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The Scarlet Letter Dialectical Journal

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“Like anything that pertains to crime, it seemed never to have a youthful era… a wild rose-bush, in this month of June, with delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in” (Hawthorne 45). Hawthorne describes the door of the jail, as well as the rose bush to the side of it. I feel as if this is supposed to represent what Hester is about the experience: the harsh Puritan judgment, or the old door, along with the acceptance of certain people along her path, as represented by the rose bush. “An Indian in his native garb was standing there; but the red men were not so infrequent visitors of the English settlements” (Hawthorne 56). “Red men” shows the time period, and the treatment of Native Americans at the time. Puritans had just arrived in the New World, and they use derogatory terms to describe things that are unfamiliar to them.

This quote provides background information on the time period. “like a man chiefly accustomed to look inward, and to whom external matters are of little value and import, unless they bear relation to something within his mind” (56). This quote is describing the first time Hester’s husband sees her with the scarlet letter on her chest. Hawthorne immediately describes his character, rather than letting the reader find out through judgment on how the character treats other people. This quote is a very distinctive description; Chillingworth is not a typical Puritan, he seems to be much more open-minded. A writhing horror twisted itself across his features, like a snake gliding swiftly over them, and making one little pause, with all its wreathed intervolutions in open sight.

His face darkened with some powerful emotion” (56). A creepy and disturbed tone is created in this excerpt, using words like “writhing,” “horror,” “twisted, and “darkened.” It also creates imagery and gives insight on how Chillingworth feels when he realizes that it is his wife standing up on the pillory. “he slowly and calmly raised his finger, made a gesture with it in the air, and laid it on his lips” (57). This quote confirmed my thoughts on Chillingworth. He is a reserved man, not looking for trouble. Calm and level-headed. This is the first time I was able to make a judgment on his character through actions. “Her husband may be at the bottom of the sea” (58).

This was quote was used to describe what Hester thought could have happened to Chillingworth, since he sent Hester to the New World first. He possibly could have died, which is the literal meaning of the quote. However, I also interpreted it as, her husband could be at the bottom of the sea, knowing that Hester committed adultery. This made him depressed, or “down,” thus, bringing him to the bottom of the sea. “Thus she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone” (58). This quote shows the severity of Hester’s crime. A serious and severe tone is created using words like “ignominious” and saying that the letter will be with her until death. “to meet him as she now did, with the hot mid-day sun burning down on her face, and lighting up its shame; with the scarlet token of infamy on her breast; with the sin-born infant in her arms” (59).

Although this story is not told in the first person, a very shameful tone is created here, telling the emotions of Hester, almost like she is telling the story herself and describing how she feels, with words like “shame,” “infamy,” and “sin-born.” “He was a person of very striking aspect, with a white, lofty, and impending brow; large, brown, melancholy eyes, and a mouth which, unless when he forcibly compressed it, was apt to be tremulous” (62). A very specific character description is given here, which I interpret as existentialism, a new method of thinking during the romantic period. The writing focuses on what exists in the real world, such as physical features. “And my child must seek a heavenly father; she shall never know an earthly one!” (63).

Hester still has good morals, she wants her child to follow the Puritan religion. I imagine that something must have happened to Hester in the past with her father that she does not want her child to have to deal with, or it would be more bothersome for the father of the child to be involved with her child’s life. “But it is not recorded that, in a single instance, her skill was called in aid to embroider the white veil which was to cover the pure blushes of a bride. The exception indicated the ever relentless vigor with which society frowned upon her sin.” (75).

I hate the Puritan society. They all know that Hester is awesome with her needle and thread, but for some reason everything is too cursed and evil that Hester even breathes on. They all act like they have never sinned. “If truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom…” (80). Hester Prynne is kind of a role model, almost. I admire her ability to admit to sin and be willing to take the consequences. Surely she was not the only one during Puritan times who had an affair, or even sinned. Everyone sins every day, and so technically everyone should have a scarlet letter of some sort. In my opinion, this makes Hester above everyone else. “…like one of those gleams of ghastly fire that darted from Bunyan’s awful doorway in the hillside, and quivered on the pilgrim’s face.” (118).

