Chapter 1 The Deviant Behaviour
“In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators, as befitted a people among whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful.”(Hawthrone,2011,p.41)
“Religion and law were almost identical” (Hawthrone,2011,p.41) and played an important role in the time of Hester Prynne. Adultery was regarded as a serious crime. We don’t know many things about Hester’s life before the book opens and how Hester Prynne get into such a predicament. The narrator doesn’t report how happened Hester’s relationship with Dimmesdale, “evil deed” (Hawthrone).
According to Richard Gray:”We, the readers, are invited not so much to involve ourselves in a narrative action, as to contemplate the consequences of that action”(Gray, 2004, p.204).
A stranger asks a townsman “who is this woman” ” and wherefore is she here set up to public shame” (Hawthrone,p53)
Through the speech of the townsman we can gather the pieces of information about what happened.
“Yonder woman, Sir, you must know, was the wife of a certain learned man, English by birth, but who had long dwelt in Amsterdam, whence, some good time agone, he was minded to cross over and cast in his lot with us of the Massachusetts. To this purpose, he sent his wife before him, remaining himself to look after some necessary affairs. Marry, good Sir, in some two years, or less, that the woman has been a dweller here in Boston, no tidings have come of this learned gentleman, Master Prynne; and his young wife, look you, being left to her own misguidance—” (Hawthrone,p.53). At this point his relating is interrupted by Chillingworth.
Adultery committed by a man was not measured with the same scale of severity.
“It is worth mentioning that adultery in a man was not judged as strictly as it was in a woman. Girls were required to preserve their virginity until the wedding. Afterwards, it was considered a husband’s duty to ensure his wife’s fidelity by preventing all situations that could awaken her sensuality.”(Brabcová, p.23)
According to Beauvoir: Hawthrone’s work “Marital infidelity in our civilization,wherepatriarchal traditions survive,still seems much more heinous for the wife than for the husband”.( Beauvoir, p.565).
In the relation between man and woman of Hawthrone’s work doesn’t exist reciprocity .
Nathaniel Hawthrone was a son of Puritans and its products are impossible to discuss without looking into the influence of Puritanism.
According to Deborah Madsen “The Scarlet Letter embodies Hawthrone’s best-known representation of the stern and gloomy Puritans that characterize the colonial New England”(Puritans 516). It was emphasized the grim side of the historical reality of their culture.
Some critics believe that Hawthrone’s treatment of Puritan themes should be seemed as sympathetic others believe that it should be seemed as a critical. Barriss Mills highlights that “for Hawthorne Puritanism was no longer a way of life but rather a subject for literary art”.
Fanaticism and Superstition(children,meteor,Chillingworth)
Through The Scarlet Letter the readers get an overview about the second generation which settled in New England. Mills remarks that Hawthorne “had far less respect for these second generation Puritans than for the first”(86). In Hawthorne’s view this generation “wore the blackest shade of Puritanism” and “had been born to an inheritance of Puritan gloom”.
In the period of this generation also are met fanaticism and superstition.
Inhumanity and cruelty are demonstrated through the Puritan children’s behaviour and through their activities.
” She saw the children of the settlement, on the grassy margin of the street, or at the domestic thresholds, disporting themselves in such grim fashion as the Puritanic nurture would permit; playing at going to church, perchance; or at scourging Quakers; or taking scalps in a sham-fight with the Indians; or scaring one another with freaks of imitative witchcraft.”
” The children of the Puritans looked up from their play,—or what passed for play with those sombre little urchins,—and spake gravely one to another:— “Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them!”
Adults treat Hester with scorn and Pearl is seen by them as the devil’s child. Hawthorne makes very clear that children’s eyes and ears are always open and they are very perceptive. Children attempts to imitate the adults and they sometimes spy and shout insults to Pearl. Another times they harass and tease her. They have a kind of cruel nature knowing the significance of the scarlet letter. Pearl’s isolation is felt by her mother. Pearl is viewed with the same contempt and she watches from the distance as the children gather into groups.
Many illustrations of the Puritan superstition are depicted by Hawthorne.
