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The Scarlet Letter Analysis Essay

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GoPunchRocks's picture
Joined: Oct 2005
The Scarlet Letter Analysis Essay

I dont really need help but what do u guys think of my analysis essay?

Another View of the “A”
Anyone who has read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is familiar with the letter “A” adorning Hester Prynne’s bosom. This demonstration of her crime is described by the townspeople as “a mark of shame upon her bosom.” Although it remains the common conception of the citizens that the demonic symbol represents the passionate sin of Adultery it is, however, not the case. The reader must allow it to remain abaft in their mind that nowhere in The Scarlet Letter does Hawthorne use the words “Adultery” or “Adulteress”. The lack of textual evidence allows different meanings to be attributed to the value of the “A” upon deeper analysis. Throughout the novel, the “A” has a tendency to symbolize Hawthorne’s Ambiguous tone and the Action of the characters as the story develops.
One key feature of Hawthorne is his ability to remain Ambiguous in his writing. He provides the reader with enough information for an opinion to be formed but then follows up with a statement that may take that assumption in quite the opposite direction. His Ambiguity is clearly illustrated when Hawthorne uses a phrase like, “The reader may choose among these theories” (223). The reading thus becomes open to multiple interpretations, a tactic he follows throughout the novel. One of the more noted passages confirming the air of mystery Hawthorne provides is when he discusses the wild rosebush outside the prison door. Hawthorne states, “whether it had merely survived out of the stern of old wilderness […] or whether […] it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Anne Hutchinson.” (46) Hawthorne uses this language purposefully in order to involve the reader in analysis of the line and its context. One plausible motive for the Ambiguous nature of the text lies within Hawthorne’s own definition of a romance, “a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and Imaginary may meet.” (35) Providing the reader with multiple rationalizations, all potentially real, should engross that person within this definition. Thus providing both a reason for the greatness and profound manner of Hawthorne’s work and a cause for the Ambiguous nature with which the text radiates.
The “A” continues to represent Ambiguity throughout the novel in its entirety. However, as the story progresses it takes on the new meaning of Action or lack thereof. The Scarlet Letter manages to illustrate an emphasis on the exploits of the characters, especially the Actions of Hester Prynne and Roger Chillingworth. In the beginning chapters of the story, the characters have opposite conducts but by the dramatic climax their roles have reversed. Chillingworth is especially pro Action when he first encounters Hester on the scaffold. From the first time we are introduced to him, Chillingworth is already putting his plot of revenge into Action when he says to Hester, “Recognize me not, by word, by sign, by look! Breathe not the secret.” (70) Hester, however, is doing the reverse. She chooses to take no action in procuring happiness and by doing so she condemns herself to bear the passionate sin alone, “I will not speak! […] And my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never know an earthly one!” (63) Hester does not reveal the name of her lover for the purpose of preserving his status among the puritan society but in doing so takes no steps in the direction of ever being together with Dimmesdale.
The roles of Hester and Chillingworth exchange by the climax of the novel. Chillingworth becomes a “leech” who is slowly draining away the vitality, both mentally and physically, of Dimmesdale. As Hawthorne notes in this passage about Chillingworth, “This diabolical agent had the Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the clergymen’s intimacy, and plot against his soul” (112). Chillingworth is in a superior position to wear away at the minister. However, he eventually becomes obsessed with his revenge, Chillingworth was overcome by his own plot. Chillingworth makes the transition away from Action and truly becomes the parasite he is described as. Never is this conversion more clearly demonstrated than when he proclaims to Dimmesdale, “Thou hast escaped me!” (221) Hester’s transformation shifts in the converse direction of his. Hester quickly becomes the symbol of Action the “A” comes to represent. Hawthorne reveals that the townspeople now interpret the “A” as meaning “Able” because Hester is gifted with, “so much power to do” (141). Now the symbol has come to represent something greater than Hester’s sin, it is no longer merely a mark of shame but a symbol of the good she is capable of accomplishing through her deeds and Actions.
Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth each wear their own Scarlet Letter either physically or symbolically. For each of these characters Hawthorne allows the “A” to represent a different significance and he even refers to the “A” in the overall tone of the novel. In fact, the “A” almost embodies a life of its own in each of these meanings and becomes something greater than a piece of “fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread” (50). Although these meanings may appear random or accidental, Hawthorne placed them with purpose. These purposes manage to remain just as Ambiguous as Hawthorne is and may provide the reader with much ado over a question that can be answered in a most simplistic manner. What exactly did Hawthorne want the Scarlet Letter to represent? On the surface it appears that it could take many pages to respond to the proposed question however the answer is given to us by Hawthorne himself in his introductory chapter “The Custom House”, “Certainly, there was some meaning to it, most worthy of interpretation […] but evading the analysis of my mind”. (32) The Scarlet “A” simply stands for whatever the reader requires it to represent. Not even Hawthorne could produce a decisive answer to the question yet he alludes to it representing many things inside The Scarlet Letter. Perhaps the “A” can be compared to the variable “X” in mathematics, the unknown variable being the active depiction. It takes on the value of whatever is number is required to solve the equation, similarly the demonic blessing which has come to represent the very essence of both Hawthorne’s writing and the exploits of his characters.

pianogirl2422's picture
Joined: Mar 2005

This is a good paper, but I would like to make a few suggestions.

1) "The Scarlet Letter" should be italized or underlined if it is not already in your word processing program.

2) You have no page number for your quote in the introductory paragraph.

3) I don't think that you should include Dimmesdale in your restating of the thesis. You only mentioned him three times to help describe Hestor and Chillingworth.

Other than that, I think it's fine. I never thought about other meanings of the A. Although, I never really spent time thinking about anything in that book that didn't relate directly to my essay.

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soozin's picture
Joined: Sep 2005

Dizzying. This is your thesis...? "Throughout the novel, the “A” has a tendency to symbolize Hawthorne’s Ambiguous tone and the Action of the characters as the story develops. "

It sounds as if you'll only be arguing writing style in the essay and perhaps some plot... I know this is useless now, but I would change the thesis so that it fits the conclusion better, because I think the conclusion is much stronger with a more interesting point. At any rate, the concluding paragraph and the thesis sentance do not match in that the thesis sentance does not state the variability of the letter A and the conclusion makes barely any mention to writing styke, which was alluded to in the intro paragraph.

GoPunchRocks's picture
Joined: Oct 2005

good point, i got reallty wrapped up in that conclusion. i shoulda thought of that. ill make sure i do that for my term paper.

MattJobs's picture
Joined: Dec 2005

Wow nice essay


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