Nathaniel Hawthorne’s written play, The Scarlet Letter, compares lightness vs darkness throughout the literature. Hester Prynne is the main character in the play. She gets pregnant when her husband is out to sea. The community shuns her. She is forced to wear a big red A, the scarlet letter on her breast branding her as an adultress. Although she committed a sin, the community for some reason feels has affected them, her character is an unselfish, obedient, and caring woman. Hester manages to maintain her outstanding pleasant personality, although she is reminded every minute of her life she is an outsider in the town she chooses to live in. She gives birth out of wedlock to a daughter named pearl. However, the father of her baby is a priest. The inspiration to write the play came from the author overhearing a woman confessing her sins to the priest. (Taylor, 2005). As far as what is known, the Scarlet Letter is based on a true story. Even though The Scarlet Letter is about adultery, hatred, revenge, evil, the most undesirable character actually has the highest spiritual morals throughout the entire play.
The introduction, The Custom House, the author speaks of the lonely, old house. “This old town of Salem, my native place, though I have dwelt much away from it, both in my boyhood and maturer years, possesses or did possess a hold on my affections.” In the beginning, he speaks about the old house, two and a quarter centuries old, having no monetary value. It did not have any modern conveniences. His ancestors lived there, making the house priceless to him. This house becomes very important in the play. It may represent the cottage Hester lived in. The cottage was very old, lonely, speaking of the house like it is separate and segregated from the community. Even though Hester lived the midst of rage and hatred, because she was branded for not having any moral quality, she stays true to the house.
Lightness v Darkness;
The story starts out with Hester being escorted from a prison. Her husband had just arrived back from sea to find out Hester has given birth to a child by another man. Even though Hester betrayed her husband, the play still portrays her as a virtuous woman. The color red generally symbolizes prostitution. Hester only had one lover, which she stayed true to till his death. She was not promiscuous, loud malicious woman the community associated her image with.
Even though Hester is forced to represent herself in public as an undesirable adultress, she continues to sew, creating beautiful needle point art work and gives much needed care for the sick and elderly. She provides unselfish services to a community that despises her. She lives in a cottage, which is described in the Custom House. The cottage is very lonely, isolated, as what Hester is to the outside world. Even though there is a hint of evil and sin going on in the house, it appears a guardian angel may be looking over the house. It is guarded by a mysterious eagle.
The community sees Hester as the most evil witch whom ever existed. There is a lot of deception in The Scarlet Letter. Hester refused to name to father of her baby. The man she committed this grave awful sin with is a religious leader. Dimmesdale was a cherished, respectable reverend in the community. Having an illegitimate child for someone lecturing everyone about moral living is very shocking. But is that bad? Religious leaders are human too. The woman he sinned with was not a woman of low standards. Hester betrayed her husband, not the community. The Scarlet Letter relates to several biblical stories carrying the same theme. Who is good and who is evil? In adultery situations, it takes two sides doing wrong. Only one person is considered the dark or evil person. Everyone heard about Jezzebelle, the prostitute in the bible days. Nothing is ever mentioned of the men she went with. The first overall impression of reading The Scarlet Letter, memories of Virgin Mother Mary being ridiculed and tormented for giving birth to Jesus out of wedlock comes to mind. In these situations, the darkness is thrown on the community. Of course, Chillingworth does not compare to God, and Hester gave no virgin birth. Reading the story, the audience soon realizes the community is very undesirable, unpleasant, and evil. They passed judgment on her, but did not refuse her much needed services.
Roger Chillingworth is Hesters husband. He makes arrangements to send her to America to prepare for his return. Upon his arrival, he receives the shocking bad news that Hester had an affair and given birth to her lover’s child. He settles down as a physician in Boston, determined to get revenge. The very respected physician who is now using the alias, Chillingworth become very obsessed with hatred. The community is unaware that Hester’s husband has returned. Not that Chillingworth’s emotions are not unusual, he is eventually ends up being the bad person with an evil vengeance. His rage drives him to his own death.
The reverend Dimmesdale health is failing him, increasingly getting worse. He seems to be emotionally distracted, contributing to his ever failing health. Chillingworth decides to move in to provide better medical care the priest. As Chillingworth moves in, Dimmesdale is going down much faster. At this point, Dimmesdale in unaware that the health care provider is Hesters husband. Dimmesdale is a very respected man in the same community Hester lives in. The caring physician discovers there may be a link between Hester’s personal secrets and Dimmesdale. Chillingworth whom moved in to care for his sickly patient now has destructive intentions toward him.
