So Simple, It’s Complex- Character Analysis over the Scarlet Letter
Sarah Patterson Literature and Composition II
The Scarlet Letter- Character Analysis November 5, 2012 So Simple, It’s Complex The story The Scarlet Letter is about a young woman whose husband sends her ahead of him to start their life while he finishes affairs. During the two years that they are apart she engages in an affair and she ends up having a child. Her husband returns to find her facing out in a courtyard, and then swears her to secrecy of who he is and vows that he will find out who the father is as the young woman won’t tell.
We find out later that the adulterer is the town’s best preacher.
So now we are faced with four characters; Hester Prynne the adulteress woman, Roger Chillingworth Hester’s husband, Arthur Dimmesdale the town preacher, and the now seven year old daughter of the adulterers Pearl. The four pivotal characters are so incredible diverse in their positions in the story. Hester Prynne: We first encounter Hester at the gates of the jail wearing her perfectly embroidered “A” and holding her roughly three month old daughter.
She is being ridiculed under their breath by the people in the courtyard where she will have to stand for a majority of the day but as one can tell she never lets her emotions show on her face. Hester Prynne seems to embody the act of free will in everything that she does, even in her having the actual affair. As the story goes on and we learn of her husband it is apparent that she wished she had never been married to him that she never loved him and that she is in love with Dimmesdale.
Also as the story goes on she forms more into a compassionate mother figure, her compassion reaches into the community, by feeding and clothing the poor.
She is careful in her ways as not to give the community any reason to take Pearl from her. A literary analysis that I found online states that she is an intelligent, capable, but not necessarily extraordinary woman. The analysis then states that it is not the woman herself but her circumstances that make her an important figure. Well to agree with that I would say that if she hadn’t gone through, and made the mistakes that she made turned the tide of this story to show that forgiveness itself is an essential part of the Christian walk. There are ertain things that she does that prove her intense importance, not just to the story but to the lesson behind it.
The first substantial thing that she did, to me, was how carefully she seemed to have embroidered the “A” on her dress. She didn’t do this because she was proud of her affair but in my opinion as she had plenty of time in jail to think of her crimes she pinned her chest with tender attention. That “A” represented her child and her child represented the “A”. If I had a child from a horrible circumstance I would still love my child with a love that was untouchable.
The beauty of the “A” is the beauty of her baby.
Something beautiful and precious came from that huge mistake. I feel like This “A” is a form of a foreshadowing moment. Later in the story Hester dresses Pearl in clothes that resemble the “A” this is a mark of understanding that Pearl came from a sin. When Hester and Dimmesdale are in the forest and she takes the “A” off and lets her hair down it is so that she can show her freedom from this curse. This also shows her need to be free, her description as free will.
Her longing to go with him, to be his wife, shows her disregard for what society thinks is “right”.
She doesn’t hold the “strict” virtues of what she was told to believe but that she lets her heart guide her. She had let her heart guide her all of those years of raising Pearl. When she asked Dimmesdale on his death bed if they could be together in Heaven it shows that she believes God has forgiven them. Being buried under the same tombstone as the man who she loved for all of those years is a symbol that she is still in love. Roger Chillingworth:
When he first comes into this story he wants his identity kept secret, urging his wife, Hester, to not tell who he is.
He even visits her under false pretenses in jail by posing as a doctor. He tells her first that he forgives her of her sins, and asks who the father is. When she won’t tell him Chillingworth promises her that he will find out. As he leaves you get a very ominous feel about the whole thing. He forms a living acting still as a doctor due to his knowledge in European medicine and even some tricks that he picked up from living with Native Americans.
It is hinted that he seems to practice witchcraft through those few “savage” practices. His refusal to give up, and his need to make the father punish is just like the hold that Satan often tries to get on us. When Chillingworth finally discovers that it is in fact the preacher, Dimmesdale that is the father he seems to lose every inch of hold he ever had on humanity. Chillingworth the man is gone and Chillingworth the devil has taken over ten fold. Even his increasingly stooped form shows that he is an antagonist character. His twisted shoulders mirror his deformed soul.
” At the story’s climax when Dimmesdale is revealing himself as Pearl’s father Chillingworth tries to stop him because if he is no longer keeping a secret then Chillingworth no longer has control over him. Chillingworth does not want Arthur Dimmesdale to repent, the vengeful Chillingworth desires the minister to become more sinful, more hypocritical, as evidence of his damnation. Once Dimmesdale dies Chillingworth’s live loses all meaning and he has no reason to live. A short time after this happens he too dies.
His sole reason for being in this story is to “punish” others and when he can no longer do that he stops living all together. The question on my mind is that if he hadn’t been set on punishing Dimmesdale would Dimmesdale have died? Dimmesdale’s health seemingly diminished when he was discovered by Chillingworth.