“Nothing was more common, in those days, than to interpret all meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena, that occurred with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon, as so many revelations from a supernatural source. Thus, a blazing spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows, seen in the midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. Pestilence was known to have been foreboded by a shower of crimson light. ”
Meteors in the shape of an A and exploding stars are interpreted by Puritans as messages from God. The meteor that appears on the sky is interpreted to mean many things including: angel, sin, adultery. The light of the meteor flashes through the night sky and is as bright as the day. Dimmesdale sees this meteor as a symbol of his own sin and he thinks that it is a message from God for him. He feels that it symbolizes that he should wear the A on his chest. The townspeople believe that it means angel in honour of Governor Winthrop who had died. We meet many interretations which reflect the belief that personal experience of each individual has a symbolic meaning.
The historical character, Ann Hibbins is present throughout the novel. She was accused of being a witch and executed in 1656. The narrator calls her sour and discontented. Ann togheter with friends and night-hags…was well-known to make excursions into the forest (131) Mistress Hibbins invites Hester to the forest to meet Black Man.
“Wilt thou go with us to-night? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.”(103)
Hester’s scarlet letter is considered to be Black Man’s mark. Pearl’s perplexity is if the Black Man left his brand on Dimmesdale’s heart.
Also Roger Chillingworth can be considered to be a wizard. He arrives to Boston, hides his true identity and becomes the town doctor. “Skillful men, of the medical and chirurgical profession, were of rare occurrence in the colony.”
Throughout the play he acted in a harmful way. His knowlegde of herbs and medicine is associated to supernatural powers. His main purpose was to find Pearl’s father.
Hawthorne describes the physician’s action of hunting for “treasure” like this: “He now dug into the poor clergyman’s heart like a miner searching for gold; or, rather, like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man’s bosom……He groped along as stealthily, with as cautious a tread, and as wary an outlook, as a thief entering a chamber where a man lies only half asleep—or, it may be, broad awake—with purpose to steal the very treasure which this man guards as the apple of his eye. ”
Roger Chillingworth finally catches the sight of scarlet letter “A” on the chest of the Reverand. Hawthorne makes the following conclusion: “Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself, when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom.” (Hawthorne, 2001, P116)
New England Inhabitants(people,cemetry,prison,rose-bush,characters)
Hawthorne depicts Puritan townspeople and how they act and behave.
A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded.
Stern-browed men and unkindly visaged women have a grim rigidity.
The society was a lesson in hypocrisy. We met many examples of religious hypocrisy. Some housewives were talking about Hester’s deed and each of one was advocating harsher punishment.
“At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead.”
Governor’s dwellings also help us to see the hypocrisy of Puritan society.
This was a large wooden house, built in a fashion of which there are specimens still extant in the streets of our elder towns; now moss-grown, crumbling of decay, and melancholy at heart with the many sorrowful or joyful occurrences, remembered or forgotten, that have happened, and passed away, within their dusky chambers.(91)
Hawthorne says that every group of people who have founded a new city needs to set aside a plot of land as a cemetery and on another plot of land to build a prison. Cemetry and prison are the black flower of civilized society. The prison is presented in the opening chapter and is surrounded by a number of weeds such as: pig-weed, apple-peru and burdock. Weeds are the symbol of sin so they ground around where the sinners are. The cemetery was plotted in the village as the same time as the prison.
On the prison portal grows a wild rose-bush. The rose bush growing across from the prison respresents a constant hope to all prisoners. The rose symbolizes a sweet moral blossom to relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.
Almost all characters in The Scarlet Letter are superstitious and narrow minded. Hester seems to have a warm,loving nature.
Crime and punishment(religion and law)
In Puritan society, religion and law were almost identical. Society has punished Hester to wear the scarlet letter A on the bosom throughout her life. Some measures of punishment are mentioned in The Scarlet Letter such as: the death penalti, branding the forehead with a hot iron, whipping, displaying the offender on a platform with his head confined in a halter. In those days Hester’s penalty which, in our days, would infer a degree of mocking infamy and ridicule, might then be invested with almost as stern a dignity as the punishment of death itself.
Sin is standing in the heart of Hawthorne’s novel.
