Readers Response of ‘Scarlet Letter’ Despite the declination in the personal and societal standards of morality in the past century, it is still evident today that a universal standard of ethics does indeed exist in every civilization. Likewise, these communities administer consequences upon those who fail to meet up to those principles. The severity of the punishment inflicted rests solely on the offender, the offense and the society itself. For Hester Prynne, the penalty for fornication was a lifetime of public shame. ‘Humiliation.
In “The Scarlet Letter”, Nathaniel Hawthorne adeptly employed rhetorical devices such as allusion, syntax, metaphor, irony and imagery. He dares to probe the deleterious nature of revenge and the duplicity of character in the Puritan society circa the late 1600’s. The Biblical allusions found in the Scarlet Letter are so great in number to the point of being obvious. First, Hester and Dimmesdale are comparative to Adam and Eve; after committing the infraction, she is cast out of the Puritan community and both are forced to live under the stress of their guilt and work to ease their consciences.
When his character is first introduced in chapter three, Chillingworth is [rather aptly] paralleled to a snake (Hawthorne 61), yet another reference to the Garden. Hester is likened to the Virgin Mary (Hawthorne 56) in light of her pose with Pearl on the scaffold. There are multiple allusions to Biblical characters found in “The Scarlet Letter”. Nathaniel Hawthorne also employs the use of syntax as a stylistic means. His sentences are generally excessively long, going into much unnecessary details.
Oftentimes the book is difficult to understand due to Olde English words and style. The structure and longevity and word choice Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes in “The Scarlet Letter” lend to the style and time period of the book. The title of the book is a testimony to the use of metaphors and layered language within. The ‘A’ is branded on Hester to mark her as an adulteress, the red possibly alluding to passion or the devil. Merely the names “Dimmesdale” and “Chillingworth” invoke a melancholy connotation; whereas Pearl is said to be “her mother’s only treasure” (Hawthorne 89).
The prison could be seen as a foreshadowing of the solitary life she will live; one of the key settings of the book, the forest, symbolizes Hester’s seclusion from the Puritan society. The rose bush across from the prison (Hawthorne 48) was used to represent the hope for salvation. Hawthorne skillfully weaves layered language into the story. Another delightful rhetorical device utilized is irony. The fact that the very symbol of her shame, the scarlet letter, brought her respect among the women, through her sewing, is rather ironic.
Despite Hester being the one brought to public shame and excommunicated from regular society, who was punished more, her, or Dimmesdale, or even Chillingworth? Certainly through her honesty and repentance, she was far freer than Dimmesdale who tread through his days silently and guiltily and Chillingworth who burned for revenge. Irony is an integral strategy used by the author. Imagery is quite evident in “The Scarlet Letter”. Hawthorne clearly employs this mode to further explain certain qualities of the characters themselves.
On page sixty-one, imagery is utilized to compare Chillingworth’s face to that of a snake. When talking of Pearl, the narrator states, “So the child flew away like a bird” (Hawthorne 168). “He now dug into the poor clergyman’s heart, like a miner searching for gold”, expresses Chillingworth’s exchange with Dimmesdale (Hawthorne 129). The author uses imagery to paint pictures in the mind of the reader and draw correlations based upon character. The story itself is set in Boston, Massachusetts, near the time of colonization.
Hester Prynne, the protagonist, is convicted as an adulteress, her infant bearing witness. She spends the majority of her time in the cottage and the forest, but the jailhouse and pillory are also key settings. Many believe Chillingworth to be the antagonist, being that he is so bent on revenge against Hester’s lover that he is blinded by it. The conflicts Hester deals with range all four categories of man versus man, self, society, and nature. Nathaniel Hawthorne stresses two main universal themes over the expanse of the book.
Using the nature of Chillingworth, Hawthorne reveals just how dangerous the nature of revenge is; Chillingworth is so caught up in his hatred that he is blinded by reason and is rendered unable to exercise clear thought. Hawthorne also warns about the duplicity of character, with Dimmesdale as his prime example. Dimmesdale’s two-sided nature led ultimately to his demise. Hawthorne clearly warns against both negative character qualities and strives to make a lesson out of both characters through the duration of the book.
In “The Scarlet Letter”, Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes several rhetorical devices such as allusion, syntax, metaphor, irony and imagery, as a stylistic means to supplement the story. The story is prevalent with lessons to be learned, the most prominent warning against the dangers of duplicity in character and the venomous temperament of revenge. Works Cited Faira. “Scarlet Letter Biblical Allusions. ” OP Papers. 21 Oct. 2007. 8 Oct. 2008 . Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Scarlet Letter”. New York: Penguin, 1983.