In The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthrone masterfully weaves many them
"Has been a lifesaver so many times!"
- Catherine Rampell, student @ University of Washington
"Exactly the help I needed."
- Jennifer Hawes, student @ San Jose State
"The best place for brainstorming ideas."
- Michael Majchrowicz, student @ University of Kentucky
In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthrone masterfully weaves many themes and uses character
development to format the plot of this novel. The themes of The Scarlet Letter are carried out through the
four main characters -- Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingsworth, and Pearl -- and also
through symbolism. In this novel, Hawthrone hoped to show that although Hester and Dimmesdale sinned,
they achieved the wisdom of self knowledge and inner growth through their suffering.
Before the novel actually starts, there is a section of the book entitled "The Custom House".
While this is not an integral part of the novel, it provides insight into Nathaniel Hawthrone, the man. Here
it is learned that Hawthroneís ancestors were strict Puritans (he was born in Salem). One of his ancestors
was considered a "hanging judge" and was actually a judge in the Salem Witch Trails. This is why
Hawthrone has an interest in the Puritan period.
Although Hawthrone did not actually participate in the Puritan period, he still felt guilty about
what his ancestors did. He was angered by the hypocrisy of the church who condemned sins, yet
committed them and was also angered by the government. This becomes apparent to the reader throughout
the course of the novel. In fact, The Scarlet Letter was a way for Hawthrone to vent his frustrations with
Brief Summary of the Novel
The Scarlet Letter is a novel revolving around a woman who committed the sin of adultery in a
small Puritan town in seventeenth-century Boston. Hester Prynne, the adulteress, refuses to reveal her
loverís name, and as a result is forced to wear a large, red "A" on her bosom. This is to tell everyone of her
sin. Hester is also forced to live isolated with her daughter, Pearl, who is the result of her sin. Meanwhile,
the small Puritan town remains very devoted to and very proud of their young minister, Arthur
Dimmesdale. What they do not know is that it is Dimmesdale who is Hesterís Lover and Pearlís father.
The fact that Dimmesdale keeps his sin a secret is tearing him up, both physically and emotionally. To
complicate matters even more, Hesterís old and slightly deformed husband is back. He had stayed in
England for quite a while allowing Hester to settle into their new home. Her husband, Roger
Chillingsworth, comes to the town at precisely the moment that Hester is!
being presented to the world as an adulteress. Chillingsworth sees Hester with the scarlet letter upon her
breast and in the moment of Hesterís greatest humiliation. He is outraged and vows that "he (the lover)
will be known." (p. 69) He pretends to be a physician and eventually suspects Dimmesdale of the breaking
the seventh commandment. Chillingsworthís mission becomes that of revenge.
Themes and Character Development
In The Scarlet Letter, the themes are played out by the characters. Hesterís development, for
example, illustrates the theme that recognition of our weaknesses may make people stronger and more
sympathetic to the weaknesses of others.
The punishment that is chosen for Hester is a long and drawn-out one. It is a mental punishment,
one that will last her her entire lifetime. Like Chillingsworth stated on page 69, "A wise sentence! Thus
she will be a living sermon against sin, until the ignominious letter be engraved upon her tombstone."
Because of her great punishment, Hester grows and matures throughout the years. The letter
causes her to be an outsider in her own home and for her to have no friends. As a result, she matures much.
Whenever a person matures, he or she can look at the world through a different pair of eyes and therefore
be more perceptive to other peopleís pain.
Hester, in part of a punishment imposed on herself, helps the poor. She uses her surplus to give to
the less fortunate, although they feel superior to her and show it. But due to Hesterís maturity she
continues to help the poor.
Because Hester felt pain, she learned to be "warm and rich; a wellspring of human tenderness,
unfailing to every real demand...she was a self-ordained Sister of Mercy."(p.156) In fact, it is ironic how a
person who was shunned by a town in receiving the scarlet letter was later praised by it -- how the
View Full Essay