.. horne uses the scaffold scenes, not only as a unifying device, but as a means to keep the reader interested in the novel by providing plenty of action. The main characters sharply contrast each other in the way they react to Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin. To begin, Hester becomes stronger, more enduring, and even more sympathetic. She becomes stronger because of all the weight she has to carry.
She is a single mother who suffers all of the burdens of parenthood by herself. They live on the edge of town, and Pearl has no one to give her food, shelter and emotional support besides Hester. Pearl is especially difficult to raise because she is anything but normal. Hawthorne gives a pretty accurate description of Pearl when he writes: The child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and bril- liant, but all in disorder; or with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered (91). Hester’s endurance is proven when the people of the colony completely change their opinion of her. While a lesser person would run from the hostile colonists, Hester withstands their insolence and pursues a normal life. After years of proving her worth with her uncommon sewing skills and providing community service, the colonists come to think of the scarlet letter as the cross on a nun’s bosom, which is no small accomplishment (169).
Hester also becomes more sensitive to the feelings and needs of other people. She feels that her own sin gives her sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts (87). So even though the people she tried to help often reviled the hand that was stretched forth to succor them, she continues her services because she actually cares (85). While Hester tries to make the best out of her situation, Dimmesdale becomes weaker by letting guilt and grief eat away at his conscience. Dimmesdale punishes himself by believing that he can never be redeemed.
He feels that he will never be seen the same in the eyes of God, and that no amount of penitence can ever return him to God’s good graces. He is so touchy on this subject that when Hester says his good deeds will count for something in God’s view, he exclaims, There is no substance in it! It is cold and dead and can do nothing for me! (202). Dimmesdale also believes that his sin has taken the meaning out of his life. His life’s work has been dedicated to God, and now his sin has tainted it (202). He feels that he is a fraud and is not fit to lead the people of the town to salvation. The feeling is so oppressive that the chance of escaping his work and leaving with Hester and Pearl makes him emotionally (and probably mentally) unstable. He walks through the town with twice as much energy as normal, and he barely stops himself from swearing to a fellow deacon (229).
When an old lady approaches him he can not remember any scriptures whatsoever to tell her, and the urge to use his power of persuasion over a young maiden is so strong that he covers his face with his cloak and runs off (230). The largest cause of Dimmesdale’s breakdown is the fact that he keeps his sin a secret. As God’s servant, it is his nature to tell the truth, so the years of pretending are especially hard on him. His secret guilt is such a burden that instead of going with Hester to England and perhaps having a chance to live longer, he chose to stand, confess and perish on the scaffold (268). Ultimately, Chillingworth responds to his wife’s betrayal by sacrificing everything in order to seek revenge.
After he discovers that his wife bore another man’s child, Chillingworth gives up his independence. He used to be a scholar who dedicated his best years to feed the hungry dream of knowledge, but his new allegiance becomes finding and slowly punishing the man who seduced his wife (74). He soon becomes obsessed with his new mission in life, and when he targeted Reverend Dimmesdale as the possible parent, he dedic! ates all of his time to becoming his confidant in order to get his retribution (127). Vengeance was also one of the reasons that Chillingworth gives up his identity. The only way he can truly corrupt Dimmesdale is to live with him and be by his side all day, every day.
The only possible way to do that is to give up his true identity as Roger Prynne, Hester’s husband, and become Roger Chillingworth. Since the only person who knew his true identity is sworn to silence, he succeeds for a long time in tricking Dimmesdale until Hester sees that he was going mad and finally revealed Chillingworth’s true identity (204). His largest sacrifice is by far, his own life. After spending so much time dwelling on his revenge, Chillingworth forgets that he still has a chance to lead a life of his own. So accordingly, after Dimmesdale reveals his secret to the world, Chillingworth dies less than a year later because he has nothing left to live for (272).
In conclusion, Hawthorne’s use of characterization gives the book a classic feeling by showing Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth’s feelings indirectly through acts. The novel revolves around two major symbols: light and darkness and the scarlet letter. The book is filled with light and darkness symbols because it represents the most common battle of all time, good versus evil. When Hester and her daughter are walking in the forest, Pearl exclaims: Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom.
Now see! There it is, playing, a good way off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child. It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet (192). Hester tries to stretch her hand into the circle of light, but the sunshine vanishes (192).
She then suggests that they go into the forest and rest (193). This short scene actually represents Hester’s daily struggle in life. The light represents what Hester wants to be, which is pure. The movement of the light represents Hester’s constant denial of acceptance. Hester’s lack of surprise and quick suggestion to go into the forest, where it is dark, shows that she never expected to be admitted and is resigned to her station in life. Another way light and darkness is used in symbolism is by the way Hester and Dimmesdale’s plan to escape is doomed.
Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the shadows of the forest with a gloomy sky and a threatening storm overhead when they discuss their plans for the future (200). The gloomy weather and shadows exemplify the fact that they can’t get away from the repressive force of their sins. It is later proven when Dimmesdale dies on the scaffold! instead of leaving with Hester and going to England (269). A final example occurs by the way Hester and Dimmesdale can not acknowledge their love in front of others. When they meet in the woods, they feel that, No golden light had ever been so precious as the gloom of this dark forest (206).
This emotion foretells that they will never last together openly because their sin has separated them too much from normal life. The scarlet letter also takes many different forms in the novel. The first and clearest form that the letter A takes is Adulteress. It is apparent that Hester is guilty of cheating on her husband when she surfaces from the prison with a three-month-old-child in her arms, and her husband has been away for two years (53). Hence, the people look at the letter elaborately embroidered with gold thread and see a hussy who is proud of her sin (54).
The second form that it takes is Angel. When Governor Winthrop passes away, a giant A appears in the sky. ! People from the church feel that, For as our good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof! (16). The final form that the scarlet letter take is Able. Hester helped the people of the town so unselfishly that Hawthorne wrote: Such helpfulness was found in her,–so much power to do, and power to sympathize,–that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by it s original significance.
They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength (167). In closing, one of the most important reasons that The Scarlet Letter is so well known is the way Hawthorne leaves the novel open to be interpreted several different ways by his abundant use of symbolism. This background, together with a believable plot, convincing characterization, and important literary devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the develop the theme of the heart as a prison. Hawthorne describes the purpose of the novel when he says, Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worse, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred! (272). The theme is beneficial because it can be put into terms in today’s world. The Scarlet Letter is one of the few books that will be timeless, because it deals with alienation, sin, punishment, and guilt, emotions that will continue to be felt by every generation to come.