Main Themes of the Novel The The Scarlet Letter

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In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne tells the story of an affair between Hester Prynne and Rev. -Arthur Dimmesdale two members of the Puritan community of Massachusetts Bay Colony during the 1640s. When Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s long-lost husband, arrives in the colony and discovers the affair, he is consumed by a desire for revenge. For Hawthorne, revenge is an all consuming cancer, destroying the mind, body, and spirit. In the devastation it creates, revenge proves itself possibly one of the greatest sins described in the novel.

Another theme is the sense of sin as one of the major themes that appear from the first chapter from the discovery of the story and the scarlet letter. However, not only is sin mean an act against religious norms, but also a rebellion against social traditions. The passionate act of Hester and Dimmesdale which is considered as adultery, and when caught Hester is sentenced. However, Dimmesdale remains free due to his position, status, and influence. This sense of sin in the case of Dimmesdale becomes a psychological guilt. He goes through very intense depression and trauma to stay silent and to save himself. Therefore, the sense of sin is the major theme of the novel.

The Scarlet letter was set in the 1600s. Boston was founded in 1630, and by the 1640s there were about 25 000 English settlers in the area. Many of these individuals had left England because they were dissatisfied with the Anglican Church and sought religious freedom for their varied beliefs. Once they immigrated to the Colonies, Puritans were able to set up a society where they could make values like modesty and obedience central in the community. Hawthorne is quite specific about establishing the setting of the novel. In the frame narrative of the “Custom House” preface, the narrator discovers a document which specifies that Hester “flourished during the period between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of the seventeenth century.” In the first chapter, the prison house is described as it was “some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town.”

Hawthorne includes fairly detailed descriptions of the physical surroundings in order to illustrate the theme of nature versus society. For example, in the scene at the Governor’s mansion, he focuses on how Governor Bellingham “had planned his new habitation after the residences of gentlemen of fair estate in his native land” by describing details like the stone towers, the beautiful books, portraits and even a suit of armor. This setting highlights the power of tradition, government, and the rule of law. Hawthorne also spends a lot of time describing the forest where the lovers eventually meet, and showing it as a more benevolent setting. The sunshine, the breeze, the babbling brook, and the woodland creatures all seem sympathetic and welcoming to a group of characters who are often ostracized in other settings. The contrasting settings of nature and civilization reveal the central tension that makes it impossible for Hester and Dimmesdale to live a happy life together.

Even though The Scarlet Letter is about Hester Prynne, the book is not so much a consideration of her innate character as it is an examination of the forces that shape her and the transformations those forces effect. We know very little about Hester before her affair with Dimmesdale and her public shaming. The early chapters of the book suggest that, prior to her marriage, Hester was a strong-willed and impetuous young woman. The fact that she has an affair also suggests that she once had a passionate nature. But it is what happens after Hester’s affair that makes her into the woman with who the reader is familiar with. Shamed and alienated from the rest of the community, Hester becomes contemplative. She speculates on human nature, social organization, and larger moral questions. Hester also becomes a kind of compassionate maternal figure as a result of her experiences. Hester is also maternal with respect to society: she cares for the poor and brings them food and clothing. By the end of the novel , Hester has become a protofeminist mother figure to the women of the community. The shame attached to her scarlet letter is long gone. Women recognize that her punishment stemmed in part from the town fathers’ sexism.

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Hester’s daughter, Pearl, functions primarily as a symbol. She is quite young during most of the events of this novel and her real importance lies in her ability to provoke the adult characters in the book. She asks them pointed questions and draws their attention to the denied or overlooked truths of the adult world. In general, children in The Scarlet Letter are portrayed as more perceptive and more honest than adults, and Pearl is the most perceptive of them all.

Pearl makes us constantly aware of her mother’s scarlet letter and of the society that produced it. From an early age, she fixates on the emblem. Pearl’s innocent, or perhaps intuitive, comments about the letter raise crucial questions about its meaning. Similarly, she inquires about the relationships between those around her, most important the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale, and offers perceptive critiques of them. Pearl provides the text’s harshest, and most penetrating, judgment of Dimmesdale’s failure to admit to his adultery. Once her father’s identity is revealed, Pearl is no longer needed in this symbolic capacity; at Dimmesdale’s death she becomes fully “human,” leaving behind her otherworldliness and her preternatural vision.

The Scarlet Letter is a novel about what happens to a strict, tight-knit community when one of its members commits a societal taboo, and how shame functions in both the public and private realms of life. In telling the story of the adulterous but virtuous Hester Prynne; her weak, tormented lover Dimmesdale; and her vengeance-minded husband, Chillingworth, Hawthorne explores ideas about the individual versus the group and the nature of sin. The first chapter introduces the main character, Hester, emerging from the prison wearing a dress marked with a scarlet letter “A,” and carrying her baby, Pearl. By opening the action of the book after Hester and Dimmesdale’s infidelity has already taken place, Hawthorne establishes the themes of the book as sin, guilt, and remorse, rather than forbidden passion.

After the initial framing device of the introduction, told from the point of view of two hundred years after the events positioning the story as an embroidered version of true events. The narrator maintains this “based on a true story” effect by referring to rumors and reports handed down through the years, such as when he describes the mark on Dimmesdale’s chest, saying “according to these highly respectable witnesses.” He explains several of the theories of how the mark could have gotten there, but does not identify any of them as being the correct answer. By not always providing a single, fixed explanation, Hawthorne raises questions about the nature of truth and storytelling, as well as peoples’ tendency to fabricate stories out of real life events.

The Scarlet Letter is a novel that deals with the never-ending theme of sin and revenge. Throughout history, people have committed all types of sins, and whether they are major or minor, people have been punished. In The Scarlet Letter we get to experience these themes through well written text and imagery written by hawthorne, we also get to read about unique characters and very real situations that happened back then. In conclusion, this novel was a very intense, unique read for everyone.

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Main Themes of the Novel The The Scarlet Letter. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved August 7, 2022, from
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