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Light and Darkness in The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, felt that the Puritans were people who believed that the world was a place where the battle between good and evil was a never-ending one. Throughout the novel, Hawthorne uses the symbols of light and dark to depict this battle among the characters Hester Prynne, Pearl, and Roger Chillingworth. After Hester commits her sin, her beauty almost immediately vanishes into darkness. Her hair no longer hangs freely about her face, instead she ties it up in a bonnet. Hester is not perceived as an evil person, but her sin makes her light hide away.

The sun is used as a descriptor of the goodness or pure nature of character. Because of her sin and the scarlet letter, Hester is no longer pure, therefore she is not seen in the sun. Hawthorne states, It was only the darkened house that could contain her. When sunshine came again, she was not there. While on a walk to the forest, Pearl, Hesters daughter states, … the sunshine does not love you. it runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. This is evidence that the scarlet letter itself may be the cause of Hesters darkness.

Pearl is the character most recognized for her presence in the sun. She is drawn to the sun, as the sun is drawn to her. While at the governors house, Pearl notices how brightly the sun shines through the windows. She requests that, the sunshine be stripped off its front and given to her to play with. Hester responds by saying, No my little Pearl. Thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee! Pearl has been seen as a character that always persists on knowing the truth. While in the forest Pearl wants to hear a story from Hester. She asks Hester if she has ever seen the Black Man.

Hester replies that she has seen the Black Man once before. This suggests that the Black Man may be her husband, Roger Chillingworth. Roger Chillingworth is a character who is almost Satan-like. Chillingworth is described as the Black Man by Pearl and his own description of himself suggests that he is a fiend of some kind. When Chillingworth discovers that Dimmesdale was the father of Pearl, he taunts him and makes him feel more guilt than he already possesses. Hester feels guilty because she has suppressed from Dimmesdale who Chillingworth really is.

Chillingworth says, Ye that have wronged me not sinful, save in a kind of typical illusion, neither am I fiend like who have snatched a fiends office from his hands. It is our fate. Let the black flower blossom as it may! The black flower, as Chillingworth describes it, is the truth of all the events leading up to who the father is, and who Chillingworth is. The truth is a dark truth, therefore it is related with the darkness. Hester, Pearl, and Chillingworth are all characters associated with good and/or evil. Hesters character is at first beautiful and after she bonds with the scarlet letter she is seen with the darkness, and shadows.

Her transformation occurs when she takes the bonnet off, and detaches the letter. Almost immediately her light comes back and she is beautiful again. This is her physical exposure to Pearl, as well as the exposure of her adulterous sin. Pearl does not have anything to expose, but she does witness Hesters transformation in the light. Pearl, for the first time, expresses human emotion, which happens in her mothers light. Roger Chillingworth is the dark force in this particular story. He suffices the truth through Dimmesdale and Hesters guilty feelings. Hence, Chillingworth is the tool for exposing the dark truths.

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StudyBoss » Light and Darkness in The Scarlet Letter

Light and Darkness in The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is one of the most analyzed and most discussed literary works in American literature and for good reason. Hawthorne’s ambiguity and his intense use of symbols have made this work incredibly complex and incredibly bothersome. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses many symbols to give insight into characters and promote his views on society. The scaffold scenes in The Scarlet Letter tell the reader exactly what is to come, and the presence of light in those scenes gives the reader insight into the characters.

The scaffold scenes establish a pattern of what is to come in the novel through a common tie prevalent in the three different scaffold scenes. The tie is that of creation and release. In the first scaffold scene, Hester releases not only her guilt about her crime, but, she also releases Pearl to the society and creates in Pearl the need for strength and determination that she will need to overcome the legacy of her creation. In this scene she also creates the need in Dimmesdale to absolve himself of his guilt.

The second scaffold scene is the opportunity for Dimmesdale to attempt to release his guilt from the first scaffold. However, Pearl creates a need in Dimmesdale to repent in front of the town. During the third scaffold scene, Dimmesdale is able to release his guilt about his crime and his lack of strength. He is also able to complete his obligation to accept the hands of Pearl and Hester on the platform from the second scaffold scene. Through his confession, he creates a sense of reality for the entire town.

It can be clearly seen that what is created in the first caffold is released in the second scaffold; while, the things created in the second scaffold are finally released in the third and final scaffold. There is another complexity to the scaffold scenes in the presence, or lack there of, of lighting. The first scaffold scene is in the sunlight. The sunlight in this novel is a symbol of disguise. In the sunlight of the first scaffold, Hester is shown as strong and determined. She gives the appearance that the letter does not bother her. However, later in the novel we learn her true feelings as to the letter:

The effect of the symbol–or, rather, of the position in respect to society that was indicated by it–on the mind of Hester Prynne herself was powerful and peculiar. All the light and foliage of her character had been withered up by this red-hot brand, and had long ago fallen away… The darkness in this book is a symbol of reality and truth. The second scaffold scene is a perfect example of this symbol. In the first and third scaffold scenes, Dimmesdale gives the appearance of a devout holy man who, although not physically strong, is emotionally pure.

In the second scaffold scene, Dimmesdale’s inability to confront the people that trust him, his absence of strength, and inability to admit to his guilt are clearly shown. This is the real Arthur Dimmesdale. This use of lighting is prevalent in other Hawthorne stories as well. In Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown,” Similar lighting and darkness symbols are used. In the darkness of the forest, the true nature of the people that Goodman Brown looked up to and respected was revealed to him. He is only capable of seeing their hypocritical flawed ature when in the darkness.

When he had encountered them in the light of day, he believed the others in the town to be unadulterated, and strong of character. In this way, Hawthorne has used darkness to say to the reader that the way the characters are perceived in darkness is who they really are. Hawthorne foreshadows exactly what is to come in The Scarlet Letter through the scaffold scenes. He creates problems in one scene that he answers in the next scene until the conclusion in the final scaffold scene.

Also, Hawthorne cleverly adds lighting and darkness to give insight into each character. It is interesting how this seems to diverge from the contemporary stereotypes of light and darkness. Contemporary stereotypes would suggest that truth is light and darkness is deceit. These contemporary stereotypes are illustrated with death in horror movies appearing only at night and with angels and gods in books appearing in a burst of light. The way that Hawthorne flips this stereotype and creates a novel in which light is a disguise is utterly amazing.

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