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Scarlet Letter Analysis

The book The Scarlet Letter is all about symbolism. People and objects are
symbolic of events and thoughts. Throughout the course of the book, Nathaniel
Hawthorne uses Hester, Pearl, and Arthur Dimmesdale to signify Puritanic and
Romantic philosophies. Hester Prynne, through the eyes of the Puritans, is an
extreme sinner; she has gone against the Puritan ways, committing adultery. For
this irrevocably harsh sin, she must wear a symbol of shame for the rest of her
life. However, the Romantic philosophies of Hawthorne put down the Puritanic
beliefs. She is a beautiful, young woman who has sinned, but is forgiven.

Hawthorne portrays Hester as “divine maternity” and she can do no
wrong. Not only Hester, but the physical scarlet letter, a Puritanical sign of
disownment, is shown through the author’s tone and diction as a beautiful, gold
and colorful piece. Pearl, Hester’s child, is portrayed Puritanically, as a
child of sin who should be treated as such, ugly, evil, and shamed. The reader
more evidently notices that Hawthorne carefully, and sometimes not subtly at
all, places Pearl above the rest. She wears colorful clothes, is extremely
smart, pretty, and nice. More often than not, she shows her intelligence and
free thought, a trait of the Romantics. One of Pearl’s favorite activities is
playing with flowers and trees. (The reader will recall that anything affiliated
with the forest was evil to Puritans. To Hawthorne, however, the forest was
beautiful and natural.) “And she was gentler here [the forest] than in the
grassy- margined streets of the settlement, or in her mother’s cottage. The
flowers appeared to know it” (194) Pearl fit in with natural things. Also,
Pearl is always effervescent and joyous, which is definitely a negative to the
Puritans. Pearl is a virtual shouting match between the Puritanical views and
the Romantic ways. To most, but especially the Puritans, one of the most
important members of a community is the religious leader; Arthur Dimmesdale is
no exception. He was held above the rest, and this is proven in one of the first
scenes of the book. As Hester is above the townspeople on a scaffold, Dimmesdale,
Governor Wilson, and others are still above her. But, as the reader soon
discovers, Arthur Dimmesdale is his own worst enemy. He hates himself and must
physically inflict pain upon himself. “He thus typified the constant
introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself” to
never forget what he has done (141). To Dimmesdale, it is bad that Hester is
shown publicly as a sinner, but people forget that. What is far worse than
public shame is Dimmesdale’s own cruel inner shame. Knowing what only he and
Hester know, the secret eats away at every fiber of Dimmesdale’s being. As the
Puritans hold up Dimmesdale, the Romantics level him as a human. The Scarlet
Letter is a myriad of allegorical theories and philosophies. Ranging from
Puritanic to Romantic, Nathaniel Hawthorne embodies his ideas to stress his
Romantic philosophies through Pearl, Hester, and Dimmesdale throughout all of

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