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The Scarlet Letter

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on 22 January 2014

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Transcript of The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
Table of Contents
Background of the Author
Setting & Point of View
Plot Overview
Characters
Themes, Symbols & Motifs

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804
Much of his writing centers on New England, many works featuring moral allegories with a Puritan inspiration.
His fiction works are considered part of the Romantic movement and, more specifically, Dark romanticism.
His themes often center on the inherent evil and sin of humanity, and his often have moral messages and deep psychological complexity.
CHARACTERS
Setting and Point of View
Themes, Symbols & Motifs
“I have laughed, in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am”
Hester Prynne
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale
Roger Chillingworth
Pearl
Governor Bellingham
Reverend John Wilson
Mistress Hibbins
The Townspeople
Sin & Knowledge
Identity & Society
The Scarlet Letter "
A
"
Pearl
Setting
POV
-The narrator is an unnamed customhouse surveyor who writes some two hundred years after the events he describes took place
-
omniscient
: he analyzes the characters and tells the story in a way that shows that he knows more about the characters than they know about themselves.
-
subjective
: he voices his own interpretations and opinions of things. He is clearly sympathetic to Hester and Dimmesdale.
-The narrator can be viewed as both omniscient and subjective
-serves to provoke the adult characters in the novel
- exposes truths that would otherwise remain hidden
-Disgraced and alienated from the rest of the community, Hester becomes contemplative. She speculates on human nature, social organization, and larger moral questions, ultimately the role of women within
the colony
-Protagonist
-As a young woman, Hester married an elderly scholar, Chillingworth, who sent her ahead to America to live but never followed her.
-While waiting for him, she had an affair with a Puritan minister named Dimmesdale, after which she gave birth to Pearl.
- Hester is passionate but also strong—she endures years of shame and scorn.
-the wearer of the scarlet letter that gives the book its title.
-The letter, a patch of fabric in the shape of an “
A
,” signifies that Hester is an “adulterer.”
-In a moment of weakness, he and Hester became lovers.
-Although he will not confess it publicly, he is the father of her child. He deals with his guilt by tormenting himself physically and psychologically, developing a heart condition as a result.
-Dimmesdale is an intelligent and emotional man, and his sermons are thus masterpieces of eloquence and persuasiveness.
- His commitments to his congregation are in constant conflict with his feelings of sinfulness and need to confess.
-Hester's Lover , Pearl's Father
Dimmesdale wears his "
A
" privately as he if forced to hide his sin
-is actually Hester’s husband in disguise.
-He is much older than she is and had sent her to America while he settled his affairs in Europe.
-Because he is captured by Native Americans, he arrives in Boston belatedly and finds Hester and her illegitimate child being displayed on the scaffold.
-He lusts for revenge, and thus decides to stay in Boston despite his wife’s betrayal and disgrace.
-He is a scholar and uses his knowledge to disguise himself as a doctor, intent on discovering and tormenting Hester’s anonymous lover.
- Chillingworth is self-absorbed and both physically and psychologically monstrous.
-Hester's Husband
-Hester and Dimmesdale's Daughter
-Pearl is a young girl with a moody, mischievous spirit and an ability to perceive things that others do not.
- The townspeople say that she barely seems human and spread rumors that her unknown father is actually the Devil.
-She is wise far beyond her years, frequently engaging in ironic play having to do with her mother’s scarlet letter.
-Governor Bellingham is a wealthy, elderly gentleman who spends much of his time consulting with the other town fathers.
- Despite his role as governor of a fledgling American society, he very much resembles a traditional English aristocrat.
-Bellingham tends to strictly adhere to the rules, but he is easily swayed by Dimmesdale’s eloquence.
-He remains blind to the misbehaviors taking place in his own house
-Boston’s elder clergyman,
-He is a stereotypical Puritan father, a literary version of the stiff, starkly painted portraits of American patriarchs.
-Like Governor Bellingham, Wilson follows the community’s rules strictly but can be swayed by Dimmesdale’s eloquence.
-Unlike Dimmesdale, his junior colleague, Wilson preaches hellfire and damnation and advocates harsh punishment of sinners.
- a widow who lives with her brother, Governor Bellingham, in a luxurious mansion.
-She is commonly known to be a witch who ventures into the forest at night to ride with the “Black Man.” -Her appearances at public occasions remind the reader of the hypocrisy and hidden evil in Puritan society.
-constantly reject and shame both Hester and pearl
-act as the primary source of repression for Hester
-act as a character in the sense that their actions affect both Hester, Dimmesdale and Pearl's growth throughout the novel
Night & Day
Civilization & the Wilderness
-The town represents civilization, a rule-bound space where everything one does is on display and where transgressions are quickly punished.
-The forest, on the other hand, is a space of natural rather than human authority. In the forest, society’s rules do not apply, and alternate identities can be assumed.
-While this allows for misbehavior— Mistress Hibbins’s midnight rides, for example—it also permits greater honesty and an escape from the repression of Boston.
-When Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the woods, for a few moments, they become happy young lovers once again.

