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Quartet Behind Teh Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper

The Quartet Behind The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne had many different characters in his novel The Scarlet Letter, but very few of them are actually put

to use. In fact, only four of them really count. They are Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger

Chillingworth. They all have their own meanings. For example, Hester is for love, Dimmesdale is the spirit, and

Chillingworth is the mind (Roper 112). Each member of the four has a unique struggle and makes their own input on the

outcome of The Scarlet Letter.

Hester Prynne was a very important character in the novel. At the opening she is being brought out of Salem s by the

town beatle for punishment upon the scaffold. She resents this treatment, and this sets up the conflict between her and the

Puritan society (Brodhead 45). She was spared the gripe about the head and neck, yet she and her daughter, Pearl, must

endure public humility for the next three hours in the burning June sun (Gordon 26). Her crime was adultery against her

husband, known as Roger Chillingworth, who had went out into the world to seek his fortune in medicine. It is really

shocking that she could do this, seeing that she lived in the Puritanical village of Salem. In fact, she seems to be a feminist

in this aspect, daring to rise up and challenge the laws about women (Crowley 63). After this incident, she was taken

back to her prison cell and there she waited until the magistrates decided to release her. At first, she was definitely

isolated from society, but there are still traces of intercourse with society (Axelson 77). However, her needlework

fascinated many people and was fashionable among the upper ranks of the Puritans (Newberry 5). Yet she feels that she

has been taken advantage of by Chillingworth, who makes her keep his identity secret while he searches for the one who

sinned with Hester (Axelson 80). Her response to this is one of the determining factors of the end of the story.

Pearl, born in the Salem jail, was the daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, a well respected Puritan priest.

She is not that important to the outcome of the story, but still, she has many qualities and seems to be the most complex

figure in this novel(Abel 204). When she was born, she had no defects, in fact, she was worthy to have been born in

Eden (Hawthorne 92). Her name came about not from her aspect, which had nothing of the calm, white, unimpassioned

luster of pearl, but it was because she was her mother’s greatest treasure, the one she paid a great price for (Hawthorne

91). In Pearl’s early years, she symbolized childhood with its undeveloped human and moral responsibility (Abel 170).

Pearl differed from the other children that lived in the Puritan neighborhood. The village children lacked the childlike

energy and freedom when they were compared to Pearl (Johnson 62). She was really more in tune with nature than she

was with the human community (Abel 195). Her traits included her violent displays of temper, lively imagination, and

curiosity (Abel 199). Yet the absence of a father in her life is a serious void in her life (Miller 279). It is certain that she

felt this and that it helped create some of her feelings. When the Reverend finally confessed himself to her, she seemed to

understand why the void was there. Her father never gave her anything however. It is ironic that the one who tortured her

father’s soul, Chillingworth, gave her a large inheritance when he died. But what happened to her after this? A question

remains as to what really happens to Pearl (Hutner 29).

Arthur Dimmesdale was a priest in the town of Salem. He became the lover of Hester Prynne in the Massachusetts

woods. His tremulously sweet, rich, deep, and broken voice was his gift to the ministry (Hawthorne 73). He is

considered by many to be saintly, but that is far from true. No, he had many faults, yet he kept them locked up inside the

dungeon of his heart (Brodhead 32). His fault was not his affair, but it was his unwillingness to confess, his hypocrisy

(Abel 183). He was neither saintly nor villainous. He was egotistical, self-deluded, and entirely passive. He is a pathetic,

failed human, that shows the potential disaster to which a conflict between creativity and morality may lead the narrator

(Johnson 55-56, 65). His sin brought him an even deadlier friend: heart disease. He was seen on any slight alarm or other

sudden accident to put his hand over his heart (Hawthorne 119). But he was egotistical, and he made his last stand on the

Election Day, preaching the best sermon he had ever preached before (Newberry 186).

Roger Chillingworth was Hester s husband. He was the main offender against Hester, marrying her before she was

mature enough to know the needs of her nature. He was capable of love, and should be sympathized with for his desire

of a life cheered by domestic affections But he was disappointed in his hope of gaining his wife’s affection, and hated the

man who had gained it unsought and eventually unwished. At first his anger was natural and forgivable, but it became fatal

when he nourished it (Abel 182, 208-209). Although he thinks it is Hester’s betrayal that has changed him from a kind,

loving, gentleman, to a vengeful devil, it may really be that he is really physically and sexually inferior to Dimmesdale. He

transformed his healing sympathy into destructive and slef-distorting faculty (Hutner 31, 42). The real irony is that in trying

to damn Dimmesdale he damns himself (Crowley 68).

The Scarlet Letter is about all of these charcters who tried to find the true meanings behind their feelings. Some of them

succeeded. Hester, Pearl, and Arthur did. There is a trace of evidence that Roger Chillingworth changed his ways after

Dimmesdale died, but we don’t know that for sure. What we do know for sure is that each of the characters had a

struggle and made their own imprint on The Scarlet Letter.

Works Citied

Abel, Darrel. The Moral Picturesque: Studies in Hawthorne’s Fiction. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1988.

Axelson, Arne. “The Links in the Chain: Isolation and Interdependence in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Fictional Characters.”

Diss. Uppsala University, Uppsala, 1974.

Brodhead, Richard H. Hawthorne, Melville, and the Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Crowley, J. Donald, ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne: a collection of criticism. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company,

1975.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin Books, 1850.

Hutner. Gordon. Secrets and Sympathy: Forms of Disclosure in Hawthorne’s Novels. Athens: University of Georgia

Press, 1988.

Johnson, Claudia D. The Productive Tension of Hawthorne’s Art. University: The University of Alabama Press, 1981.

Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa

Press, 1991.

Newberry, Frederick. Hawthorne’s Divided Loyalties: New England and America in his works. Cranbury: Associated

University Press, 1987.

Roper, Gordon. “Hawthorne, Nathaniel.” World Book. 1983 ed.


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