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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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  1. The Scarlet Letterby Nathaniel Hawthorne Notes

  2. Major charactersin The Scarlet Letter Roger Chillingworth Arthur Dimmesdale husband lover Hester Prynne daughter Pearl

  3. The Scarlet Letter is filled with symbolism. Symbolism is when one thing is used to represent something else. Symbolism

  4. Darkness vs. Light • Sunshine seldom shines on Hester, but often on Pearl. Sunshine represents goodness while the darkness represents evil and hidden sins. The forest is a dark and forbiding place that the Puritans felt was full of evil. This is the place where Hester and Arthur meet years after Pearl is born,and it is only there that they can feel free enough to express their long repressed feelings for one another, for it is here that the rules of society cannot penetrate

  5. The Sunlight Does Not Shine on Hester • “Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” “Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said Hester. “And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short. . . . “Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?”

  6. Dimmesdale Hides in the Light • It is only in the dark of night that Arthur Dimmesdale can allow himself to come out and "reveal" his sin as he does in the dark of night on the scaffold where Hester’s sin was revealed in the light of day.

  7. The Letter “A” • The "A" represents adultery in the beginning of the book. It is Hester's punishment for committing sin. She wears it with stoic endurance and embellishes it with gold threads until it becomes a thing of beauty. Later in the novel, the town has forgotten Hester's original sin. Now the "A" is thought to represent "able" or "angel" . When the meteor makes a phenomenal "A" in the night sky, the town is in awe of its wonder. They think it must be "Angel" . • We may also associate it with “Alone” or “Alienation”

  8. The Rosebush by the Prison Door • The prison is a place of despair and doom, but the rose growing by the door represents the beauty and forgiveness of nature.

  9. Weeds and Poisonous plants

  10. The Rose at Governor Bellingham’s house

  11. Meteor • As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter XII, a meteor traces out an “A” in the night sky. To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should wear a mark of shame just as Hester does. The meteor is interpreted differently by the rest of the community, which thinks that it stands for “Angel” and marks Governor Winthrop’s entry into heaven.

  12. Names • Pearl - Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl is a sort of living version of her mother’s scarlet letter. She is the physical consequence of sexual sin.

  13. Hester Prynne • The protagonist of the novel who is an English woman and the wife of Roger Chillingworth. She is tried and condemned for her sin of adultery with Dimmesdale and charged to wear the scarlet letter, "A", an indication of adultery, on the bosom of her gown forever. Even though she has a daughter out of wedlock, she refuses to reveal who the father is. As a young woman, her youthful beauty, luxuriant hair, and excellent features are diminished by her self-effacing puritanical way of dressing. As an older lady, she returns to Boston where she is finally accepted for her kindness and service.

  14. Arthur Dimmesdale • The young, handsome, and unmarried pastor of Hester's church. Apart from committing adultery with Hester, he is guilty of hiding his sin. His intense suffering and remorse, however, are reflected in his rundown physical appearance. He emerges as the tragic figure of the novel around whom revolves the plot's suspense and on whom the reader's attention is centered. Thus, he is also considered a protagonist, like Hester.

  15. Roger Chillingworth • A scholarly physician who has sent his wife ahead of him to America. He fails to join her quickly, for he is captured by Indians from whom he gathers a knowledge of herbal medicine. He is an old, evil, vicious, ugly, and deformed man. His diabolical vengeance on Dimmesdale, while pretending to treat him, makes him the personification of evil.

  16. Pearl • The beautiful daughter of Hester and Dimmesdale. She is the living symbol of the scarlet letter and has peculiar traits that make her sometimes appear as a demon. Her love for nature and freedom, her vivacious spirit, her alienation, her rebelliousness, her inquisitiveness, and her innocent but symbolic comments reveal her distinct personality. She is, however, a product of the difficult situation into which she is born.

  17. Pearl • Pearls are formed in oysters when a grain of sand slips inside and irritates the oyster. The oyster covers the irritant and it becomes a thing of rare beauty. Just like a real pearl , Pearl in The Scarlet Letter is born of her mother's shame and suffering , but has become a precious, rare, and beautiful child.

