The Scarlet Letter is a story that illustrates
intricate pieces of the Puritan lifestyle. Centered first on a sin committed by Hester Prynne
and her secret lover before the story ever begins, the novel details how sin affects the lives of the
people involved. For Hester, the sin forces her into isolation from society and even from herself.
Her qualities that Hawthorne describes at the opening of the book, i.e. her beauty, womanly qualities,
and passion are, after a time, eclipsed by the 'A' she is forced to wear. An example of this is
her hair. Long hair is something in this time period that is a symbol of a woman. At the
beginning of the story, Hawthorne tells of Hester's long flowing hair. After she wears the scarlet
letter for a time, he paints a picture of her with her hair out of site under a cap, and all the wanton
womanliness gone from her. Yet, even with her true eclipsed behind the letter, of the three main
characters affected, Hester has the easiest time because her sin is out in the open.
More than a tale of sin, the Scarlet
Letter is also an intense love story that shows itself in the forest scene between Hester and the minister
Arthur Dimmesdale. With plans to run away with each, Arthur and Hester show that their love has
surpassed distance and time away from each other. This love also explains why Hester would not
reveal the identity of her fellow sinner when asked on the scaffolding.
Roger Chillingworth is the most affected by the sin,
though he was not around when the sin took place. Demented by his thoughts of revenge and hate,
Hawthorne shows Mr. Chillingworth to be a devil or as a man with an evil nature. He himself commits
one of the seven deadly sins with his wrath. By the end of the tale that surpasses seven years,
Hester is respected and revered by the community as a doer of good works, and the minister is worshipped
for his service in the church. Only Mr. Chillingworth is looked upon badly by the townspeople
although no one knows why.
Through it all, Hawthorne illustrates that even sin can produce purity, and that purity came in the
form of the sprightly Pearl. Though she is isolated with her mother, Pearl finds her company and
joy in the nature that surrounds her. She alone knows that her mother must keep the scarlet letter
on her at all times, and that to take it off is wrong. Through the book the child is also constantly
asking the minister to confess his sin to the people of the town inherently knowing that it will ease
his pain. Hawthorne's metaphor of the rose growing next to the prison is a good metaphor for Pearl's
life that began in that very place. The reader sees this connection when Pearl tells the minister
that her mother plucked her from the rose bush outside of the prison.
Finally, for all the characters, Hawthorne's novel illustrates
how one sin can escalate to encompass one's self so that the true humans behind the sin are lost.
This is what makes Hawthorne's novel not only a story of love vs. hate, sin vs. purity, good vs. evil,
but all of these combined to make a strikingly historical tragedy as well.