Scarlet letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a sensuous and touching account of a woman named Hester Prynne. It also has a prologue by the title "The Custom house" that briefly prepares the reader for what is to follow. The significance and detail of The Custom house shall be dealt with later in the paper. The underlying subtle criticism of the puritan mindset, profound symbolism and vivid imagery all beautifully woven together in this book make it an asset to the world of American literature.
Scarlet letter is the story of a minister Arthur Dimmesdale who is helplessly in love with Hester Prynne a married woman who comes to America to settle down where her husband in England was supposed to join her later on. Dimmesdale makes love to Hester Prynne and a baby by the name of pearl is born out of this union. As was the tradition prevalent in the society of 17th century America Hester is put on display and forced to wear a robe with the letter "A" engraved on it. Hester chooses to own up to this mark of distinction, which describes her as an adulteress instead of disclosing the name of her lover. Dimmesdale on the other hand was unable to submit himself wholly to his desires, but is continually tormented by the fact that he is unable to acknowledge his lover.
The way Hawthorne has managed to high lighten the fallibility of human nature and the fortitude to accept this fallibility is commendable. The choices we make in life are a part of the bigger picture and that is how they should be perceived, every human being has a right to be human and the society that sets the moral and religious ideals so high that it rules out the human possibility of error should reconsider the significance of its ideals. Hawthorne is also to be praised for his audacity as in the 19th century writing something that exposed the sensuous desires of man and his urge to succumb to the strong throes of passion was un heard of not to mention unacceptable to the society at large.
If at this point we don't discuss the psychological significance of the Scarlet letter it would be a great injustice to Hawthorne's great work of art. The part of the book that deals with Hester's husband Chillingsworth and Dimmesdale realization of each other's identity is an important clue to the actual thoughts that pass through Dimmesdale's mind. Without Chillingsworth a look into Dimmesdale's heart would be impossible. The inner torment and continuous battles against his conscience were a cause of great distress to Dimmesdale and his guilt finally led him to break down in a sermon, rip his robe open and show the letter 'A' engraved in his flesh.
In order to understand the significance of the author's work in Scarlet letter it is absolutely essential that we scrutinize the background in which it was written. Nathaniel Hawthorne was visibly very distinct from the other authors of his time since he was extensively and significantly involved in the affairs of his time. He chose to write on a topic that was dreaded by even the most established of writers in his time and although he never expected his work to be acknowledged on a wide scale yet the booming success of Scarlet letter not only surprised him but also made it clear to the world that the Americans were ready to discuss the hitherto stigmatized issues and when it took it's place amongst the most respectable works of literature in America the fact was further reinforced. During the 19th century the issues of slavery and mistreatment of women capture the center stage. Although Hawthorne never strictly criticized slavery yet he disapproved of it and was of the view that it would in time die a natural death. Therefore it would be incorrect to think of Scarlet letter as an intransitive work of art. It is a depiction of the conditions of the 17th century where no man or woman could achieve happiness regardless of what they did since they were never able to rise to the level that was expected of them. The author has tried to criticize the framework of the puritan society and the demands that it makes of mortal men. Through his writing he has tried to bring about an invisible but a gradual change, as instantaneous changes are seldom permanent. He aimed at individuals through the Scarlet letter and tried to inculcate in them a need to improvise on the strict and uncompromising behavior of the society towards the fault of men and particularly that of women. The style of the author is refreshing and real. Although the overall message of Scarlet letter is gloomy yet it also propagates an image of strength and pride in the form of Hester who chooses to be banished from the society she lives in just so that she can be free to embrace her decision of loving the man and bear his child. She was also in a sense relieved since as a marked adulteress she was no longer bound by the strict morality and rigid expectations of society.
Hawthorne was himself a good father husband and a son and this tale of adultery has no direct connection with his life. However if we look closely at his life incidents and those depicted in the Scarlet letter we will find an uncanny resemblance between the two. Like for instance when Hester does something that gains her child but loses its father is very reminiscent of the actual situation of the author himself. He grew up with only his widowed mother as his father had died of yellow fever at the sea.
He started writing the Scarlet letter when his mother died and ended it with the death of Hester Pynne in his story. He transformed his real life situation into that of the story whereby he added guilt. The psychological implication of his story also becomes evident as he finds what happened to his father a crime of the politicians of his time who did not take the required actions which could have prevented his father's untimely death. His father probably passed away due to the inadequate precautionary and hygiene measures at sea and due to the fallible trade relations of America in the Caribbean both which could have been averted by the correct political action.
Looking at Hawthorne's work closely we see that we generally find more questions than answers to the problems engulfing the people in the 17th century as depicted in this story generated in the 19th century. Over the years as new realities come into the picture the old ones do not disappear and as the American cultural system tries in vain to hold on to both old and new reality and refuses to call them contradictory and instead claims that the multiplicity in their meanings is more acceptable. In Scarlet letter the author is seen to negotiate the conflicting realities of the past and present, the overlays of Puritan, agrarian, commercial, and industrial ways of life that he encountered in England as well as America. He seems to be caught in a world whose reality he isn't sure of and although he is ready to introduce changes into it he refuses to commit himself to a new perspective of this world.
In Scarlet letter the author concentrates more on the characters and relates how the society is responsible for the way they react to situations. Like for instance Hester tempts Dimmesdale in the forest .She is like a free spirit, that has an urge to explore the world, test its limitations and succumb to the throes of exciting temptations whatever the consequences maybe. She's far more carefree, probably bold but in a way more naive than minister Arthur Dimmesdale who has only learnt to abide by the laws in his life. Be they laws of society or God he cannot imagine a life beyond them yet as he interacts with a free spirit like Hester, the innate desire of love and passion that he had suppressed for so long just so that he could conform to the high ideals and expectations of the puritan society suddenly surface. They get so strong that he ends up committing the ultimate sin of passion unimaginable by a man of his position n demeanor and before long the guilt of not being able to rectify his sin finally takes his life. Hence the character of Dimmesdale is one that is defined by not principle but passion who's up against the puritan mindset of society that knows nothing of passion and is only bound by principles. Chillingsworth however was a cold-blooded murderer as all he could think of was revenge .In his madness to avenge himself desperation drives him to the extent that he hangs himself. Thus we see how the puritan framework is responsible for the manner…