English / Scarlet Letter

Scarlet Letter

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Autor:  anton  06 September 2010
Tags:  Scarlet,  Letter
Words: 1232   |   Pages: 5
Views: 580

A common theme throughout literature is religion and how the author feels about his or her faith. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses rhetorical devices to draw comparisons between characters and events in The Scarlet Letter and Biblical figures and accounts. A few of the devices found in this novel that connect it to the Bible are symbolism, paradox, allusions, and characterization. It is important to first look at the characters and how they are described through characterization.

The first rhetorical device is characterization. The way the main characters are described by Hawthorne sets up how they will be perceived. It is through this that we see the first inklings of biblical figures. Biblical characters are seen in Pearl, Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and the Puritan people. The first is that Hester has many traits in common with the Virgin Mary. Both are originally shunned by society, but later accepted. Although Hester has sinned, within her the reader sees a character who is very loving and with the birth of Pearl, motherly. The fact that Pearl is the child of Hester, or the Virgin Mary as we have now identified her, it is only natural that we examine her as Jesus. The origins of Pearl and Jesus are similar in that both their mothers do not expect to have the child. But as they grow up, it becomes clear that the are not ordinary children. Both characters posses an innate ability to "read" people and who their emotions, as is seen in Pearl’s ability to visualize an “A” on Dimmesdale even though he does not wear a physical one. Jesus can also be seen in Dimmesdale during his last days of life. Dimmesdale’s death is caused by his sin and Jesus died for the sins of all people, both men dying without objection. Another Biblical character is seen in Chillingworth. Throughout the novel he is described as a man whose life is based on revenge and hatred. This “was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into the devil.” (155) The final part of characterization is in the similarities between the societies of the two times, Biblical and Puritan. Both the Jews/Romans and the Puritans accused and persecuted those who the saw as unholy, while in fact they were the least holy of all. Their pride in being religiously strict caused them to lash out at those who in hindsight are the holy ones. With this basic description of characters, it is now possible to look at the symbols of the book in more detail.

Throughout The Scarlet Letter, numerous objects and people that appear to have clear-cut significance are presented. However, when you examine them in greater depth it becomes apparent that there is more to them than there originally appeared to be. The first is that of the scarlet letter itself. The “A” was originally intended to show people that the person wearing it was a sinner who had committed adultery. However, as the novel develops it becomes more of a sign of heaven through the meaning of angel. This is first seen when an “A” appears in the sky shortly after the death of Governor Winthrop. It is at this time that the townspeople decide this is a sign that Governor Winthrop was a good Christian who has gone on to a better life. But the townspeople cannot help but realize that this is the same thing which the have made one of their own people, Hester, wear. Another symbol is found in what is one of Hester’s greatest skills. Her ability with a needle to sew and embroider better than anyone else has a lot more meaning than there appears to be. Hester uses sewing as her outlet when she is condemned by the townspeople, but it is through her seclusion and the sewing she does during her time alone that strengthens her faith in herself and God, much like Mary did after she first learned of her pregnancy. This faith proves very helpful to her in more trying times. Yet another symbol is made through the rosebush. The rose bush is a symbol of sin, and Pearl continues to claim that she was plucked from the rosebush. This “plucking” can be interpreted as the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and her subsequent birth of Jesus. The final and strongest symbol is found in the scaffold scenes. The scaffold is described to form a cross. In addition, there are two people on the scaffold along with Pearl/Jesus, much like the thieves found in the bible next to Jesus. This also supports the idea of Pearl as Christ in that she is the figure in the center just as Jesus was.

Another device used that enforces the connection between the novel and the Bible is allusion. The novel has numerous references to and quotes from Bible stories. The first can be seen in Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s name. Dimmesdale can be broken down to mean dim valley. An immediate connection is made between this and the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Another is the reference to ‘Tongues of Fire”. (118) In addition, the scene where Pearl is dancing on the graves can be interpreted to enforce Pearl’s representation of Jesus. This scene can be viewed as Jesus conquering and almost mocking death through his resurrection. Dimmesdale can also be seen as the apostle Peter because he denies his sin three times, just as Peter denies Jesus three times. In addition, every character in the novel and their Biblical counterpart mentioned above are alluded to throughout the novel, such as Chillingworth, “That black man’s revenge has been a blacker sin than mine.” (179) Blackman was a common name for the devil.

The final literary device is paradox. The novel is very rich in this area and several examples support the idea of The Scarlet Letter being Biblical stories in disguise. The first is the connection between Hester and the Virgin Mary. The paradox is found in Hester’s representation of Mary. Hester was definitely not a virgin; however, her counterpart, Mary, and her life are most miraculous because she was a virgin. Another paradox is seen through the similarities of Pearl in Jesus. Pearl comes from sin, but goes on to live a beautiful life. Jesus on the other hand was born without sin, only to be condemned by and subsequently killed by the establishment. Another paradox is in that the Puritans prided themselves on being good Christians and condemned those who they found unholy. Ironically it is they who are the bad people and the people they have condemned whom are the best Christian, (barring Hester and that whole adultery thing.)

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s use of rhetorical devices allows for a vivid connection to be drawn between his novel and the Bible. The use of symbolism, paradox, allusions, and characterization create a story that has in it the underlying of Bible stories. The use of the most widely read book as a pillar for his novel strengthens Hawthorne’s criticism and commentary on the Puritan society.

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