This is used to describe Chillingworth. An evil tone is used here, created with words like “ghastly” and “awful.” I always got an evil feeling from him, maybe just circumstantial, as in, it inferred that he was going to be angry and seeking revenge on the man who had an affair with his wife. He even said to Hester that he needed to know who the other man is. “They said that it meant Abel, so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength,” (146). I thought this entire book had a weird sort of feminist vibe, which I did not really understand coming from the time period. However, I’m sure feminism really started up during the romantic period, when people actually started thinking and questioning the world. I think this is the whole moral of the story, Hester Prynne takes lemons and makes them into lemonade. I think I really grasped that concept from the beginning, but this quote really reassured me.

“’What does the letter mean, mother?’ and why dost thou wear it? And why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?’” (163). This quote is from Pearl, who is very innocent throughout the entire book. When Pearl was almost taken away from Hester, Dimmesdale argued that Pearl is still teaching and reminding Hester of her sin, which is true. Pearl starts to get curious about why her mother is different, forcing Hester to reflect on her sin. However the bond between mother and daughter is strong, especially Pearl and Hester, since they are somewhat outcasts. “I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am! And Satan laughs at it!” (174). I truly pity Dimmesdale throughout the entire book. An unfortunate situation has occurred, primarily involving Dimmesdale, Hester and Chillingworth, and the three of them handle it in different ways.

Clearly Hester’s seems to work out for her, because she could admit to her sin and although the public repentance has downsides, she can continue to live her life. Whereas Dimmesdale, in this quote, displays the cognitive dissonance that is happening as a result of his secret. His actions do not support his words and beliefs. This being said, Dimmesdale also does not gain the same experience and knowledge as Hester. “She had wandered, without rule or guidance, into a moral wilderness… Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods… 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” (181).

In the Bible, what God basically wanted for his human creations was ignorance and stupidity. This can be argued, but this is how I have always personally interpreted it. If Adam and Eve were not curious, they would not have sinned by eating the apple, thus giving them more knowledge about the world. The same goes for expressions like “Curiosity killed the cat,” “knowledge is power,” and “ignorance is bliss.” In this scenario, Hester’s curiosity causes her trouble, however it gave her certain qualities that other women do not have. “of a subtle disease that had long since begun to eat into the real substance of his character. No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true” (195).

Although many morals that are mentioned in this book are very Puritanistic, this quote depicts a moral which still stands true today: the existence of conscience, and how keeping secrets can shred the insides of a being. This is how people go psychotic in today’s world, and Hawthorne was probably one of the first writers to put such a sensation into words. Today, it is known as cognitive dissonance. “Mother,” said she, “was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?” “Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!” whispered her mother. “We must not always talk in the marketplace of what happens to us in the forest” (217).

Nature was a big deal in the romantic period. Nature’s entire role in this novel is to show the contrast between the freedom and regulated authority. Since Hester and Pearl visit Dimmesdale in the forest, there are clearly no rules in the forest. Surely, God still knows their whereabouts, but Hester’s sin is hardly about her relationship with God as it is her relationship with the rest of the conservative town. “Some affirmed that the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale, on the very day when Hester Prynne first wore her ignominious badge, had begun a course of penance—which he afterwards, in so many futile methods, followed out—by inflicting a hideous torture on himself” (233). Dimmesdale was the real loser here. I also pity him, though. Hester had loads of courage, she even tried to give him some, but he just cracked under the pressure. What is interesting, is that he did not crack under the pressure of the Lord, like all of the Puritans claim to love so much, but rather, he cracked under the pressure of the real world. He did not have any problems until other people know about the scarlet letter, even though God supposedly knew about it all along.

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