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The Scarlet Letter Archetypes
Transcript of The Scarlet Letter Archetypes
Hawthorn farther develops his characters by establishing certain archetypes that engage the reader and draw connections between
Hawthorn ironically presents Hester as the heroine through her actions, and Dimmesdale's description of her as having "wondrous strength and generosity of a women's heart" (Hawthorn 64). The reason Hester is the hero in The Scarlet Letter is her sacrifice for Dimmesdale to keep his saint-like reputation and remain in the good graces of the puritans. She also sacrifices herself for her daughter Pearl, who was "purchased with all she had" (Hawthorn 81). To be able to keep Pearl, Hester fiercely defended her right to raise her against Governor Bellingham and was deemed an evil woman for following her heart. The rebel inside of Hester is shown when she does no conform to the Puritan idea of being ashames, but corrects her error by helping the less fortunate despite their "frequently insulting the hand that fed them" (Hawthorn 77). In other words, they reminded Hester that no sacrifice would change the sin that had already occurred. Through Hester, Hawthorn
exemplifies the strength of women and their
perseverance through difficult situations.
Pearl the Shape Shifter
Pearl undergoes many significant changes throughout The Scarlet Letter and is very difficult to comprehend because of these contradictions in her character. She begins the story as a strange, sheltered baby, born of infidelity and a symbol of Hester's sin. However, she soon becomes a whimsical and mysterious child. It is unclear whether Pearl is a punishment or a blessing to her mother Hester. Some people in the community even think that she may be inhabited by a demon. Despite these accusations, Hester loves Pearl dearly, but is sometimes frightened by her perceptive and inquisitive nature. As Pearl grows older, the absence of basic human emotions in her, including compassion and grief, becomes evident. This lacking contributes to the argument that Pearl is other worldly. She refuses to acknowledge Dimmesdale as her father and even casts off her mother when she removes the scarlet letter from her dress. However, near the end of the book when her father dies, Pearl develops "all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow" (Hawthorn 209). This considerable shift from incapable of emotion to completely sympathetic, as well as the fickleness of her character, classifies her
perfectly as a shape shifter.
Chillingworth The Fanatic
Roger Chillingworth is not just the evil shadow in The Scarlet Letter, but the fanatic that obsesses over revenge, making it the sole purpose of his life. When he finds out that his wife, Hester, has committed adultery against him, Chillingworth decides to cast his anger on the illusive man involved rather than Hester herself. He remains in Providence so that he may hunt down this man, found later to be Dimmesdale, and destroy him. "This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to consist in the pursuit and systematic exercise of revenge" (Hawthorn 212), and he does this by attaching himself to Dimmesdale and, like a "leech", sucking the life out of him. Posing as his doctor, Chillingworth pries into Dimmesdale's life and attempts to tear him appart from the inside out, which consumes his thoughts, actions, and ultimately his entire life. This fixation on the reverend devours any seperate drives and ambitions in Chillingworth's life. Revenge on Dimmesdale quickly becomes his one motivation, and it possesses him completely and unmercifully, classifying him as a fanatic
Hester The Hero
Through Dimmesdale's actions, Hawthorne reveals him to be a slave of his guilty conscious as well as a slave of his religion. Dimmesdale hides his sin from the Puritan community, yet does not go unpunished. He deliberately whips himself until the scourge becomes a "bloody scourge" (Hawthorne 132) and he also "as an act of penance" (Hawthorne 132) fasted rigorously "until his knees trembled" (Hawthorne 132). Unlike Hester, Dimmesdale becomes a slave to his guilty conscious. Dimmesdale believed that in physically hurting and weakening himself, he would purify and purge his sinful heart. Dimmesdale is not only a slave to his guilt-ridden conscious, but also to the Puritan religion. Hawthorne sets up this archetype by at first refusing Hester's plan to escape to Europe and later seems to break free from his slave bonds, only to revert back to his master and "ultimately paid the price of death" (Luo 20) when Dimmesdale finally confesses his affair and passes away due to his fragile physical and mental state. DImmesdale resorted to public confession, because he was a slave to his religion and in being a Reverend set the example of pious behavior for the Puritan society. Through DImmesdale's cowardiance to break free from his slave bonds of religion and conscious, Hawthorne communicates the negative consequences of being enslaved to ones religion such as the Puritans.
Dimmesdale the Slave
"Hester Prynne From The Scarlet Letter." Time
Lists. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2013.
"Pearl." The Scarlet Letter. N.p., n.d. Web. 11
"Roger Chillingworth." World Press. N.p., n.d.
Web. 11 Sept. 2013.