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The author of my book is Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts. The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850, followed by his other famous book, “The House of Seven Gables” which was published in 1851. Something that is common between the two books is that they both have elements of Gothic and fiction. Even though gothic is not the main genre of Scarlet Letter, it is a Gothic novel because of the forbidden love that the main character has outside of her marriage. An affair was considered a crime in the time period the book is set in. The main genre of this book is historical fiction. It is set in 17th century Boston, where the people believed in the Devil, witches, and a vengeful God. Even though the book is historically accurate, other elements of the writing make it fictional.
The book tells the story of Hester Prynne, who has committed the crime of adultery. She gives birth to a baby girl and refuses to reveal the baby’s father. As a punishment, she is forced to wear the scarlet letter “A” which makes her an adulteress. Her cowardly lover, who is a clergyman doesn’t confess to his crime for 7 years. Considering his position as a priest, he is guilt-stricken because he has committed a sin in the eyes of God. Her husband who was thought to be dead begins to live under a new name in order to find Hester’s lover.
“Man had marked this woman’s sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it was sinful like herself. God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in Heaven!” (Hawthorne 84)
Upon reading this passage for the first time, as a reader, I was able to empathize with Hester. The passage symbolizes two ironies. Firstly, the scarlet letter which was supposed to be a punishment is actually beautiful as it is the place where now Pearl rests. The other irony is Pearl herself as, “God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child” (Hawthorne 84) in return for her actions.
This book has a diverse number of themes, but my focus is the emotions presented in the book, which are also some of the themes. The emotions that I’m going to analyze are alienation, confession, persecution, sin, redemption, and guilt.
The form that I am focusing on is symbolism in the book. The symbol that I am going to refer to is a scaffold. A scaffold is a raised wooden platform used formerly for the public execution of criminals. There are three scaffold scenes in the book. All of the four main characters were present together in these scenes.
In order to explain my pictures, I’ll tell you what happened in each of the scenes. In the first scaffold scene, Hester walks out of the prison door with her 3 months old daughter. she walks through the public and climbs up the scaffold. As she is walking through the public they are talking about the symbol on her chest. Hester and Pearl are publicly persecuted, while the man whom she committed adultery with stands quietly in the public. She is interrogated by the town’s officials. Hester’s husband is also present at the scene and learns of her crime. He develops an evil impulse to take revenge on her. Throughout her humiliation, she copes with all the emotions alone at the scaffold. In the second scaffold scene, it is Dimmesdale who climbs the scaffold during the night. He hopes that he can confess his sin publicly and be cleansed through confession. Dimmesdale climbs the scaffold on his own accord, unlike Hester who was forced to climb the scaffold. While in Hester’s case, the scaffold symbolized humiliation, in Dimmesdale’s case it is more of a symbol of salvation as he uses the scaffold as an escape to lessen the anguish in his soul. He is later joined by Hester and Pearl. At this moment, the emotions that the scaffold represented in the first scenes are now that of bondage between the family. The family is now away from the society that will punish them for their crime. Hester’s husband is also present at the scene as a representation of evil. The final scene’s atmosphere is similar to that of the first. Again, all of the main characters are present at the scene. At this time, Dimmesdale confesses to his sin publicly while giving a sermon. He frees himself of the guilt and redeems himself. He dies at the scaffold after confessing.
I would recommend this book because the situation can be related to today’s society. A woman would be judged by the society and the law for having an affair without any explanations from her. While a man would still be let off the hook. The book paints a great picture of early America and about their morality and hypocrisy. While reading the book the author’s style was difficult to understand but when reading carefully, it is very interesting to read because of the use of imagery, symbolism, and irony. There are many parallels in this book to what we have read in the semester. I am connecting my book to Frankenstein. In Frankenstein, the creature demonstrates the basic human needs like food, shelter, companionship, and acceptance. However, he is judged based on his appearance and isolated by the society and abandoned by his father. Yet, we see the innocence in his character. He shows his human side to the world and wants to live a normal life, but he isn’t given the option to. While in The Scarlet Letter, Hester is forced to wear the scarlet letter A which represents adultery. Because of that, she is always judged by the public whenever she is in the marketplace. Hester and her daughter are isolated from the society and they have no one in their life except for each other. In both novels, we see how the two characters are treated in a similar way by the society and yet their outcome is so different. The creature goes on to take his revenge while Hester is more accepted by the society. The journey of their suffering is presented in such a way that a reader can feel sympathy for them. Lastly, what makes this book worth reading is that the author highlighted both the religion’s strengths and weaknesses. His knowledge of their beliefs and views on their lifestyles can be seen through the character themselves.
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