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Scarlet Letter And Scaffold

Scaffold “I am as content to die for God’s eternal truth on the scaffold as
in any other way (Bookshelf),” John Brown, a U.S. abolitionist in 1859, said
in a letter to his children on the eve of his execution. The scaffold is a
raised wooden framework or platform used for public speaking. It is similar to a
stage or a framework. A scaffold is also a platform used in the execution of
condemned prisoners, as by hanging or beheading. A scaffold can also be a raised
platform, seat or stand used for the purpose of exhibiting persons or actions to
the public view (Webster’s). A scaffold, similar to a stage, platform or
framework, can be permanent. Other types of permanent scaffolds are used in
bridges. The basic beam bridge, a simple beam over a span, is strengthened by
adding support piers underneath and by reinforcing the structure with elaborate
scaffolding called a truss. This method of scaffolding is clearly apparent in
most present day bridges, but most travelers do not even realize this fact. The
scaffolding includes the huge poles or wires that sit on top of the bridge; this
suspension is an extremely advanced scaffold. This method is sometimes also used
in suspending a roof. Scaffolds, however, can also be temporary. A scaffold is
also a temporary platform, usually suspended on poles from below or suspended
from above, on which workers sit or stand during the erection, repairing or
decoration of a building. For instance, construction workers stand on scaffolds
when building a new structure. Scaffolding allows workers to transport
themselves and their materials up and down an unfinished building during
construction. Also, a person cleaning the windows of a building must use a
scaffold to reach all the windows above ground. Michelangelo used a scaffold to
paint the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome (Groiler’s). He
worked on a scaffold sixty feet above ground, which covered 10,000 square feet
of surface. Another type of temporary scaffold is used in boating and fishing. A
flake is a scaffold lowered over the side of a ship to support workers or
caulkers when they are either fishing or drying the captured fish (Webster’s).

The ancient Egyptians can be considered the first people to use temporary
scaffolding. The entrance to the Great Pyramid is fifty-five feet above ground
level. The entrance was intended for use only once, during King Khufu’s
funeral (Groiler’s). Special scaffolding was erected so the coffin could be
placed inside the pyramid. The scaffolding was then dismantled as a safety
measure against grave robbers. Scaffold can also be used as a verb. To scaffold
could mean to prop up. For instance, new titles may be scaffolded with laws.

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That is, laws will support the titles. Another, every day, yet connotative, use
of the word scaffold would mean to execute. A person who is scaffolded is
executed. Scaffold usually denotes a negative, punishing aura when it is used as
a verb. As a verb, scaffold is not often used and is a word from early America.

Thus, the word can have many different meanings. The scaffold plays an important
denotative role in many books, movie and plays. One such book is The Scarlet
Letter. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story of a young woman,
Hester Prynne, living in Puritan dominated Salem, Massachusetts, who commits
adultery. The man with whom she engages in the affair is one of the town’s
Reverends, Mr. Dimmesdale. Hester and Dimmesdale have a baby, Pearl. Hester’s
husband, Roger Chillingworth, who was missing for two years, returns to find
Hester being punished for cheating on him. “Hester Prynne passed through this
portion of her ordeal, and came to a sort of scaffold (51),” Hawthorne tells
in the opening seen of the novel. In The Scarlet Letter, the scaffold acts as a
place for punishment. “This scaffold constituted a portion of a penal machine,
which now, for two or three generations past, has been merely historical and
traditionary among us, but was held, in the old time, to be as effectual an
agent in the promotion of good citizenship, as ever was the guillotine,”
Hawthorne states in explaining the scaffolds use. The scaffold had wooden steps
leading on to it. The steps of the scaffold became the walk of death for many
people before they were beheaded. A balcony or open gallery stood over the
platform and was attached to the meetinghouse. During Hester’s punishment, the
ministers and Governor sat in the gallery in order to question her. The scaffold
was located at the “western extremity” of the market place, near the church.

