest represents their alternative because
it deviates from the norm. Hawthorne creates the metaphor of the forest to help us
understand and clarify why the path is so difficult to follow.
Hawthorne not only suggests that the road is a metaphor for the limited individual
freedom within the Puritan society, but that the construction of the road makes deviancy
almost inevitable. In this passage he describes the road as being ?straggled? and ?hemmed
so narrowly.? (159) The word ?straggled? suggests that there are irregular twists and
turns in the path. A path that winds irregularly and is cut ?so narrowly? is difficult to
follow; there is no set pattern, and it is hard to maneuver. If the path were predictable and
easy to traverse then the Puritans could clearly decipher each step necessary to stay on the
path that leads to a pure life, and not worry about committing immoral conduct.
Hawthorne craftily uses the words ?straggled? and narrow to metaphorically suggest the
difficulty one experiences trying to stay on the path. The difficulty in staying on the path
increases with other factors and it makes deviancy within the Puritan community almost
Hawthorne uses sunlight as a symbol to show how the path is inherently difficult to
stay on. He states that the forest ?disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky
above.?(159) Hawthorne describes how the forest shields Hester and Pearl?s view of the
sky, and its foliage allows only a small amount of light to reach the path. To find direction
from a very brief view of light would be challenging. Thus the level of difficulty in staying
on the path increases. The word ?glimpse? implies that Hester and Pearl are allowed only
momentary peaks at the sunlight. Hawthorne?s use of ?imperfect? shows that the sunlight
is weak. Thus he has not only made the view of the sky, that is, the presence of light,
momentary, he has further diminished it?s usefulness by saying that the momentary light is
of poor quality, thus making the path even harder to follow.
Hawthorne proceeds to describe the ?sportive sunlight? pervading the path. (160)
Through the use of the word ?sportive,? he suggests that the light is playful, and that the
movement of the sunlight is unpredictable. For optimum clarity on the path, Hester and
Pearl need the light to shine directly in front of them, to illuminate each step, and guide
them through the sharp turns that the straggled path may take. Unfortunately, the light is
playful and, thus, unpredictable and unreliable. To stay on this path of moral conduct is a
commitment that all Puritans make when choosing their religion. To stray off the path
would be a moral sin and cause one?s soul to become impure. Hawthorne?s use of the
lack of sufficient sunlight as an obstacle on the path of a successful Puritan life shows how
Puritans have a difficult time following this path without light to guide them.
In the passage in pages 159-160 Hawthorne uses a road or path as a metaphor to
represent the strict religious ideals of Puritanism and the limited individual freedom one
has within that religion. Although a road connotes images of being straight, easy to
follow, paved, planed out, and hard to stray from, Hawthorne uses words such as
?straggled? and narrow to describe the path and explain how Puritanism is not as easy to
follow as it seems. He creates another metaphor using the idea of the forest, which is
what lies outside the path, to describe the tempting alternative to following this difficult
path. Hawthorne?s purpose in this passage is to illuminate the flaws in the Puritan path
that make deviancy, like the act committed by Hester Prynne, almost unavoidable. He
stresses the difficulties in the actual construction of the path, as well as the temptations
that lie just outside its narrow boundaries, in order to make his statement on the flaws of
the Puritan religion.