A. The Scarlet Letter. Brady Haering Pd. AB. Nathaniel Hawthorne July 4, 1804- May 19, 1864.
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Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts. His father died of yellow fever in 1808. He changed his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne to distinguish himself from his Puritan ancestors, whom he disagreed with in all aspects. His uncle wanted to fund his education, so that Hawthorne could be a doctor or lawyer. However, Nathaniel had no interest in these pursuits. About his college education, he said: “I do not want to be a doctor and live by men\'s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don\'t see that there is anything left for me but to be an author." It was ironic that he wanted nothing to do with the behaviors of humanity, considering that is what he most wrote about. He graduated in 1825 from Bowdoin College. While there, he met and befriended Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and future President Franklin Pierce. He continued to live with his mother in Salem, Massachusetts and researched his family history. His first book, Fanshawe, was published 1828 anonymously. Twice-Told Tales came in 1837. He married Sophia Peabody in 1842 and they moved to Concord, Massachusetts. In 1846 he published Mosses from an Old Manse. His literary pursuits had thus far been unsuccessful . Money was bad, so moved back with his mother, and worked in the Salem Custom House. In 1849 he found a letter A in his mom’s attic, it inspired the Scarlet Letter. The Scarlet Letter was very successful. His wife and he then moved to Lenox, Massachusetts. They lived in a very secluded manner and were, ironically, solitary together. The House of the Seven Gables was published in 1850. Later in his life, he wrote several children’s stories based on Greek myths. His final book was the Marble Faun, published in 1860. He died of unknown causes in 1864 while on a trip with Franklin Pierce. About his death Ralph Waldo Emerson, long time critic and friend of Hawthorne, wrote: "I thought there was a tragic element in the event, that might be more fully rendered,—in the painful solitude of the man, which, I suppose, could no longer be endured, & he died of it."
Hester Prynne is most at conflict with the Puritan society throughout the story. However she does find herself at odds with her former husband, Roger Chillingworth. This is most evident in Chapter 14 when she confronts him while on a walk with Pearl. She had decided to make appeal towards Chillingworth, asking that he would stop his torment of Reverend Dimmesdale. Although she had originally agreed to keep Chillingworth’s true identity a secret, she decided that she must reveal to Dimmesdale the true nature of his secret tormentor. They began the encounter as they had with any in the past seven years. They spoke as if they knew each other, but not more than one would know any neighbor in the Puritan society. Dimmesdale even remarked about removing the scarlet letter on page 152: ”It was debated whether or no, with safety to the common weal, yonder scarlet letter might be taken off your bosom. On my life, Hester, I made my entreaty to the worshipful magistrate that it might be done forthwith!” Hester did not take well to the idea and got straight to the point in her reasons for finding Chillingworth on page 154: “When we last spake together,now seven years ago, it was your pleasure to extort a promise of secrecy, as touching the former relation betwixt yourself and me….. Since that day, no man is so near to him [Dimmesdale] as you. You tread behind his every footstep. You are beside him, sleeping and waking. You search his thoughts. You burrow and rankle in his heart! Your clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living death; and still he knows you not. In permitting this, I have surely acted a false part by the only man to whom the power was left me to be true!” This shows the guilt that Hester feels, seeing herself as partly responsible for Dimmesdale’s suffering. It also shows her understanding of Chillingworth’s intentions of torment. On page 155 Chillingworth both defends his physical treatment of the Reverend : “But for my aid, his life would have burned away in torments, within the first two years after the perpetration of his crime and thine.” And admits that he is the greatest cause of Dimmesdale’s internal suffering: “With the superstition common to his brotherhood, he fancied himself given over to a fiend, to be tortured with frightful dreams, and desperate thoughts, the sting of remorse, and despair of pardon; as a foretaste of what awaits him beyond the grave. But it was the constant shadow of my presence!—the closest propinquity of the man whom he had most vilely wronged!--and who had grown to exist only by this perpetual poison of the direst revenge! Yea, indeed!—he did not err!—there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment!“ Hester lets it be known to Chillingworth that she intends to tell Dimmesdale about the doctor: “I must reveal the secret. He must discern thee in thy true character. What may be the result, I know not. But this long debt of confidence, due from me to him, whose bane and ruin I have been, shall at length be paid.” (Pg. 156) Chillingworth dismisses Hester, claiming that he no longer cares about her actions: “Ye that have wronged me are not sinful, save in a kind of typical illusion; neither am I fiend-like, who have snatched a fiend’s office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! Now go thy ways, and deal as thou wilt with yonder man.” (Pg. 157). Hester would reveal to Dimmesdale Chillingworth’s true identity during a secret meeting in the woods. They devised a plan to leave the colony and escape the fiend’s clutches. However, their plan was unable to come to fruition. On the colony’s election day, Dimmesdale died, but not before publicly revealing his affair with Hester.
