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The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is one with differing themes and interpretations. Have the writers at Paper Masters help you write a research paper that explains any part of the story by Hawthorne that you need written on.

Scarlet Letter term papers illustrate that in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the main story line revolves around Hester Prynne's shame at being caught in adultery and struggles to live with the stigma. Key to understanding the subtext of the work is the presence and personality of Pearl, Hester's daughter. In many respects, Pearl is the scarlet letter. The reason that the townspeople are able to convict Hester is that she becomes pregnant, and her husband is nowhere to be found. Obviously, they rightly conclude, she was breaking the commandments with somebody.

From the very beginning, Pearl has an otherworldly awareness and sensitivity. After one becomes familiar with the work, the reader can see how Hawthorn reveals the father from the earliest chapters.

Even the poor baby, at Hester's bosom, was affected by the same influence; for it directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale.

Pearl's first conscious thought turns to her father. The child's sensitivity is also illustrated in chapter 3, as Hester stands in the courtyard being tried by the town. "The infant, during the latter part of the ordeal, pierced the air with its wailings and screams." This is a special, preternatural child.

The next phase of Pearl's existence is at three years of age, denoted by the following:

  • Chapter 6, "Pearl," contrast her physical beauty ("worthy to have been brought forth in Eden") with her unruly behavior ("The child could not be made amenable to rules").
  • To the Puritan townspeople, Pearl is an "imp of evil, emblem and product of sin," but Hawthorn's characterization of Pearl shows his personal disdain for Puritan strictness.
  • The physical beauty of the child shows that she was not the product of sin, but rather of love and purity.

Hester and Dimmesdale may have been committing adultery, but the actions of the novel show that they are true lovers. The tragedy of the work is that their situations and society force them first to keep their love secret, and then to live apart.

Much of The Scarlet Letter focuses on Hester Prynne and her motivations and actions. She is viewed as both a sinner and a woman determined to follow her own path. For example, when she is branded with the scarlet letter she refuses to move away or to take it off. Doing either would mean society's views of her were correct. When she is alienated from the community she uses it as an opportunity for self-reflection and to speculate on human nature. The scarlet "A" stands as a barrier between herself and the rest of the community. However, she does not let it destroy her or to determine all of her choices.

Hester never denies her sin of sleeping with Dimmesdale while she was married to another. However, she does refuse to deny that it happened and uses it as a means of exploring her own identity. In the literature the color red is often used to signify sin, evil or atonement. In the beginning of the book the scarlet "A" is clearly a label of sin. By the story's end however it leans more toward atonement. In other words it comes to stand for Hester's ability to survive and endure.

That Hester was viewed as a sinner is clear by the attitudes of the other women living in the community. Hester is labeled as a "hussy" and "naughty baggage" by these women who clearly believed she should suffer for her sin. Even Hawthorne seems to agree with this assessment with the words "Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow, and here was yet to be her penitence". Barlowe argues that despite Hester's determination to seek self-growth she was burdened by the depth of her sin, which led to her self-imposed isolation. Hawthorne confirms this assessment but stating Hester was forced to resign herself to living a life of a woman "stained with sin [and] bowed down with shame".

Hester's status as a sinner was also confirmed by the men in the village and their self-proclaimed "right" to determine one's identity. The town Fathers were quick to condemn Hester for adultery and to label her as an outcast based on the seriousness of her sin. Yet in the eyes of the town Fathers Hester committed an even greater sin than adultery and having a child as a result; she committed the sin of silence. By refusing to reveal the identity of Pearl's father she rebelled against the power of the patriarchy, an action closely associated with treason. At one point in the story Hester attempts to atone for her sin of silence by telling Dimmesdale Chillingworth's true identity.

Despite being labeled as a sinner Hester refuses to take on all of the personality characteristics of one associated with the title of sinner. Instead, she focuses on being a good mother to Pearl and on helping those in need. She takes the poor clothing and helps them in any way she can. As a "sinner" she realizes she can never become a spokeswoman and yet this does not prevent her from becoming a "mother" figure. The letter "A" stands as a constant reminder of her sin, which she uses to remind herself of the need to curtail her actions and high spirit.

Hester's actions and the way Hawthorne creates her personality clearly mark her as a good woman who is guilty of sin rather than one who possess an evil nature. Mistreated and ignored in a loveless marriage and believing her husband dead, she turned to comfort and love when it was offered. Her sin was magnified by the Puritan attitudes of those in the community in which she lived. However, upon reading the novel it becomes clear that Hester never intentionally set out to hurt anyone. Therefore she is a woman deserving of forgiveness rather than one doomed forever.

Like Hester, Dimmesdale is guilty of sin. As Hester's partner in adultery he committed sins against both God and the community he claimed to serve. However, Dimmesdale's sins are both a result of his actions and his attitudes. For example, he is first described as a man full of self-importance having graduated from Oxford University. He holds himself above those he is supposed to minister to. It is not until after he begins to suffer the effects of hiding his dark secret that his attitude begins to change. Dimmesdale's downfall was in repeating Hester's sin. His inability to deal with his actions marks him as a man to be pitied on the one hand and a man to be scorned on the other. However, he is consistently portrayed as a sinner rather than one who is evil.

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Scarlet Letter research papers discuss Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel featuring Hester Prynne.

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