Morally Ambiguous Characters In The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, considered one of the greatest in American literature. The novel is an account of an adulterous affair between Hester Prynne, who has committed the sin of adultery, and Arthur Dimmesdale; both are introduced as existing in Boston during 1642 in The Scarlet Letter . The main theme of The Scarlet Letter is sin, specifically as its relates to Hester Prynne and her affair; however, The Scarlet Letter also deals with other themes such as the appearance versus reality, sin in all its forms (not only adultery), hypocrisy in society and how humans make mistakes.

The main characters associated with this theme are Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Hesitant to name their child after either parent, the husband suggests Pearl — a reference both to her physical appearance and her mother’s supposed sexual purity (her virginity) before meeting him. The name “Pearl” also alludes to the biblical parable of the jewel found in the mire (). The moral being that has treasure hidden within us, we just need to search for it.

The name of the main character is a perfect fit for The Scarlet Letter, as the book primarily deals with sin and how everyone has some kind of dark part in them. The letter A interacts with Pearl throughout The Scarlet Letter, giving her advice and wisdom through tough times while simultaneously representing Hester’s adultery.

The dialogue given by The Scarlet Letter reflects Hester Prynne’s sexual transgressions more than any other theme in The Scarlet Letter. [Including but not limited to]: But out of this nettle, danger , we pluck this flower, safety . ” (Hawthorne 356) “Hester,” said he at length , turning towards her while engrossed with the infant ( The Scarlet Letter 126) ” The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame , Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,–stern and wild ones; and Nature, in her breast , combined with the human mystery to fashion a spell which none could countervail. ” (Hawthorne 260)

In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the lead character Hester Prynne is sentenced to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her chest for committing adultery. When she returns to Boston, society does not know how to treat her and the only person who befriends her is a minister called Arthur Dimmesdale who soon becomes Hester’s lover. The audience of The Scarlet Letter have varied views on the morality of characters in The Scarlet Letter with many being unsure which characters are truly moral or immoral as some characters may seem virtuous but others do live moral lives as they understand their mistakes and show remorse.

Hester Prynne The first time that readers meet Hester Prynne is when she boards a ship from England to the New World with her husband. The audience do not know why Hester is leaving or why she seems sad but this causes the reader to question Hester’s actions as the reader only knows what happens after she boards the ship. The first time that readers see Hester is when she is on trial for committing adultery, however The Scarlet Letter does not tell readers what actually happened and allows readers to make their own assumptions at how Prynne committed adultery.

The scarlet letter ‘A’ represents adulteress but it also means apathy which creates an unanswered mystery of why Hester Prynne was charged with adultery. The reason for Hester’s adultery may be one of many reasons such as, revenge against Chillingworth, love, lust or even unknown reasons. The unknown reasoning behind it links to the fact that The Scarlet Letter does not question Hester for her adultery, The Scarlet Letter only covers Hester’s punishment and how it affects her life. The lack of questioning gives Hester an opportunity to portray herself in any way she wants without The Scarlet Letter showing its true colours.

This benefits Hester as The Scarlet Letter is narrated by a man who married Hester Prynne so he would never know the true reason why she committed adultery or why Chillingworth framed her if she did commit adultery. The audience should feel sympathy towards Hester because The Scarlet Letter has been treated harshly however throughout The Scarlet Letter, critics have stated that readers should disapprove of actions undertaken by characters such as Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale.

The reason for this is The Scarlet Letter reveals that Hester and Arthur’s relationship only started after her husband left and The Scarlet Letter does not go into further detail; it felt like The Scarlet Letter did not give enough reasoning for why Hester committed adultery instead of the audience questioning The Scarlet Letter. Hester also suggests to Chillingworth that she did commit adultery however The Scarlet Letter never tells the audience whether or not it is true, The Scarlet Letter simply states what happened which makes it difficult for readers to know what actually occurred.

Hester shows lack of remorse throughout The Scarlet Letter as she commits adultery in a foreign land then leaves town when she does not have to, in order to avoid being scorned by society. The Scarlet Letter may suggest that Hester does not have the courage to accept the consequences of her actions which show how The Scarlet Letter is simply a story about human nature rather than The Scarlet Letter being about morality.

The audience are able to see Hester as immoral and self-centred as she commits adultery but The Scarlet Letter allows readers to question whether or not Hester is truly immoral as The Scarlet Letter suggests she has committed adultery for love and had no control on her feelings. Arthur Dimmesdale The first time that The Scarlet Letter introduces Arthur Dimmesdale, he is an elderly man who lives in a tower (which has been referred to as a ‘monk’s cell’).

He consistently wears black clothes which The Scarlet Letter suggests signifies his sin. The audience are introduced to Arthur Dimmesdale when he is the only man who publicly reprimands Hester Prynne for her adultery yet The Scarlet Letter does not give any details of how old Arthur Dimmesdale was when Hester committed adultery, therefore The Scarlet Letter makes it unclear if The Scarlet Letter truly wants readers to feel sorry towards him or not.

The ambiguity behind why The Scarlet Letter feels sorry towards Arthur Dimmesdale links back again to The Scarlet Letter being about human nature rather than morality because it can be interpreted in two different ways that either contradict one another. The ambiguity created by The Scarlet Letter means that The Scarlet Letter never fully explains itself throughout the novel, which keeps readers questioning why The Scarlet Letter has done what it has done.

The Scarlet Letter is not as straightforward as The Crucible and The Lottery due to the fact The Scarlet Letter never fully explores the concept of human nature and morality and instead, The Scarlet Letter leaves it up to its audience to decide whether or not The Scarlet Letter is morally ambiguous. Hester reveals that Arthur Dimmesdale’s guilt plagues him so much that he cannot sleep, eat or drink which The Scarlet Letter suggests gives Hester some kind of satisfaction for her punishment.

The motivation behind Hester claiming such a reason is unknown however critics have suggested reasons such as The Scarlet Letter trying to increase sympathy towards Hester Prynne by giving her something else she must endure on top of being scorned by society and The Scarlet Letter trying to make Hester moral again as The Scarlet Letter claims that Hester Prynne’s sins despise her. The fact The Scarlet Letter never clarifies why Hester says such a thing makes The Scarlet Letter ambiguous as it is unclear what The Scarlet Letter is truly trying to do with such words.

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