Platform Of Sin







Matt Nelson
Mrs. Yolkum
American Literature
20 Oct. 1998
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Platform of Sin
“This scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine . . . . The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron” (Hawthorne 62-63). A scaffold’s effect on the novel can be seen through an examination of the first, second, and third scaffold scenes. These sections mark the beginning, middle, and end of the novel. The novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is constructed around a scaffold, which provides the story with a constant reminder of sin.
The first scaffold scene sets the stage for the novel; it establishes who the main characters are, and where they stand in relation to each other in the story. This scene is where Hester Prynne’s sin first appears in the novel. The “Goodwives” of the congregation discuss Hester’s crime of adultery: “This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die” (Hawthorne 59). The scaffold allows Hester Prynne’s sin to be publicized and marveled at by the New Englanders. It is here that the reader becomes aware of Hester being shunned as an outsider, when she is placed on the scaffold: “Knowing well her part, she ascended a flight of wooden steps, and was thus displayed to the surrounding multitude, at about the height of a mans shoulders above the street . . . . The unhappy culprit sustained herself as best a woman might, under the heavy weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes” (63-64). At the same time, the first scaffold scene is the setting for the introduction of Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, and establishes his

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desire to punish the man who has wronged both him and his wife. Chillingworth’s conversation with one of the townsmen about Hester’s crime serves as an example of his vengeful nature. “It irks me, . . . that the partner of her iniquity should not, at least, stand on the scaffold by her side. But he will be known! - he will be known! - he will be known” (69)! An example of the scaffold being a constant reminder of sin is when Hester and her daughter, Pearl, stand together on the platform. Pearl’s presence, as a three month old child, represents the birth of this sin between Hester Prynne and her lover. The final way in which the first scaffold scene sets the stage for the novel is by foreshadowing Reverend Dimmesdale, the town minister, as being Hester Prynne’s partner in crime. This is shown when Dimmesdale only asks Hester to announce the name of her lover once, and gives up too easily instead of pushing her further. Dimmesdale does not want her to confess her lover’s name because he knows that name would be his own.
The second scaffold scene is the turning point in the novel and leads to the unraveling of the plot. In this scene Dimmesdale is identified as Hester’s lover, and therefore, a part of her sin. Dimmesdale’s role in Hester’s mistake becomes clear during this scene: “While standing on the scaffold, in this vain show of expiation, Mr. Dimmesdale was overcome with a great horror of mind, as if the universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his heart” (144). The scarlet token over his heart represents his mark of sin. Furthermore, the fact that he climbs the scaffold also shows his desire to confess to the townspeople. However, he does not possess the
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courage to do so. He chooses to stand on the scaffold at night when everyone is asleep and he has no risk of discovery. Dimmesdale is afraid to confess because he knows how highly the townspeople think of him, and he does not want to disappoint them by announcing his sin. Finally, a meteor in the second scaffold scene foreshadows the third scene. The shooting star appears while Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl are standing together on the scaffold.
“‘At the great judgment day,’ whispered the minister, . . . ‘Then, and there, before the judgment seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand together’. . . before Mr. Dimmesdale had done speaking a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky . . . So powerful was its