The Scarlet Letter: Yin and Yang in Literature
Many people of the world contend with living their life as realistically as they can, knowing where their limits are. To them, life has a tragic dimension to it, where all that one desires may not turn out as he or she hoped it would. And through this time, some endure hardships that test their levels of patience, dexterity, and will. In his novel, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorn writes of a woman’s seven years of pain-staking tribulations, and how she manages to cope with life through this hard time.
By employing realistic characters, themes, emotions, Hawthorne creates a sense that there is a great gap between human desire and human possibility. A mother’s job includes teaching her children to respect the morals of nature and of society, while at the same time living according to their own beliefs. Hester Prynne is this kind of mother. Because of her act of adultery, Hester bears a child, a daughter she names Pearl. As well as receiving this child, she acquires a scarlet letter “A”, which now dawns on the breast of her clothing.
She must, for the rest of her natural life, wear this letter to signify her fault, which is immense in the eyes of the Puritan society. She will never again be able to live her life in peace, because of the piercing, condescending stare of her neighbors. Whenever she feels sad or insecure, she touches the scarlet mark of blasphemy. Sometimes, people try to keep their secrets inside, so that others don’t know of their faults. The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale bounds himself to secrecy with the shrouded knowledge that he is Pearl’s actual father, the one in which Pester commits adultery.
He, too, bears the demeaning letter, but his is not visible. Whenever he feels insecure about himself and what he is doing, he places his hands upon his upper chest, to the same place in which Hester actually has the red letter of infamy. This common hand motion signifies that they both realize that they committed a wrongdoing, and are trying to get over their act. It is not until the end of the story where Hester and Arthur try to escape their past.
But, then they recognize the fact that there is no escaping what they have done, and they remain in Boston, where they committed this atrocity. During all of this commotion with Hester’s adultery, her husband, Roger Chillingworth, tries to sabotage both her and Dimmesdale’s plans of keeping the name of Pearl’s father from being revealed to the town. He first appears in Boston they day of Hester’s placing on the scaffold for humiliation. Before the actual story, he tells his wife to go to Boston and to wait for him. But, when he arrives he is confronted with her wrongdoing.
Chillingworth, being the actual husband of Hester, wants more than anything to get the revenge he thinks he needs. But, his plans fail when the passion and true love between Hester and Dimmesdale let them realize that they can not turn their backs on what they have done. They reveal, in the end, that the name of Pearl’s father is Dimmesdale. Because his plans are finally foiled, and he has nothing else to live on trying to prove, Chillingworth soon dies. The themes of the novel itself place the story inside the lines of anti-transcendentalism.
Hawthorne writes, through his characters, that if something must be known, then there is nothing, not even divine intervention, that will stop it from revealing it self. Even though Hester tried to keep the name of Pearl’s father a secret, and Chillingworth tried so hard to be the one to reveal it, neither of the two were able to control the outcome of the events. Since the beginning of the novel, Pearl is the embodiment of the consequences of Hester’s adultery and of the scarlet letter (Spark Notes).
As the “living scarlet letter,” Pearl’s main purpose in the novel was to teach Dimmesdale and Hester that no one can run from their past forever. They finally learn this lesson at the end of the story when Dimmesdale reveals that he is infact Pearl’s father, and both he and Hester take responsibility for their sin. Hawthorne writes of the distinct separation of the wilderness and the Puritanical town of Boston. Inside the city of Boston, the laws are upheld and morals are kept in tact.
But, it is in the forest where Hester finally realizes that she can’t run away from her life, and that she must stay in Boston and take responsibility for what she has done. It is because Hawthorne writes of the forest as a place of love, a place where the strict rules of the Puritan society don’t matter. When she and Dimmesdale finally run to the sanctity of the forest, they are able to accept the fact that they know what’s right to do, that they must confront the town that has deemed them evil. For example, when they are trying to run away, Hester rips off the scarlet letter and continue on.
But, since Pearl represents the letter and she is meant to teach the two a lesson, she won’t continue on with Hester and Dimmesdale until she reattaches the letter. Hester’s true desire is to just run away with Pearl and Dimmesdale, and forget what she has done in the past. But, with the help and influence of Pearl, she realizes the error of her ways. Like the definition of “anti-transcendentalism,” there are limits to the desires that people create. Hester’s desire is to forget the past, and run away to start a new future for her family. But, like it was stated, there is a limit to her desire.
Hester knows that in order to feel good about herself, she has to reveal the true name of her daughter’s true father before she can do anything, no matter what the consequence (Grade Saver). In accordance with the story, anti-transcendentalism pays great attention to the darker side of life, as well as the exemplary side. In the first few chapters, Hawthorne depicts the prison as a damp, dark abode in which Hester must spend countless days. He vividly details the outside of the prison as being tattered and weathered, the building being there for years.
When Hester is on the scaffold, many people stand and stare at the humiliated woman. She can feel the powerful, but painful, sensation that the scarlet letter creates. Also, having committed the sin of adultery, the neighborhood inhabitants don’t treat Hester kindly. From the children throwing stones at her and Pearl, to the adults talking about her behind her back, Hester can’t get any peace. Having mastered the characteristics of an anti-transcendentalist writer, Hawthorne also exhibits attributes of other schools of thought.
Because Hester’s past lingers in the present, it might be considered to be in the romantic field. It also deals with the human nature. And because the Puritans felt that rules were very important and should not be broken. Thus, Hawthorne’s book could be partially placed under the school of thought of regionalism. Finally, because the story focuses on the real condition of humanity, realism might be an attribute of this story. A great deal of the story line focuses on how Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth feel about the situations.
When reading any story, it is best to see all aspects of the story. Accordingly, both the dark and light sides of the story must be told. True, it is not necessary to focus on one more than the other. But, each must be told of equally. And through his characters and themes, Hawthorne makes sure that he doesn’t just write about one side of life. For every passion of love Hester experiences, there is a humiliation to go along with it. People should be able to realize that everything comes with a grain of salt; not everything will turn out the way one wants it to.