Puritans imagined they were elected by God to establish a city upon hill. Their conclusion is that sin of an individual has consequences for the rest. When a person stray from the rules he or she is punished and became the object of severe observation.
Hester has this fate and her deed becomes living sermon against sin(59). She is transformed into the general symbol at which the preacher and moralist might point, and in which they might vivify and embody their images of woman’s frailty and sinful passion.
The scaffolds and penalties are used to convey a lesson, a message to the citizens.They were prevented not to stray from the right path and not make evil-doer’s mistakes.
Private versus the public life is one of the main areas in this novel. Both Hester and the reverend are subjected to the pressure of social. Dimmesdale demonstrates how strict are the rules of society. For minister it is essential to his peace to feel the pressure of a faith about him, supporting, while it confined him within its iron framework.(108)
In those days, priest stand at the head of the social system and therefore Dimmesdale is trammeled by its regulations, its principles, and even its prejudices.(174)
He thinks it is better to help his fellow-men than to confess his guilt like Hester has done. He covers up his fear of public exposure in the following way.
Guilty as they may be, retaining, nevertheless, a zeal for God’s glory and man’s welfare, they shrink from displaying themselves black and filthy in the view of men; because, thenceforward, no good can be achieved by them; no evil of the past be redeemed by better service. So, to their own unutterable torment, they go about among their fellow-creatures, looking pure as new-fallen snow; while their hearts are all speckled and spotted with iniquity of which they cannot rid themselves.”(116)
He isolates himself from the rest of humanity and is wrapped up in his ideals, letting his sin close him in his own heart.
Hawthorne suports the idea that Chillingworth can represent the guilty with which are haunted the lovers. Chillingworth and Dimmesdale shared dwelling-place.
The walls were hung round with tapestry, said to be from the Gobelin looms, and, at all events, representing the Scriptural story of David and Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet, in colors still unfaded, but which made the fair woman of the scene almost as grimly picturesque as the woe-denouncing seer.
Minister’s residence keeps his guilty conscience because he confronts with the image of King David who was a sinner, tempted by a married woman. Chillingworth embodies the role of the Prophet Nathan and his purpose is to remind to Dimmesdale that he is cheating not only the crowd but himself as well.
Forwards I will underline expectations concerning women and relationship between men and women in this novel. From the start of the novel it is clearly that in Massachusetts colony the political structure has a patriarchal aspect. Only males are elected fathers and founders of the commonwealth—the statesman, the priest, and the soldier.
Hawthorne involves a female who believes that women of the church ought to be allowed to serve as magistrates.
“Goodwives,” said a hard-featured dame of fifty, “I’ll tell ye a piece of my mind. It would be greatly for the public behoof, if we women, being of mature age and church-members in good repute, should have the handling of such malefactresses as this Hester Prynne. What think ye, gossips? If the hussy stood up for judgment before us five, that are now here in a knot together, would she come off with such a sentence as the worshipful magistrates have awarded? Marry, I trow not!”(48)
The leaders are not generous and their presence on the balcony creates a solemn atmosphere. They are influence by the Scripture because their laws are inspired from it. Hawthorne describes this time as a period when the forms of authority were felt to possess the sacredness of divine institutions (59). He also attacks leader’s position meaning that they have their own sins.
They were, doubtless, good men, just, and sage. But, out of the whole human family, it would not have been easy to select the same number of wise and virtuous persons, who should be less capable of sitting in judgment on an erring woman’s heart, and disentangling its mesh of good and evil, than the sages of rigid aspect towards whom Hester Prynne now turned her face.
John Wilson the eldest priest and great savant is among the men who judge Hester but he has an ineffectiveness nature.
There he stood, with a border of grizzled locks beneath his skull-cap; while his gray eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his study, were winking, like those of Hester’s infant, in the unadulterated sunshine. He looked like the darkly engraved portraits which we see prefixed to old volumes of sermons; and had no more right than one of those portraits would have, to step forth, as he now did, and meddle with a question of human guilt, passion, and anguish.
Hester is affected by looks of judges as she lifted her eyes towards the balcony, the unhappy woman grew pale and trembles (60).
Also her anguishis influenced by the fact that her secret lover is one of the esteemed community members.