Would Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale have ended up together? The fact that he pulled open the preacher’s shirt while supposedly looking after him one evening because he was so driven to find out who Pearl’s father was shows that he has absolutely no care about anyone else.
The story reveals that he ignored his wife most of the time during their marriage. Arthur Dimmesdale: We first see Dimmesdale in the story confronting Prynne asking her who the father is, we don’t yet know that it is the “faithful” minister himself, we learn that a little later. Some of the literary works I have found state that Dimmesdale shows symbolism to believe in a Calvinistic predestination. I think it goes beyond that to say that he also symbolizes guilt. He seems to show how guilt will ruin a man.
When he is by himself after we have learned of his sin he punishes himself by whipping himself repeatedly.
He is trying to make himself pay for sin without his much needed public confession. We see good come from his guilt also by way of him becoming a much more emotionally powerful and compassionate leader to his congregation because he truly understands what it means to be a sinner. The fact that he is such a great speaker about sins makes his congregation further his perfect illusion. They come to the conclusion that he is without sin but just very good at illustrating the sin of others.
This situation causes him to farther “internalize” his guilt.
Dimmesdale is tormented by Chillingworth who in my opinion seems to illustrate the devil and in fact there is some hinting to that when Pearl and her mother Hester are walking by Dimmesdale’s home and Pearl warns her mother not to get caught by the black man, which is said to be puritan vernacular meaning the devil. When he dies it seems to be caused by exhaustion, this exhaustion could possibly come from keeping the secret for so long coupled with his torment from Chillingworth. Pearl: Pearl is introduced in the story as an infant.
In most literary context it seems that babies/ infants and children symbolize innocents and good virtue. However this child we know symbolizes a sin that cannot be forgotten.
Her mother, Hester even dresses her in a garb that matches her very own badge of disgrace. The reiteration that Pearl is an interpretation of a sin even shows in Pearl’s actions when she goes before the governor as she was violent. Most symbolism analysis that I found about Pearl depicted her as freedom and fate of nature. I’m not sure if I follow that to be quite honest I do however think that she more prominently stands as a symbol of the sin itself.
She acts as a sort of guide for both character and reader by asking questions that seem to be well beyond the realm of a child’s mind, constantly bringing you back to the sin itself and the progression of each character in the story.
She has a sort of “cause and effect” relationship with Hester Prynne, This is shown very clearly when Hester removes her “A” and Pearl essentially throws a fit demanding that her mother replace it in its proper place on Prynne’s chest. Pearl refuses to acknowledge Dimmesdale in the woods because he refuses to acknowledge them as his “friends” in public.
This is a direct illustration of the fact that he refuses to publicly acknowledge the sin of his affair with Hester. She is also a large brand of foreshadowing to her mother as she warns her against the “black man” which we know is Chillingworth. Conclusion: In this story each character could not stand without the others.
It is a tangled web of sin and sinner, guilt and freedom, forgiveness and judgment. There are many different interpretations to each character. Is Hester a view of free will or an image of Divine Maternity? Is Chillingworth predestination or is he vengefulness?
Is Dimmesdale a view of guilt of a view of the Puritan faith? And finally is Pearl the symbol of freedom and fate of nature or is she herself just the symbol? Ultimately that defining moment for each character remains with the reader. The analysis of each character depends on how each reader deciphers their different motivations, their actions, and their ethics. What means one thing to me could mean absolutely the opposite with someone else.
There is no black and white, in this story there is only grey and maybe there are a few shades of scarlet.
- [ 1 ]. The idea of this came from a Scholarly Journal that I found entitled “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. ” By John Reiss. [
- 2 ]. Spark notes: the Scarlet Letter: Analysis of Major Characters –as this is my first time ever doing this I found spark notes to be very helpful by way of examples.
- [ 3 ]. “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. ” By John Reiss
- [ 4 ]. Another great example from that same character analysis
- [ 5 ]. “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. ” By John Reiss
- [ 6 ].
Spark notes: The Scarlet Letter ;Arthur Dimmesdale
- [ 7 ]. Spark notes: The Scarlet Letter ;Arthur Dimmesdale
- [ 8 ]. “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. ” By John Reiss
- [ 9 ]. Spark Notes: The Scarlet Letter ; Pearl
- [ 10 ]. “The Character of Flame: The Function of Pearl in THE SCARLET LETTER.
” BY Anne Marie Mcnamara
- [ 11 ]. “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. ” By John Reiss
- [ 12 ]. “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. ” By John Reiss
- [ 13 ]. “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER.
” By John Reiss
- [ 14 ]. “Hawthorne’s THE SCARLET LETTER. ” By John Reiss
- [ 15 ]. http://www. enotes .