Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Scarlet Letter

In the Puritan society in New England, Hester Pryne committed adultery with a man whom she concealed the identity. For that, she must wear the scarlet letter of ‘A’ (symbolizing ‘Adultery’] embroidered on her bosom, and was expelled from the society together with her daughter Pearl. An old physician—who turned out to be her long missing husband and called himself Roger Chillingworth—promised Hester that he would take avenge to her lover. His suspicion was soon directed to a Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, whom Chillingworth then took as his patient, to be able to ruin his soul.

This is a tale about sin and passion, beautifully written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although many times I got confused with his so many metaphors and magic realism symbols, I finally managed to grab most of the meanings in the end. Really worth the effort, because I have been enjoying reading this book right from the first sentence of the first chapter! Four stars for The Scarlet Letter; and these are my answers to the inquiries from my The Well Educated Mind Self-Project.

Grammar Stage Inquiry [What]

Which character is the most affected? How is that character affected by the book’s main event?

It’s all about Hester Pryne. It’s Hester Pryne’s battle to be repented from her sin: How a woman survived pressures from Puritan’s unfair system by bearing her humiliation; but in the end she proved that she cultivated much more than the hypocrite society by bearing her symbol of sin, in contrast with her companion of the crime—who faded away from the world after being mistakenly praised as holy and divine by the same society.

Logic Stage Inquiry [Why & How]

What does Hester Pryne want? What is standing in her way? What strategy does she pursue in order to overcome this block?

Hester wanted to be set free or repented from her sin. However, voluntarily wearing the scarlet letter and performing good deeds for the poor were not sufficient to change society’s view on her. As long as she wore the scarlet letter, people would always regard her only as an adulterer, a poor sinner, no less or no more than that. So, Hester kept bearing all the tortures in her in order to be stronger. Her little Pearl was also a big help for her to survive. Together they lived a humble life, never wanted more than the society permit them, but when the magistrates wanted to take Pearl from her, Hester did everything she could to keep Pearl.

Image and metaphor, is any particular image repeated again and again? What does this represent?

First, the contrast of gloomy prison door and the shining rosebush in front of it; the prison door represented the sin (dark patches in human’s soul), while the bright rosebush represented the fruits which culminated from the sin. From the seclusion from the society, Hester sprung out of her sin, being a much stronger than before, that enabled her to help others and performing many good deeds for the society. In other words, Hester’s sin had outshone the pureness that the Puritans were proud of themselves.

Second, the scarlet ‘A’ letter. It shone on Hester’s bosom, glowing even more in the dark; represented the sin that Hester honestly admitted glowed from the dark hypocrisy of Puritan society. Pearl’s particular interest in the scarlet letter (she even wrought the same letter from seaweed for herself) represented her self as the fruit of the adultery, who at the end could have a happier life outside New England.

The scarlet letter appeared as stigmata in Dimmesdale’s chest to represent that once you commit a sin, it would stay there as long as you permit it. You have the choice whether to admit it or to hide it behind your hypocrisy, it’s all the same, you are a sinner.

The letter ‘A’ represented how people used to see things as they wanted to see. When a letter ‘A’ appeared on the horizon, Dimmesdale took it as the sign of what he feared the most: that his sin was to be revealed. However, people saw it as ‘Angel’ because a worthy Governor died at the same hour, and they imagined angels came to pick him up. On the other hand, several people who regarded Hester’s willing hands to help people in needs, assumed the ‘A’ on her bosom has changed to ‘Able’.

Rhetorical Stage Inquiry [So What]

What does the setting of the book tell you about the way human beings are shaped?

I don’t know much about Puritan, but from this book I think Puritan only made people look ‘pure’ on the outside, but not in the inside. They created strict laws, dull lifestyle, they prevented the society to have pleasures. They praised their magistrates and church authorities, they were touched by any beautifully-performed sermons, but they forgot to bear in mind the real essence of them. You were regarded highly in the society only if you were ‘pure’, there’s no place for wrong doing, because once you committed it, you were banished from the society. The pressures were so high that I think they were far away from being happy, and made them hypocrites.

What exactly is the writer telling you?

That humanity lies not on the right or wrong, holy or sinful, but on our decisions and principles, on what we do and what we think. People do make mistakes, but it’s not on the size of the mistake that we should judge others, but by what they do from that. Remarkable things might come from sinful personages, amazing yet true, just as the rosemary bushes could culminate from the death soil in front of the old prison door….

Do you agree? Is this work true? In what sense is the book true?

Although Hawthorne picked Puritan era as the setting, the conflicts were still relevant to today’s life, so I can say positively that this work is true. I have created a diagram of Hester vs Dimmesdale, in term of how they made up with their sins, and from that I could see that life is not black or white, but we grow up from mistakes and sins; that if we are brave and strong, we can change our dark past to a fruitful future, not only for ourselves, but also for the world. Just as Hester Pryne had done.  


  1. Waktu aku baca ini aku gemes banget sama si pendetanya. Dia ngebiarin si Hester dihukum berapa tahun sendirian. HUH!!

    1. Yup, jenis pria lemah yang berlindung di balik kepengecutannya. Seringkali wanita memang lebih kuat dari pria, ya?

  2. Hi I just stumbled across your blog and I love it. We share so many similar tastes that I just had to become a follower of your blog. I hope you will find the time to come over and check my blog out. Hope to see you there and Happy Reading!


  3. Wonderful review, Fanda....! I had to wait until I finished the book and blogpost to read it! I enjoyed this book so much and hope others will take the time to read this American Classic!

    1. Thanks... I enjoyed it too, I might want to reread it sometime in the future.

  4. Nice review Fanda. I really enjoyed....hmmm...enjoyed is not quite right. I found this book poignant and relevant. My review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-scarlet-letter-by-nathaniel.html


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