Scarlet Essay, Research Paper
Puritans, or the pure ones, were English Protestants in the 16th century who enforced strict laws, principles, discipline, and religion. They strongly believed in leading simple, ordinary, religious lives. Therefore, a Puritanistic society would not tolerate any complex matters of self- expression or allow any violations of laws that would upset their pure way of living. In the novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses nature as a shelter from the strict mandates of the Puritan lifestyle.
Flowers, particularly roses, are used to symbolize wild passion and freedom in the novel. One can see the majesty of nature through the beauty of flowers. The novel first starts off by describing the ugly, weather-stained prison door and flows into an eloquent description of an out of place rosebush growing alongside the prison. The rosebush is described as, delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him (43). This passage illustrates nature as a glimmer of hope for the prisoners who enter the door. The rosebush, a symbol of passion and freedom of nature, can be found outside the prison door, a representation of the strict nature of society, to show the lack of Puritan control over the untamed wilderness. Pearl, Hester Prynne s daughter also symbolizes wild passion like the rosebush. Pearl is always referred to as a flower or part of nature, and is pure at heart. When inside the governor s house, Pearl can only look at a reflection of herself, because everything else in the house seems polluted and fake. She looks out a window overlooking the garden, Pearl, seeing the rose-bushes, began to cry for a red rose, and would not be pacified (99). Pure-hearted Pearl, feeling entrapped by the secret of deceit in the house, yearns to be out by the rosebush, where she belongs with the shelter of freedom that nature bestows.
The herbs and roots that grow in the forest can also be used to show a longing for liberty. The jailer, Master Backett, first introduces Roger Chillingworth in the book. The physician is described as, A man of skill in all Christian modes of physical science, and likewise familiar with whatever the savage people could teach, in respect to medicinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest (65). This quotation proves that Chillingworth, a respectable Puritan scholar, uses the wild herbs of the savages instead of the average physician s medicine. For instance, Chillingworth pretends to be a model Puritan, when really his practice with wild herbs shows a sparkle of mystery and unruliness of a common Puritan lifestyle. He is even found running to the forest for medicine. One example of this is when someone observed that, he gathered herbs, and the blossoms of wild-flowers and dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest-trees, like one acquainted with hidden virtues in what was valueless to common eyes (113). Chillingworth is found running off to the sheltered forest, where he can be himself, and not what society expects him to be. The word, hidden, even implies what he does in the forest is secretive and peculiar, and not what the common Puritan eyes would expect. The forest itself is free, so Chillingworth can truly be himself.
Hawthorne creates the forest to give the characters a place to escape and express their true emotions. In Puritan belief, the forest is considered evil and immoral. However, Hawthorne illustrates the forest as a gem of nature. It is here that Hester and Dimmesdale can openly engage in conversation without worrying about the restrictions of Puritan society. Sitting beneath the boughs of the trees, Hester and Dimmesdale are free to talk about subjects they would never mention any other place. Here, seen only by her eyes, Arthur Dimmesdale, false to God and man, might be, for one moment, true (185)! The forest shelters Dimmesdale and Prynne with honesty and freedom, and for once Dimmesdale feels purity and truth. He does not have to think about holding his hand over his heart when he is for a few moments cradled in an umbrella of security. Prynne can remove her scarlet letter, take down her hair, and be her own self again. In the heart of the forest, Pearl plays beside a babbling brook. All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelation on the smooth surface of a pool (175). The brook is said to have heard all sins that have been revealed in the forest. The forest is used as a refuge from the rules and order in Puritan society. Only in the forest can the truth and misdemeanors be uttered, for nature offers a security of liberty.
Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates nature as an escape for self- expression. Through passionate flowers, Hawthorne portrays the lack of Puritan control over the wild spirit of nature. Through wild herbs he shows the need to escape from a world of order to a natural world. Through the forest he gives the characters a place to run off to where their true emotions can be expressed. Here stories of sin are whispered to a babbling brook, and passions as wild as a rosebush by a prison door are ignited. Nature is used as a shelter of freedom from the strict laws one must uphold in Puritan life.