Saturday, June 4, 2011

Romantic Mottifs present in the Scarlet Letter

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The different periods of writing all have unique styles. The Romantic period had themes


of returning to nature, mistrust in science, trust in instincts, interest in the supernatural, and Transcendentalist teachings. Most of the novels written during the Romantic period portray these reoccurring themes. The novel The Scarlet Letter is indeed a Romantic novel if one looks at and considers the characters, settings, and moral connection presented.


Hawthorn cleverly presented his Romantic ideals through his characters by creating the two sharply contrasting characters of Pearl and Roger Chillingworth. Pearl, the daughter of Hester Pryne, encompassed all the characteristics of a person that Romantics felt like one should have. Romantics felt like one had a certain intuition about things. Pearl possessed this intuition and demonstrated it by somehow having this innate knowledge that Dimmesdale is indeed her father and should have stood on the scaffold with her and her mother. This can be expressed when she asks the Reverend, “Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, tomorrow noontide?” Pearl’s intuition is also revealed when she and her mother talk about the scarlet letter. When Hester asks Pearl if she knows why her mother wears the A Pearl replies, “It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart.” Pearl having no knowledge of the reason why her mom wears the scarlet letter a upon her breast sensed the connection between her mom the scarlet letter and Dimmesdale. A Romantic writer would most likely say that this innate knowledge spawns from Pearl’s connection with nature. She had no other friends accept the playmate of nature. “The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate...” Here Pearl played with the sunshine one element of nature. She also represents the interest many Romantics shared in the supernatural being described many a times as, “An elfish child....” Being cut off from society Pearl was not able to be corrupted by it, another Romantic view of mistrust in society. Pearl’s opposite is Roger Chillingworth. He reflected all of the negative thoughts and feelings of Romantics and is viewed as the villain of the novel. First of all he is a doctor which represents Romantics distrust in science. This contrast with Pearl’s intuition. He is in no way connected to nature. He has no interest or affiliation with the supernatural. The chapter used to describe him was entitled “The Leech” and even his very name reminds the reader of a cold chill not at all like Pearl’s name meaning something of great worth. His character is seen as the worst of all sinners and evil, “There was something ugly and evil in his face...,” Hawthorn wrote this when describing the towns changing views and opinions of the physician. He was seen as the great tormentor to Dimmesdale, “Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale....was haunted either by Satan himself , or Satan’s emissary, in the guise of old Roger Chillingworth.” By creating these two characters Hawthorn displays both all the good and evil, positive and negative, characteristics associated with Romantic views and style.


The settings in this novel showed contrast in both physical and symbolic representation. These two settings are that of the forest and the town. Most obviously the forest represented the Romantic ideal of returning to nature. Therefore by representing Romantic style of ideals it was shown as a place where characters can be open and honest with others and themselves allowing them great insight. The two main occasions were this occurred was that of Hester’s talk with Chillingworth and her talk with Dimmesdale. Hester was allowed to be open and honest in nature because she was away from society. In her talk with Chillingworth she told him just what she thought about his relationship with her former lover, “Your clutch is on his life, and you cause him to die daily a living death; and still he knows you not.” She holds nothing back. Chillingworth, in turn, was open and honest to such a point that he discovers thoughts that he never was fully conscience of. “ ‘Yea, indeed!- he did not err!- there was a fiend at his elbow! A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his special torment.’ The unfortunate physician , while uttering these words, lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if he had beheld some frightful shape, which he could not recognize....It was one of those moments when a man’s moral aspect is faithfully revealed to his mind’s eye. Not improbable, he had never before viewed himself as he did now.” In Hester’s talk with Dimmesdale in the forest an overwhelming degree of honesty was also seen. Hester had made a promise with Chillingworth not to reveal to anyone his true identity of being her husband, and the only place which this promise was broken, and the truth comes out, was in this talk with Dimmesdale in the forest. “That old man! The physician! - he whom they call Roger Chillingworth! - he was my husband.” Hester also saw the forest as an escape from all Dimmesdale’s troubles. When talking about the path in the forest leading into the wilderness and away from the town Hester says, “Deeper it goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step, until, some few miles hence the yellow leaves show no vestige of the white man’s tread. There thou are free!” This escape is one from society which also represents Romantics view of society as a making one conform and not allowing one to be free. This is also the only setting in which Dimmesdale is open with his thoughts and feelings towards Hester. Dimmesdale thinks to himself, “Neither can I any longer live without her companionship; so powerful is she to sustain, - so tender to soothe! O Thou to whom I dare not life mine eyes...” He realized that he still has feelings for Hester one could argue that in fact he loved her. One of the most important events that happened in the forest was when Hester took off her scarlet letter emphasizing the point that theses characters can only be honest with themself away from the eyes of the town and in the setting of nature. In contrast to nature, in the town, no revelation, except Dimmesdale’s at the end, takes place. When Hester speaks with Dimmesdale in the forest she asks him, “Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf- strewn desert...” Then after she proposes the journey away from the town she says, “So brief a journey would bring thee form a world where thou hast been most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy.” This passage describes the town as a place that contaminates, because Dimmesdale was wicked there, and after he removes himself from society he removes himself from further contamination and will be able to live happily. Overall these contrasting settings symbolize Romantic’s view that one should return to nature by letting honesty and revelation take place only when the characters physically return to nature. In contrast it shows the town as a place of corruption by not allowing any revelation or insight take place there and making the characters unable to see their own thoughts.