Hester lives in the cottage, alone with her daughter, Pearl. She supports herself and her daughter with her seamstress and nursing skills. The angry community considers Hesters only child, Pearl, the devils child. Hester and her child are the only two people existing that can relate to what each other are going through. Although Hester is generally very pleasant friendly to the public, she must be careful not to let outsiders become to close. The community attempts to take the child away from Hester, farther isolating Hester and her child. The highly respected and beloved reverend Dimmesdale, concerned for their welfare prevents the separation. The mother and daughter contently continue living together in the midst of all this rage and turmoil.
Hester is a loving, excellent caring mother to her child. She is providing a living for herself and her child, with the services the community is eagerly taking from her. The community wants to take a well cared for child away from her mother. She is not a prostitute as they are insisting she is, she does not have lots of different men in the house, she knows who the father is. Perhaps the community feels Hester is providing a better living for her child than what they are in an ideal situation. To take children away from their biological parents is a community lacking low moral and family values.
Dimmesdale publicly counseled and lectured Hester about adultery. He never let Hester forget about the punishment she deserved for her sin. The father of Hester’s baby encouraged her to publicly announce he was the father of her child. She refuses, feeling she owes no one an explanation or apology. The play does not specifically say any specific reason for her refusing to say the father’s name of the child. She could have made it much lighter on herself. Throughout the play, she never does announce the father’s name. Dimmesdale is the one who announces to the community who he is. The author may have emphasized she stubbornly refuses to announce her lovers name to point out the purity of her character. The malicious gossip was branded with the community that was so righteous. Hester was too good natured to speak evil of anyone, even if it would have helped her.
Hester thought that Chillingworth was going to reveal to Dimmesdale that he was her husband. Late one night into the isolated woods, Hester arranges a very private meeting with Dimmesdale. She reveals to him that Chillingworth was her husband but using a different the community knew him by. Hester is very much in love with Dimmesdale. She was not going to let anything separate them. She refused to announce the name of her child’s father. Hester and Dimmesdale made arrangements to escape to Europe. Hester, Dimmesdale and Pearl are going to live together by themselves as a family. For the first time in years, they felt freedom and happiness a relief to get away from everyone and live their own lives.
Chillingworth, determined to get revenge found out about the private meeting. He secretly booked a trip on the same ship Hester, Dimmesdale and Pearl were going to use for their escape. Dimmesdale gives the community one last sermon, telling them he was leaving town. He, Hester and Pearl boarded the ship ready and eager to departure. That last moment, he reveals to the community he is the Hesters lover, and Pearl’s father. Right after the announcement, he falls to his death. Chillingworth dies a year later. Pearl and Hester decides to secretly flee after Chillingworths death. No one else knew their destination. Many years later, Pearl gets married. Hester moves back to the isolated cottage wearing her red A, The Scarlet Letter. Upon Hesters death, she is buried beside Dimmesdale, her soulmate lover.
Today the Scarlet Letter is reinvented in books, movies, plays, theatre, songs, music video’s. This is a theme of puritan hypocrisy, and a ritual of guilt, confession and redemption. The woman believes her husband is lost at sea, she gives birth to a daughter, the community turns against her, she does not reveal the father of her baby and her husband returns. (Levett, 2007). Even with all the vengeance and rage against her, Hester still manages to keep a pleasant nongrudgeful disposition. Her and her lover could have fleed along time ago. They could have seeked revenge on the community. Instead, she stayed true to her community. The introduction, The Custom House, the author speaks of his sentimental obligation to the cottage.
Bloom, Harold, (1996) Nathinela Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter, Chelsea Publishing;
ISBN 0-7910-3650-2 P 32-35.
Bloom, Harold (1990) Hester Prynne, Chelsea Publishing; ISBN 0-7910-0945-9
Levett, Karl (June 4, 2007) The Scarlet Letter, Backstage
Taylor, Olivia Gatti (Winter 2005) Cultural Confessions: Penance and Penitence in Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter and the Marble Faun Vol 58 Issue 2 P 134-152
Internet; The Play
Editorial (1999) URL;