  18. The Main Themes of The Scarlet Letter Sin and its effect on the individual • Hawthorne explores this by tracing the consequences of different kinds of sin on 3 different characters: Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth. • The consequence of sin is alienation, and as their sins differ, so do the kinds of alienation that result from them.

  19. Cont. • Hester’s isolation is physical – the townspeople shun her. There is a magic circle of ignominy caused by her scarlet letter. However, the scarlet letter is the means to her redemption. Hawthorne believes that no reconciliation with God, society, or self can happen without confessing one’s sin and coming to terms with it. “Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst can be inferred.” • Hester’s pregnancy makes her sin known and she works out her redemption slowly and painfully in public view. The A changes from Adultery to Able.

  20. Cont. • Dimmesdale suffers agonizing guilt and self-loathing • The admiration of his parishioners wounds him because of his sense of unworthiness and alienation from God. • His redemption is possible only when he publicly confesses his sins on the scaffold (and not at night when no one was there to hear).

  21. Cont. • Chillingworth’s sin lies in his single-minded pursuit of vengeance – in violating “in cold blood, the sanctity of the human heart.” • His obsession transforms him into a fiend. • His isolation is represented by the dread his dark and stooping posture inspire in the children of the town (remember Pearl sees him as a Devil). • His secret sin, which finally destroys him, is unpardonable because he himself is unable to forgive.

  22. Another Theme Another theme is that Sin brings special knowledge or insights to the sinner (just like eating the forbidden apple gave insight to Adam and Eve) • Hester sees the sins of others • Dimmesdale in able to look into the hearts of his parishioners • Chillingworth has insights into Dimmesdale’s soul • Mistress Hibbins (the resident witch) intuitively sees into the minister’s soul • Pearl, who isn’t a sinner but who is born as the result of sin, can figure out that Dimmesdale is his father without being told.

  23. The Structure of the Novel • The novel is symmetrical. Very carefully planned out.

  24. The Three Main Scenes • All take place on the scaffold • They underscore the unity of the novel • They bring together the four major characters and show their changing circumstances throughout the novel.

  25. Themes • Themes are universal ideas that an author wants to express through his/her writings. A theme is not the “topic”, but rather an idea about the topic that an author wants to put forth. Themes can be expressed as a sentence: a universal statement that should apply beyond the story.

  26. Forgiveness and Revenge • CHillingsworth seeks his revenge for Hester's adultery, but it poisons his soul and destroys any happiness he might have found. His only vindication comes when he leaves his inheritance to little Pearl.

  27. Guilt and Innocence • Hester accepts her guilt and her punishment without complaint. Arthur Dimmesdale hides his guilt, and it destroys him from within. He cannot bear what he has done, but has not the courage to face his sins. Pearl is the innocent product of her parent's guilt and sin, but she is innocent and beautiful. She grows up to live a life of luxury.

  28. Truth and Lies • Arthur Dimmesdale cannot face his sin. He does not have the courage to face his punishment. He secretly carves the “A” into his chest in a vain attempt to punish himself. The real punishment is that which his own guilt and lies do to his soul. They destroy him from within. • Hester accepts her punishment. She does not hide from it, and she is , at the end, vindicated because no one remembers her sin. • Roger Chillingsworth hides his true identity. In so doing, he becomes filled with bitterness, hatred, and evil. It is only when he leaves an inheritance to little Pearl that the reader feels any sympathy toward him.

  29. Be True • Because both Chillingworth and Dimmesdale live a lie, they suffer more than Hester, whose sin is known.

  30. Hypocrisy • The townspeople shun Hester and the children are forbidden to play with little Pearl. Yet they seek Hester's skills as a seamstress, and they secretly envy the beauty of the embellished "A" that adorns her clothing....adornment that they, as Puritans of plain and simple lifestyle are forbidden to wear. • Arthur Dimmesdale enjoys the prestige of being a well-respected minister, a man of God. Yet, he is the father of Hester's child, the sinful adulterer the townspeople want Hester to name.

