The Themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Essay

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The Themes of The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is a romantic novel, mainly because it is a long, fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary events. Unfolding over a seven year period, we are treated to the heroism of Hester Prynne and her adulterous beloved, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and the mysterious actions and behavior of their love child, Pearl, and the witch, Mistress Hibbins. The story is set against the background of Puritan, New England, a stern, authoritarian, colony founded by a group of religious reformers. Before the novel begins, Hester is guilty of an affair which produced Pearl while her husband was abroad. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, comes to America just as Hester is being pilloried. He
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The conflict between romanticism and religion is not difficult to understand, as everyone in the novel including the narrator is ambivalent or dualistic regarding point of view. If we look at the primary symbol of the novel, Hester's adulterous "A", we can see the conflict between romance (individuality) and religion (community). For the "A" is symbolic of two main aspects of existence. On the one hand, it symbolizes the imposed will or enforced judgement of the Puritan community regarding adulterous sex. On the other hand, it must represent individuality and the conflict of personal identity over community. For, though it may symbolize a weakness or intemperance in Hester and Dimmesdale, it, too, surely symbolizes their rejection of what they know are community values in favor of their own personal desires. Brodhead (Gross, Bradley, Beatty, and Long, 397) points to the duality underlying the wearing of the "A", and the inherent conflict between community and individuality it symbolizes:

He converts the isolated symbol into a badge fashioned by a historical community. The A becomes the Puritans' A, the emblem through which they impose their judgment on a violator of their communal values. The letter thus brings the book's social and historical stratum into being, and by meditating on their use of the symbol Hawthorne can analyze the peculiar nature of the Puritans-their devotion to law and religion, their

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