The Story of a Modern, Independent Woman in Puritan Era – The Scarlet Letter

The scarlet letter
The scarlet letter

In the current era of dwindling definitions of sin and purity, the novel ‘Scarlet Letter’ is quite idiosyncratic in its own ways. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote this novel as an attempt to establish a new genre- that of psychological romance. The context of the novel is indigenous to the Puritan Age. The ideals and moral values rode high, higher than the emotions and feelings of a human. Hawthorne has very deftly pointed out this, with the strong use of symbolism and several motifs, throughout the story. The novel revolves around the idea of sin, the remorse, the punishment, and most importantly, the perception of the commoners towards the sinners.

The novel takes place in Boston. The protagonist Hester is guilty of the adultery. It is the most heinous crime one can ever commit, especially in the Puritan Age. Back then, hypocrisy had blinded the rational set of mind of people. Hester has a daughter, named Pearl, who is, apparently, the ‘proof’ of the adultery. Despite sheer humiliation and insults, she refuses to divulge the identity and whereabouts of the biological father of Pearl. She is married and has violated the sanctity of the institution of marriage. This was even is, frowned upon. The punishment, was to wear the letter ‘A’, on the bosom, and the color should be scarlet, hence, the name of the novel, ‘The Scarlet Letter’.

Wearing the badge of the sin, that too, adultery, is pretty much unimaginable. Numerous atrocities would be unleashed, once the commoners ‘happen to glance’ at it. The story is about valor, and pride, for Hester, who truly believes in the power of love, which can move mountains (apparently?). The biological father of Pearl, with whom Hester was feeling infatuation, is Reverend Dimmesdale. This was definitely a taboo, and Hester didn’t want the world to know the truth, even when she was suffering. She was hell-bent on making a future with the Reverend, up till the arrival of her husband, the ‘doctor’ Chillingworth.

The portrayal of Chillingworth as a character can be pretty confusing. You may perceive him to be really dumb, whereas, he was really smart. He was sharp enough to have figured out the truth, pretty much on his own. He, then, intended to completely destroy the Reverend, by unleashing some of his wicked psychological tricks. Sadly, or fortunately, (depending on your perception) Hester agreed to the plan, and joined forces with her husband. Chillingworth, very cunningly, established a successful proximity with the Reverend. The tricks of the ‘doctor’ in disguise, certainly had a profound effect on Reverend Dimmesdale. Eventually, he realized that his own guilt of having hidden the truth and having caused great trouble to Hester and his daughter Pearl would kill him, sooner, or later.

Reverend Dimmesdale decided to ‘come clean’, and it was shattering for the locals, as he was looked upon as an extremely self-righteous figure, one who can do no wrong to anyone. When the proof of him having committed adultery was out, after the arduous display of the faint scarlet letter ‘A’, on his bosom, it was shocking. Initially, nobody believes this news. Eventually, Reverend was again, seen in an extremely positive light, as a messiah, if you may term it as that. This is astounding, and soon, Reverend dies, leaving behind the fortune for Pearl. Meanwhile, our protagonist imbibes the scarlet letter ‘A’ into her identity beautifully. She doesn’t face the disgust and shames the way she used to.

The author has tastefully treated the characters. The characters have different dimensions and layers, which makes the entire experience very exciting.

Hester’s Character –

Hester’s character is highly complex, and yet, it portrays the classic state of dilemma that the women undergo, in the case of adultery. The topic is quite bold, even for today, where sex is a taboo. Hester comes out as a hero, in the end, having won the ‘battle of love’, even after several trials and tribulations. The refusal of Hester, to part with the scarlet letter, which had become an integral part of her identity, establishes her as an independent woman. Despite having surrendered to the situation, even though out of her own free will, she managed to make the best out of it. She certainly comes across as a fierce woman, who would go to any lengths, for her love, and loved ones.

The twists and turns in the novel, have made it a bestseller, and this is popular even today. The attempts at inventing the new genre of psychological romance were pretty much ‘on point’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne.


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