The Importance of Themes and Characters in the Writing Style of The Scarlet Letter

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From courage, to sin, and even identity, the main character in the novel The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, had to face many objectifying situations from her mistakes. Although real places and possible real events occured in the novel, the genre is considered historical fiction. The time period in which the novel was told in was the 17th century, and the author described to be in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This time period was also known as the colonial times, and the area was a fairly new settlement. The setting and area described though, was a made up and fictional town that never existed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Themes are always a recurring factor in novels, especially in The Scarlet Letter, some themes even make the character who they are. The theme of courage was very important when describing the main character, Hester Prynne throughout the novel. Hester Prynne was shown to be a very prominent character, remarked and described from her symbol, the scarlet letter. This symbol shaped her character throughout the novel by changing her outlook on herself, but not changing her true strong-willed personality. Hester wore the scarlet letter not only with pride, but she upheld herself throughout the novel, making the scarlet letter seem like a positive light embarking on her life. This is proven in the text when Hester describes her letter, '..with the embroidered letter glimmering...' (page 141). Hester Prynne is a very independent woman, who is not afraid to defend herself or anything she loves. Her daughter Pearl, wasn’t the best child behavior wise, and some even considered her a demon child.

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Hester still loved her child and raised her child by herself, ignoring the hate and shame she got because she had committed a major sin, adultery. The letter did cause hardship on Hester’s life and difficulties when raising her child, whom was made from her mistake. Her daughter, Pearl, was her constant reminder of her mistakes, but she learned to not find shame from both the letter and her daughter because they both made her the person she was, no matter if she was a sinner. This is proven on page 92 when Hawthorn writes, “after frowning, stamping her foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemies and put them all to fight”. Courage is shown from actions, and Hester had both perceived and acted in a way to make her a very courageous character.

Reputation is who you are known to be from the public eye. Hester’s reputation wasn’t one to be proud of since she had committed the sin of adultery and was reprimanded by having to broadcast her scarlet letter to the world. Her sin was what made her, and that’s all anyone could see when they looked at her. The citizens of her own town did not accept her because of a sin she made willingly for the betterment of herself. After all the harsh ridicule Hester received from the public, it made her realize that her sin was a constant reminder of the responsibility she had to take up for her wrongdoings. In chapter 14, the author wrote “The scarlet letter burned on Hester Prynne's bosom. Here was another ruin, the responsibility of which came partly home to her”. WIth this, the reason behind her sin was a liable alibi for her defense, but the public couldn’t see past the fact that a sin was a sin. Hester never loved Chillingsworth. She did marry Chillingsworth, but it wasn’t true love, which brought them apart. Chillingsworth was constantly shown as a cold, vengeful man, which was someone Hester could not get herself to love. True love isn’t forced, and both Chillingsworth and Hester did not love each other. Hester's unhappiness, due to a mismatched matrimony, leads her to become an adulteress. Hester was caught for her crime, but many crimes are left to be untouched or reprimanded. So, while Hester had to deal with the justice of her crime, her fellow adulter, Dimmesdale, was left unknown to the public. This is shown when the novel states, 'If thou feelest it to be for thy soul's peace, and that thy earthly punishment will thereby be made more effectual to salvation, I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!' (page 77).

Throughout her long journey of adjustment to her new life of being a target to the public eye, Hester learned her true identity. From the start, Hester and her original lover, Dimmesdale, did not have a secure and strong relationship from the start. Their weak relationship also shows how Hester and Dimmesdale are weak individuals since they rapidly fell into temptation. This also affected their response to sin, since both reacted similarly to the cause it had on their future life. As the days went on, Dimmesdale got weaker since his mistake always lingered over his head, which ends up being the end of him. Dimmesdale lost who he was and slowly started losing his life, 'leaning on a staff which he had cut by the wayside. He looked haggard and feeble' (page 197). Hester, on the other hand, grew and found her self worth. Hester Prynne’s appearance was changed throughout the novel, symbolizing what sin can do to a person's identity. In the beginning of the novel, she was constantly reminded of her sins because of the letter A on her chest, which made her appearance very weary and uptight. Towards the end when she was reunited with the person whom she loves, she let her hair down and freed herself of stress to make herself happy for that moment, which was discussed in chapter 18.

Since written and published in 1850, the language used in the novel was archaic and hard to read for any modern day readers. To describe these problems, or shortcomings, there are many factors that made this novel have many shortcomings. The main, being the understanding of the events happening difficult at times to decipher. Words like “nay” and “thou” were used as shown on page 246, which aren’t words that are typically used in today’s English language. Also, many sentences were structured very oddly that hindered the real meaning, making it difficult to depict what was truly occurring in the novel. For example, chapter 3 discussed, “Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on the pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him, except it tempt him--yea, compel him, as it were--to add hypocrisy to sin?' This quote was extremely wordy and makes the meaning behind it hard to understand due to the extra words and archaic language.

With the novel bring about 272 pages long, many events being discussed were dragged on and had too many details, making it a very big chief objection. A pure example of this would be chapter 6, which had an exploit amount of details only discussing Hester Prynne’s daughter, Pearl. The author would ramble on with details that all mean the same thing. For example, “...that little creature, whose innocent life had sprung, by an inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immortal flower” (page 98). With this, the chapters seem never ending and drag on because of the never ending details that don’t need to be used in order to get the point across.

With all the negativity in the novel, especially towards characters like Hester, the bad times and hardship they went through was worth it as they continued to live their lives. Although the letter A on Hester’s chest obliterated her reputation, it led her on the path for the betterment of herself. Hester Prynne was said to be a very beautiful woman. Her beauty was compared to her strength throughout the novel being strong and confident. This really showed her true self throughout the novel because even though she was judged and brought down by multiple characters, her character remained always the same strong woman she was and was able to deal with the shunning and denouncing she faced. This is proven in the novel when the author writes ““The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, —stern and wild ones, —and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.“ (chapter 18). So although Hester went through difficult situations, she evolved from the bad times for the better.

Although long and dangerous, the novel did set across a very significant storyline for a lost character looking to change herself. Since being a historical fictional novel, the author portrayed the town and characters appropriately to the time period in order to convey both entertaining and informational novel. Using relating themes, the author was able to make the characters also realistic and relatable to keep the storyline interesting. These all are the main factors that contribute to a novel in order to make it a proper work of literature.

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The Importance of Themes and Characters in the Writing Style of The Scarlet Letter. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
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