In all eras and epochs of human beings, people have lived their lives based on how their beliefs tell them to live. When someone breaks from these beliefs, or betrays them they are persecuted. Someone who does not follow the same moral code, or perhaps experiences a solitary moment of weakness, will always be vilified in an unaccepting world. Some accept their punishment, while others may refuse to conform to the nature of their society.
In the Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is persecuted for her moment of weakness. After being impregnated from committing adultery in the absence of her possibly dead husband, she is forced to wear the Scarlet Letter upon her clothes at all times, and be publicly shunned. “Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin.” (Pg. 73) She could no longer live a normal life because she made one mistake, in a society that was intolerant and quick to victimize. Dimmesdale, who was just as at fault as Hester, let his guilt slowly kill him from the inside, simply to avoid being outcast as Hester was. It took for Dimmesdale to be on Death’s Door for him to finally admit his transgression.
The theme of the Scarlet Letter reflects in all civilizations of humans. Throughout the ages, people have been persecuted for having different beliefs and for their transgressions. In the Salem with trials, during the Crusades, or even during the Holocaust people were needlessly killed for being different. Even in modern society people are shunned for being seen as different, or a hated by certain groups of people, simply because they don’t share the same beliefs as those people. Hester was subject to cruel and unusual punishments just as people always will be.
I personally did not care much for the Scarlet Letter. That is in the sense that it did not pique my interest. I felt it was rather slow and just plain boring at times. Also it isn’t the type of story I normally care to read. I more prefer books such as Harry Potter that involve some sort of fantastical elements (magic, gods, et cetera). One thing that I did like in the novel was the allusions to fiends and demons when the story spoke about the actions of Roger Chillingworth. Something I did not like was the way the character Pearl was written. To me, she seemed far too eloquent and intuitive for a seven year old in any period of time. She came across as the creepiest character, even over Chillingworth or Mistress Hibbins.
From the Scarlet Letter, I learned that, despite the severity of any injustice or insult brought against me, revenge is never the course of action to take. Chillingworth ardently pursued his revenge but, after seven years, he still could not be satisfied by Dimmesdale suffering and death. He became obsessed with his revenge and it consumed and warped his life. So, when he could no longer cast his will upon Dimmesdale, he had nothing left to live for. I felt that I could most relate to Chillingworth because of his intelligence. Pg. 69: “ I,—a man of thought,—the book-worm of great libraries,—a man already in decay, having given my best years to feed the hungry dream of knowledge.” Chillingsworth refers to himself as a man of great intelligence and talks about his hunger for knowledge. I am like him in that I too am a person of high intelligence and am someone who is always willing to learn more.
If I had to recommend the Scarlet Letter to someone, I would give it to an insomniac. If the book has the same effect on them as it did on me, then, after just a chapter or two of reading the Scarlet Letter, they would finally be able to sleep peacefully. The Scarlet Letter could bore this person to the sleep that they so sorely need.