  31. Pride • It is Hester’s pride that helps her survive . • It is Arthur Dimmesdale’s pride that leads to his destruction. • It is Roger Chillingworth’s pride that leads him to be a bitter, evil person obsessed with vindictiveness.

  32. Irony • Irony of situation : When we expect one thing to happen, but the opposite happens instead. • Verbal Irony: When someone says one thing, but actually means the opposite. • Dramatic Irony: When the reader knows something that the characters in a story do not know.

  33. Dramatic Irony in The Scarlet Letter • The reader knows that Arthur Dimmesdale is Pearl’s father. The townspeople do not know this. • The reader knows that Roger Chillingworth is Hester’s husband. The townspeople do not know this.

  34. Situational Irony in The Scarlet Letter • The symbol of Hester’s sin ( the “A”) that could have destroyed Hester has made her stronger and envied by those who shunned her.

  35. Irony (cont.) • The "A" that Hester is forced to wear, and which she hates in the beginning, becomes a valued part of her identity. She even refuses to remove it when she no longer is required to wear it. She panics when the town considers allowing her to remove it.

  36. Irony (cont.) • The sin that Arthur Dimmesdale hides because he is afraid it will destroy his reputation as the revered minister ends up destroying his very life.

  37. Irony (cont.) • Pearl, who is shunned along with her mother, grows up to have all the luxuries that those who shunned her will never have.

  38. Cont. Dimmesdale- • A character so weak that only Hester’s love and his extreme suffering lend him reality. • Some consider him the protagonist because he is the tempted one, the one who is persecuted, and the one whose confession climaxes the novel

  39. Cont. Chillingworth – • Somewhat of a stock character (which may take away from his believability) • He does change in the novel (though we never really see the scholar who was “thoughtful of others, craving little for himself” • His change into the fiend that wants revenge is pDimmesdale of what causes Hester to feel guilt

  40. Cont. Pearl – • The only character who suffers as a result of a sin she didn’t have anything to do with • Symbolic in nature – is a living representation of Hester’s sin and is definitely pDimmesdale of her punishment as well as her salvation • Is finally humanized in the final chapter when she shows grief at the death of Dimmesdale, her dad.

  41. Irony Situational Irony – the fact that Chillingworth, the wronged husband, whom might normally gain the sympathy of the reader, ends up being a fiend. He is a physician, whose mission should be to cure, and he affixes himself to Dimmesdale, who he eventually plans to make suffer for the rest of his days. It is also ironic that Dimmesdale, who is agonized by guilt and self-hatred, ends up raising great heights at the pulpit.

  42. Cont. Dramatic Irony- occurs most often when Hester and Dimmesdale meet in public and must communicate in ways that the onlookers will not understand (ex. When Dimmesdale asks Hester to reveal the father of her child) Verbal Irony – Example would be when Hawthorne accounts for the popularity of Hester’s needlework among the Puritans as follows: “Vanity, by putting on…the garments that had been wrought by sinful hands.”

  43. Symbolism • Some symbols keep the same significance throughout – the scaffold, which represents public notice, and weeds and unsightly vegetation which stand for moral evil. • Others, like the forest, which represents both nature and the threatening powers of the Black Man, are ambivalent. • The central symbol, the Scarlet Letter, does change in meaning, as Hester works her way towards absolution.

  44. Chapter 1Notes

  45. Chapter 1 - Summary • This chapter sets the scene (17th c Boston) • Drably dressed Puritans gathered in front of the prison • In front of the prison is a growth of weeds, and beside it grows a wild rose bush.

  46. Chapter 1 – Analysis • The rust, decay, and ugliness foreshadow the gloom of the novel. • Two landmarks ---the prison & cemetery– point to themes of punishment & death. • Although the rose is beautiful, it is a striking contrast to everything else.