Areas of Concern giving rise to Conflict • The private self versus public role Hester’s identity is her inner life (Her ‘inmost Me’) • The Matriarchal versus the Patriarchal • Passion versus Reason • Tolerant Morality, and Puritan morality • Signs; the Problem of Interpretation / Polysemy Note re Symbolism • Abstract concepts as well as concrete objects function as symbols carry great emotional power working on more than one level
Note Hester, the central character • The narrator allies himself with her • Despite occasional adverse judgments the Narrator devotes himself to her cause • And compels the reader to accept Hester’s reading of her scarlet letter as a badge of honour, not as an emblem of disgrace.
Overview • With the ordeal upon the scaffold and time in prison over (Her silence is symbolical of her repression) • Hester is free to leave the Puritan settlement and return to her birthplace, or to any other European land; ‘Hester Prynne’s term of confinement… • But decides to remain, taking up residence in an abandoned cottage • To support herself and her child Pearl, she becomes a seamstress
Narrator and Method • The narrator is introduced in The Custom-House (a separate figure from Hawthorne) • Characterized throughout the novel by his method of 1) Intrusive Commentary • By his methods of 2) Narrationand 3) Description 4) Anachronistic Dialogue • And 5) his distinctive language of Ambiguous Symbolism rather than straightforward, direct declarative statements
Narrative Method • Refuses to reduce complex reality into simple binary oppositions between absolute terms such as • Good and Evil; Light and Darkness • He follows the Puritans in seeing some deep meaning behind the physical world; But not so certain what that might be; • Hence he foregrounds contradictory points of view, and • adopts an equivocating, shifting, speculative, suggestive, uncertain mode of narration, implying an element of mystery about human motives; • In surrendering his narrative authority, we as readers are allowed to choose from a variety of interpretations
Symbolism • Flowers and Weeds • Light and Colour • Sunshine and Shadows; Sun and Moon • Noon and Midnight • Nighttime a symbol of concealment Colours • Colour of Red; • of Grey and Black
Chapter 5 • Chapter 5, the first among other chapters, in which Hawthorne’s narrator focuses on a single character, and relationships • Using Commentary; no dialogue • It provides Backstory / Background about Hester and Pearl ‘All other scenes of earth—even that village of rural England, where happy infancy and stainless maidenhood…were foreign to her’ • Does not significantly advance the plot; • But to quicken the pace of the narrative, the first three years of Hester’s life are summarized
Chapter 5 p71 Develops further various symbolic meanings associated with that of the scarlet letter • Her prison-door was thrown open, and she came forth into the sun-shine, which, falling on all alike, seemed, to her sick and morbid heart, as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet letter on her breast.
The narrator describes the sun as shining on all alike at the time of Hester’s release • But she is unable to feel the joy of its brightness and warmth; • For her, it seems the sun’s sole goal is to form a spotlight on the scarlet letter • This is part of the spirit of Romance fiction where there is an element of imaginative projection on to external reality
Why stay when she can leave?Concealment and Exposure It may seem marvellous, that with the world before her,—kept by no restrictive clause of her condemnation within the limits of the Puritan settlement, so remote and so obscure,—free to return to her birthplace, or to any European land, and there hide her character and identity under a new identity…the wildness of her nature might assimilate itself with a people alien from the law that had condemned her,— it may seem marvellous, that this woman should still call that place her home
The narrator presents Hester’s conflicted nature; • He wonders why does she not leave the town of Boston; • He speculatively reflects on the possibility that the wildness of her nature would fit in more closely with that of the Native American Indians living beyond the boundaries of Puritan law; • Through especially the Modal Verb forms of ‘May’ and ‘Might’ used to express possibility: ‘may seem marvellous’ ‘might assimilate’
Why does she remainthrough commentary • The narrator suggests several POSSIBLE reasons • Because she may feel fatalistically and irresistibly compelled to remain in the place where a significant event has marked her life; ‘The chain that bound her here was of iron links, and galling to her inmost soul , but could never be broken’ • Because she loves and will be closer to Arthur Dimmesdale, the man who is father of her child? • Feels that here, had been the scene of her guilt, and “. . . here should be the place of her earthly punishment” thus to remain will purify her soul?
En Passant Character and Plot • We get a sense ‘Scarlet Letter’— less concerned with plot development • And more concerned with exploring character and the mysterious workings of the human heart
It documents expositionally and dramatizes the various trials, tribulations, and humiliations Hester faces as she re-enters the Puritan community That refuses to forget her sin Note pages 76, p77
P76Hester’s character through exposition With her native energy of character, and rare capacity, it could not entirely cast her off, although it had set a mark upon her, more intolerable to a woman’s heart than that which branded the brow of Cain. In all her intercourse with society, however, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came into contact, implied and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind.
p77 If she entered a church, trusting to share the Sabbath smile of the Universal Father, it was often her mishap, to find herself the text of the discourse. She grew to have a dread of children, for they had imbibed from their parents a vague idea of something horrible in this dreary woman, gliding silently through the town, with never any companion but one only child. When strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter,—and none ever failed to do so,—they branded it afresh into Hester’s soul; so that, oftentimes, she could scarcely refrain, yet always did refrain, from covering the symbol with her hand.