The scaffold was a raised platform made of wood and iron. Men and women who
sinned would be forced on the scaffold, either for beheading or, in Hester’s
case, extreme embarrassment. The scaffold plays a role in the book three times,
during three major scenes. The scenes are placed equally apart in the book, one
at the beginning, in the middle and in the final scene at the end. The first
scaffold scene encompasses Hester’s punishment and open confession. While the
third scaffold scene includes Dimmesdale’s confession. In the second or middle
scaffold scene, both Hester and Dimmesdale are on the scaffold in the middle of
the night. The scaffold is introduced in the novel for its literal uses, but the
scaffold comes to symbolize and embody many other meanings. The scaffold is a
symbol of the stern Puritan code of law in Salem. Hester is put on the scaffold
to face ignominy. The scaffold was the ultimate punishment in Salem. Often used
for execution, the scaffold was a place where no person ever wanted to stand.

“The scaffold of the pillory (58),” as it is described, was a place of shame
and embarrassment. The scaffold was the place where Puritan law was enforced,
and so it comes to symbolize their strict laws. The scaffold, ironically raised,
was the lowest point any Puritan could reach while on Earth. The scaffold also
represents the acknowledgment of personal sin in the novel. The scaffold is the
place where a person must go when they sin. A sinner must face the harsh Puritan
people after they have sin. Whether facing death or just shame on the scaffold,
a Puritan must stand on the scaffold in order to completely acknowledge their
sin to the public. For this reason, the scaffold becomes a major force in the
life of Reverend Dimmesdale. Hester Pyrnne stood on the scaffold, with her
child, but without her lover. Her lover, Reverend Dimmesdale, was too cowardly
to stand beside her in shame. He keeps his sin concealed for almost the entire
book. Due to this concealment, Dimmesdale suffers both mentally and physically.

He knows he must reveal his sin in order to save his soul and return to G-d’s
good graces. Dimmesdale also realizes that the place where he must go to confess
and atone is the scaffold. About halfway through the novel, at night while the
town was asleep, Dimmesdale goes onto the scaffold. Dimmesdale gives a huge
scream and fears the town will awake to find him on the scaffold. However, the
town does not hear him. “Doubted whether he should be able to ascend the steps
of the scaffold (136),” Hawthorne says about Dimmesdale’s frozen body.

Though it is a cold night, Dimmesdale feels frozen on the scaffold because of
the scaffold’s power. Dimmesdale realizes that on the scaffold is where he
must confess and so subconsciously his body attempts to shut down in order to
keep him on the scaffold. Hester hears his scream and she, with her daughter,
joins him on the scaffold. After a powerful discussion between Hester and
Dimmesdale, all three leave the scaffold. Dimmesdale has reached the scaffold,
but in the concealment of the night. In the climax of the novel, Dimmesdale
finally reaches the scaffold in the daytime. Following his greatest sermon in
the church, Dimmesdale says, “Come Hester, come! Support me up yonder scaffold
(219).” Dimmesdale, Hester and Pearl again stand on the scaffold together, but
this time the entire town is watching them. On the scaffold, Dimmesdale admits
to his part in the birth of Hester’s daughter, Pearl. He admits he has sinned
and concealed it for seven years. Following his confession, Dimmesdale dies on
the scaffold. “To die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people
(224),” Dimmesdale says in his final moments on the scaffold. Dimmesdale
reaches the scaffold and is able to atone before his death. Thus, he is able to
die in sanctity following his confession. The scaffold had become the physical
object that stood between Dimmesdale and confession. Dimmesdale’s cowardice
kept him off the scaffold in the daytime until the end of the novel. “There
was no place so secret, no high place nor lowly place, where thou couldst have
escaped me, save on this very scaffold (220),” Chillingworth says to
Dimmesdale in the third scaffold scene. The scaffold is the only place where
Dimmesdale can escape Chillingworth and his quest for revenge. Chillingworth,
combined with Dimmesdale’s own cowardice, are the obstacles Dimmesdale must
overcome in order to atone for his sin. Both in the novel and in everyday use,
the scaffold has a certain connotation to it. For instance, a person told that
they were going to be scaffolded would most likely be fearful. However, as used
scaffolding could simply mean that they were going to be propped up. Likewise,
in The Scarlet Letter all Puritans fear chastisement on the scaffold. In the
novel, the scaffold is never used for public speaking or a theatrical
performance, but only for the confession of sin. Most Puritans did not realize
that the scaffold could have many positive uses. Likewise, to be scaffolded, by
definition, is just as likely to be a good action as a bad one. Unfortunately,
most historical documentation about the scaffold relates to of executions and
punishments. Thus, the word scaffold can do many beneficial things for mankind,
yet carries a very negative aura.


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