Hester’s cottage, which, significantly, is located on the outskirts of town and at the edge of the forest, embodies both orders.
-Sin and knowledge are linked in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
-The Bible begins with the story of Adam and Eve, who were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.



-After Hester is publicly shamed and forced by the people of Boston to wear a badge of humiliation, her unwillingness to leave the town may seem puzzling.
-Surprisingly, Hester reacts with dismay when Chillingworth tells her that the town fathers are considering letting her remove the letter.
-Hester’s behavior is premised on her desire to determine her own identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her.
-Hester recognizes her past sin is a part of who she is; to pretend that it never happened would mean denying a part of herself.

-Dimmesdale also struggles against a socially determined identity.
-As the community’s minister, he is more symbol than human being.
-Except for Chillingworth, those around the minister willfully ignore his obvious anguish, misinterpreting it as holiness.
-Dimmesdale never fully recognizes the truth of what Hester has learned: that individuality and strength are gained by quiet self-assertion and by a reconfiguration, not a rejection, of one’s assigned identity.
Hester Prynne
Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale
-The Puritan elders, on the other hand, insist on seeing earthly experience as merely an obstacle on the path to heaven. Thus, they view sin as a threat to the community that should be punished and suppressed.
-Their answer to Hester’s sin is to ostracize her.
-The experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in expulsion and suffering. But it also results in knowledge—specifically, in knowledge of what it means to be human.
- Hester and Dimmesdale contemplate their own sinfulness on a daily basis and try to reconcile it with their lived experiences.
-The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame, but instead it becomes a powerful symbol of identity to Hester.
-The letter’s meaning shifts as time passes. Originally intended to mark Hester as an adulterer, the “
A
” eventually comes to stand for “Able.”
- The Native Americans who come to watch the Election Day pageant believe that the "
A
" marks her as a person of importance and status.
-Like Pearl, the letter functions as a physical reminder of Hester’s affair with Dimmesdale. But, compared with a human child, the letter seems insignificant, and thus helps to point out the ultimate meaninglessness of the community’s system of judgment and punishment.

Pearl's primary function within the novel is as a symbol.
-Pearl is a sort of living version of her mother’s scarlet letter.
-.Even as a reminder of Hester’s “sin,” Pearl is more than a punishment to her mother: she is also a blessing.
-Pearl’s existence gives her mother reason to live, bolstering her spirits when she is tempted to give up.
-She functions in a symbolic capacity as the reminder of an unsolved mystery.
-It is only after Dimmesdale is revealed to be Pearl’s father that Pearl can become fully “human.”
By emphasizing the alternation between sunlight and darkness, the plot’s events are divided into two categories: those which are socially acceptable, and those which must take place covertly.
Daylight:
exposes an individual’s activities and makes him or her vulnerable to punishment.
Night:
conceals and enables activities that would not be possible or tolerated during the day
-The notions of visibility versus concealment are linked to the book’s larger theme: personal identity vs societys forced identity.
-Night is the time when inner natures can manifest themselves.
-During the day, true identity is once again hidden from public view, and secrets remain secrets.
-Conflict
-Referred to as "the scarlet vision"
-Nathaniel Hawthorne
Plot Overview
- After Hester's husband having failed to join her in Boston following their emigration from Europe, she engages in an affair with Arthur Dimmesdale.
-When she gives birth to a child, Hester invokes the condemnation of her community - as well as the vengeful wrath of her husband, who has appeared just in time to witness her public shaming
-Rising Action

-Dimmesdale stands by in silence as Hester suffers for the “sin” he helped to commit, though his conscience plagues him and affects his health.
-Hester’s husband, Chillingworth, hides his true identity and, posing as a doctor to the ailing minister, tests his suspicions that Dimmesdale is the father of his wife’s child, effectively dicovering Dimmesdale’s feelings of shame and thus reaping revenge.
-Climax
-As Dimmesdale watches a meteor trace a letter “A” in the sky, he confronts his role in Hester’s sin and realizes that he can no longer deny his deed and its consequences.
-The other climactic scene occurs in Chapter 23, at the end of the book. Here, the characters’ secrets are publicly exposed and their fates sealed.
-Denouement
-Depending on one’s interpretation of which scene constitutes the book’s “climax,” the falling action is either the course of events that follow Chapter 12 or the final reports on Hester’s and Pearl’s lives after the deaths of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth.
-
The Scarlet Letter
follows a
linear plot
where the the story pauses and the narrator comments on the events occurring
-General Environment (political, religious, cultural circumstances)
-Time Period
-Mid-17th century
-Geographical Location
-Massachusetts Bay Colony (around Boston)
-It's a community specifically designed to be religiously pure, which means being secularly strict.
-In the first chapter, we get an idea of the most important town buildings and structures: the prison and the town scaffold.

- Set in a Puritan settlement
-Puritan communities strongly believed purity therefore sins were rooted out and punished harshly.
- In the colony Church and State are not separated
-Law and religion form the heart of the town
-The townspeople give Hester a harsher punishment for a moral act versus a criminal act due to the church ruling the colony
- Round Character
-Developing Character
-Static Character
-Flat Character
Full transcript