The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Summary

The scarlet letter is written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, an of delicate craftsmanship. The tension between the public and the private self is depicted in this novel. The novel is set in the inconsiderate puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston. Nathaniel Hawthorne has been often described as “rebellious puritan” and many puritan elements are present in this novel. The novelist finds the puritan society repressive authoritarian and sadistic in the novel. At the same time, positive elements of the society also can be found out in the novel. It tells that a sinner who humbly performs his or her own duty will be accepted by others. In The Scarlet Letter, the novelist points out the guilt in the hearts of sinners as well as their persecutors. Hawthorne exploited the symbol of the scarlet letters in the novel. The theme is that of a lonely individual in society. We are arrested on the threshold of narrative and become surprised when reading the opening chapter “The Prison Door” (Hawthorne, 7). In the novel, Hester is presented before the readers with her three-month-old daughter emerging from the prison wearing the red letter “A” coming in front of the crowd gathered outside the Boston prison house. This scarlet letter is a sign of her adultery. Hester’s husband is supposed to have died at sea. During the hour of her public appearance after the imprisonment, her husband is present there. Hester’s ex-husband is now called Roger Chilling worth. Here in the novel, it is very clear and significant that the members of the community are concerned about Hester’s daughter pearl’s future. Here one of the positive faces of the puritan society is reflected. Even at the end of her life, she carries the letter A as the black background of her tomb. But here the craftsmanship of the novelist is wonderful as it represents her as ‘angel.’ Hester Prynne in the novel never becomes a witch or a rebel but returns from Europe to Boston to become a Sister of Mercy. After this, her life is off duty and penance in the puritan settlement.

The novel is like a symbolic fable at many points. But the closest and minutest faithfulness to the times is portrayed in it though not directly. The psychological genuineness present in every great literature can be seen in this too.
The novel can be read as a tale of a tragic love also. It is a tragedy of the ‘grand passion’. Enough chances are there for the novel to be described as a ‘tragic love story.’ This love story has tragic repercussions upon its protagonists. The element of love in the novel is evident in it though directly it is not given. The consequences of love decide the course of the novel.
Isolation is another important theme of The Scarlet Letter. The fate of the central character Hester is revealed by the manner in which she responds to her isolation. Hester is presented as a symbol of the flaws and graces by which she is a human being. This human nature has the power to alienate individuals from the rest of society. A natural dignity and force of character are special about Hester. Her existence is based on this. She conforms outwardly to the puritan ideals by wearing drab, unattractive clothing. She covers her beauty. But she does not consider the human world’s law as the law of her mind. All of her private thoughts are passive. Hester struggles a lot to maintain her humanity. Hester’s sad transformation helps her remain human. Hester’s positive and negative qualities make her human. Through the presentation of Hester with such a nature, Hawthorn presents each individual itself in the novel. The effects and nature of isolation also represented here.

A spark of hope for the human condition is offered by Hawthorn in The Scarlet Letter. Hester’s growing passion and attractiveness, her humanity, make her graceful; at the same time lead her to fall. The meaningfulness of her life, and generally human life, even in all the adverse conditions are presented in the novel through Hester’s life.
“ON A FIELD, SABLE, THE LETTER A, GULES”, (Hawthorne, 276), the novel ends with these words representing the full story and the strength of the novelist’s writing.

 

Reference:
1. Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter, Penguin, New York, 1983, 1-276.

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