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One of the most basic morals of the novel deals with the Romantic philosophy of connection. Romantics believed in Transcendentalism teachings, one of the most basic being the concept of the oversoul. This belief is that everyone is connected to God and each other and the only way in which one may be truly happy is through finding this connection in this. Hester was the perfect model of this teaching. She, although an outcast, found her place in society. She made herself useful by doing various charitable acts. Hawthorn wrote the reaction of the towns people to Hester after she found her place in society, “Such helpfulness was found in her, - so much power to do, and power to sympathize, - that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able...” She is truly happy. When she talks with Dimmesdale in the forest and he asks her, “Hast thou found peace?” Hester , “...smiles drearily down upon her bosom.” She knows her place in society and the scarlet letter has helped her find it. She shares a connection with others and God by doing good deeds. In contrast when Hester threw the question back at the Reverend he replies, “None! Nothing but despair!...Hester I am most miserable!” He is not open with himself and others and has cut himself off from the world only to wallow in self-pity. He can not find his true place in society until the end when he reveals the truth to all. Hawthorn described his face as having, “..a flush of triumph,...” Even though Dimmesdale died he found his place in society with Hester standing on the Scaffold and died peacefully and triumphantly. He also reconnected himself with God by admitting his sin. The reader can assume he is finally happy. The character that best exemplified being disconnected with society and God and never reconnects was Chillingworth. He was described as being the manifestation of the devil who’s soul purpose is to torment Dimmesdale. He is not only disconnected from society he is also trying to disconnect another human being therefore making him the worst case scenario and the worst sinner. Throughout the Revered’s revelation Chillingworth is trying to prevent it. “Madman, hold! What is your purpose...Wave back that woman! Cast off this child! Do not blacken your fame, and perish in dishonor!” In the Hester and Dimmesdale’s forest talk Dimmesdale even said, “That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated in cold blood, the sanctity of the human heart.” The characters differing connections with society reflects the Romantic/Transcendentalist view that one must be connected to God and everyone to be truly happy, and that the worst sin is that of severing this connection of not only yourself but of another soul.


In conclusion this novel embodies the very essence of Romantic style. From characters to setting to the moral evoked this novel reflected the basic thoughts and feelings of Romantic writers. Hawthorn ingeniously showed this by contrast of the different elements of the novel. The character and setting that conveyed Romantic ideals was put upon a pedestal as a model. The character and setting which was in direct contrast with these ideals was lowered and was used to show the errors of human nature and flaws in the society. The morale evoked used different steps of being in true to Transcendentalist views. The best model being the happiest and the worst model being miserable. This work truly portrayed the writing during the Romanticism period.


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