Techniques • Dramatized Information; • Through multi-viewpoint third person perspective – describes internal POV characters from the outside and the inside; enumeration, antithesis and emotionally charged diction – ‘more intolerable to a woman’s heart’; ‘that she was banished’ she grew to have a dread of children • Cadence • Offers fresh perspectives
Layered, ambiguous, rich view of life • Offers conflicting viewpoints on the same event; Hester sees her act one way; society another • Through these vignette’s an enormous amount of characterization is gained • Hester’s character comes across all the more plausibly because of these internal conflicts • We see her strength from the narrator’s presentation of her struggles as manifested in her inner conflicting emotional responses
Chapter 6Little Pearl, elf-child; demon offspring ‘We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant; that little creature, whose innocent life had sprung, by the inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion.’ • The narrator shifts his attention to focus on Pearl and the first three years of her life, with a description of her contradictory nature • “She is a lovely and immortal flower” but one that has grown out of “rank luxuriance” and “guilty passion”
The Narrator continues to use floral symbolism • beginning in Chapter 1 with his symbolical description of the black flower and the wild rosebush; • Pearl’s name ironically does reflect white, calm, beauty; • Hester has surrendered everything valuable to her – her reputation, status, and social acceptability and contact for this one treasure
Pearl: Character or SymbolConflicting Representations • She is the symbol of the scarlet letter itself; • When we first see Pearl as her mother steps out of prison Hester tries to use the baby to cover the scarlet letter on her breast; • She is associated with images of darkness and wildness throughout the novel • Also images of Light – Pearl as God’s blessing on Hester; while Man has marked her with the heinous scarlet letter, God has sent her a lovely child; • But for the Puritans — a symbol of Sin; a child of the devil; • Pearl: No single meaning of her significance
Chapter 7 From the Narrator we learn • some of Boston’s most influential inhabitants want to take Pearl away from her; • Hester and Pearl for a brief spell leave their secluded cottage; • To visit the Governor Bellingham’s home to plead for her child
Chapter 7 Reasons of the Puritan Community: • Pearl from the Point of View of the Puritans is a demon-child, and thus should be treated differently; • Hester is not someone to be accorded moral responsibility given her fallen woman status; • We see Pearl dressed in scarlet, representing the scarlet letter in form and spirit; • Hester shows strength and determination as she faces
The Narrator in presenting the inhabitants’ arguments /reasons, • offers additional insight into their beliefs, • Revealing once again the limitations of their reasoning; • To illustrate their pettiness the narrator tells us the inhabitants recently disputed “the right of property in a pig” giving rise to an argument that caused a “fierce and bitter” fight in the legislature
Counterfactual Contexts p89 • It may appear singular, and, indeed, not a little ludicrous, that that an affair of this kind, which, in later days, would have been referred to no higher jurisdiction than that of the selectmen of the town, should then have been a question publicly discussed, and on which statesmen of eminence took sides. At that epoch of pristine simplicity, however, matters of even slighter public interest, and of far less intrinsic weight than the welfare of Hester and her child, were strangely mixed up with the deliberations of legislators and acts of state.
The narrator ‘point-of-views’ and through DESCRIPTION we come to see the lush furnishings of Governor Bellingham’s mansion. • This is in ANTITHESIS to the sparse, sombre lifestyle demanded and expected of the Puritans;
Chapter 8 • Continues the Narrator’s account of Hester’s visit to the Governor’s house begun in Chapter 7 • The actual meeting with the Governor ensues in this chapter; • Governor Bellingham is accompanied by Puritan church ministers – Rev John Wilson and Rev Arthur Dimmesdale, • Also present, Dr Roger Chillingworth
Changes • This chapter highlights the changes in these characters since their first meeting on the Scaffold; • Hester is stunned by how much Chillingworth has changed in appearance—uglier, darker and even more misshapen; • His physical change symbolize a darker change from within; his ‘inmost Me’ • Ugliness, darkness, and deformities are seen by the Puritans as symbolizing moral degeneration; • We notice Dimmesdale weakened condition and nervousness showing us how he has been suffering from his concealed guilt
Significant Scenes p97 • Rev Wilson’s examination of Pearl’s knowledge of Christian teachings; • “Art thou a Christian child? Dost know thy catechism? Or art thou one of those naughty elfs or fairies whom we thought to have left behind us, with other relics of Papistry, in merry old England?” • Pearl: “I am my mother’s child,” answered the scarlet vision, “and my name is Pearl”
p98, 99 • Through the Narrator’s exposition and description Pearl’s natural dislike of authority is made evident to the reader; • ‘Looking like a wild, tropical bird, of rich plumage, ready to take flight into the air.’ • In dialogue through her replies in the course of Rev Wilson’s religious interrogation • “Canst thou tell me, my child, who made thee?” • The narrator tells us, ‘the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush with wild roses…’
Meeting with the Powers that Be • Hester’s pleas to the Magistrates fall on deaf ears because of her marginal status; • She turns to Dimmesdale “Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these men can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest, – for thou hast sympathies which these men lack! – thou knowest what is in my heart, and what are a mother’s rights, and how much the stronger they are; when that mother has but her child and the scarlet letter! Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!” Chapter 8 p100 • Dimmesdale: “There is a truth in what she says.”
Encounter with Mistress Hibbins • The narrator wonders whether this conversation with Mistress Hibbins really took place • Through questioning the truthfulness of it ever occurring Either way • It subtly confirms Dimmesdale’s argument Pearl will keep Hester from the power of darkness • Symbolically, presence of Mistress Hibbins suggestive of the many dark powers and threatening forces surrounding Hester
Conclusion We see in the course of Chapters 5 to 8 • The challenges and difficulties confronting Hester following her entry in to the Puritan community; • We see how that individual identity is negotiated between individuals and society, • And not so easily changed according to the individual’s desire;