The Scarlet Letter
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Like all of Hawthorne's novels, "The Scarlet Letter" has but a slender plot and but few characters with an influence on the development of the story. Its great dramatic force depends entirely on the mental states of the actors and their relations to one another, —relations of conscience, — relations between wronged and wrongers. Its great burden is the weight of unacknowledged sin as seen in the remorse and cowardice and suffering of the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale. Contrasted with his concealed agony is the constant confession, conveyed by the letter, which is forced upon Hester, and has a double effect, — a healthful one, working beneficently, and making her helpful and benevolent, tolerant and thoughtful ; and an unhealthful one, which by the great emphasis placed on her transgression, the keeping her forever under its ban and isolating her from her fellows, prepares her to break away from the long repression and lapse again into sin when she plans her flight. Roger Chillingworth is an embodiment of subtle and refined revenge. The most striking situation is perhaps "The Minister's Vigil," in chapter xii. The book, though corresponding in its tone and burden to some of the shorter stories, had a more startling and dramatic character, and a strangeness, which at once took hold of a larger public than any of those had attracted. Though imperfectly comprehended, and even misunderstood in some quarters, it was seen to have a new and unique quality; and Hawthorne's reputation became national.
cemetery, graveyard, and church. 2 (p. 41) some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town: Although the story of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale is fictional, historical events described in The Scarlet Letter set the opening scene of the novel as 1642 and the closing one as 1649. 3 (p. 42) Ann Hutchinson: Ann Hutchinson was a prominent religious leader in Boston who preached that faith, rather than good works and abidance by religious law, brought one closer to God. After
it was to this latter class of men that Mr. Dimmesdale, by many of his traits of character, naturally belonged. To their high mountain-peaks of faith and sanctity he would have climbed, had not the tendency been thwarted by the burden, whatever it might be, of crime or anguish, beneath which it was his doom to totter. It kept him down, on a level with the lowest; him, the man of ethereal attributes, whose voice the angels might else have listened to and answered! But this very burden it was, that
blackness all the better for it. Ever and anon, too, there came a glare of red light out of his eyes; as if the old man’s soul were on fire, and kept on smouldering duskily within his breast, until, by some casual puff of passion, it was blown into a momentary flame. This he repressed as speedily as possible, and strove to look as if nothing of the kind had happened. In a word, old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a devil, if he will only,
passionate nature, and over time earn Hester a role in the community. Rational Views of Hester’s Crime The perspectives explored in the novel, then, provide responses to Hester’s crime that, while varied in nature, are uniformly extreme in degree. Understanding the act from the disparate perspectives presented is like reconstructing a disaster from the reflections on the charred and shattered surfaces of shrapnel. The psychological traits of the characters and their relationships to the
“Nay, I think not so,” rejoined the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. “My journey, and the sight of the holy Apostle yonder, and the free air which I have breathed, have done me good, after so long confinement in my study. I think to need no more of your drugs, my kind physician, good though they be, and administered by a friendly hand.” All this time, Roger Chillingworth was looking at the minister with the grave and intent regard of a physician towards his patient. But, in spite of this outward show,