The Contrast Between Nature and Society in the Scarlet Letter

January 1, 2018
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Some say that people of the modern age do not appreciate nature like those before them, and perhaps that is why the world seems so dark. The Scarlet Letter was written during a time when that was not the case; it was composed during a time where nature was seen as superior and society was seen as inferior. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterwork has a grasp on the contrast between the purity of nature and the contamination that is society. The Scarlet Letter gives a fresh look for the modern world on nature’s value and society’s faults.

The most obvious representation of this concept is when Pearl tears apart the garden in chapter 6. “...she amused herself with gathering handfuls of wildflowers, and flinging them, one by one, at her mother’s bosom,; dancing up and down, like a little elf...,” Hawthorne wrote, and this quote is much heavier than a child disobeying (page 90).  Pearl, a child born out of adultery, is tearing apart her mother’s garden in a way that seems overpowering. The way that Pearl does this makes Hester worry that she is from a demon as opposed to a heavenly father. The image of an adulterer’s daughter tearing apart beautiful wildflowers can be compared to society finding a way to spoil purity, like how Pearl’s childhood innocence was contaminated by how she was brought into the world.

In reference to Hester’s garden, it is described as being sterile in chapter 5 (page 75). It had been abandoned by the man who had built it because of its soil, which gave Hester the ability to live there. Despite that, they have a garden of wildflowers for Pearl to tear apart. It was almost like God was speaking through nature to give the Prynne family a sign of hope.. The fact that Pearl tears the garden apart says a lot about how Hawthorne felt about how society tears apart opportunities.

Lastly, there’s the rose-bush and the prison door. This is the most elegant of the three, introducing the novel and foreshadowing what is to come. “This rose-bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive…,” describes nature’s way of turning around what one may have understood, especially in this novel (page 46). This rose-bush is planted alongside a prison door, and continuously blooms in tarnished soil known for its infertility.  As shown through the metaphor of the rose-bush and the prison door, morality can still be found in darkness.

Originally published in 1850, The Scarlet Letter is one of the most prominent motifs of the Romanticism period, a wide contrast between the beauty of nature and the faults of society. Hawthorne does an excellent job in portraying the values of this period, illustrating what he believed to be fact. Scenes such as Pearl’s tantrum, and descriptions of soil and rose-bushes have greater impact than just the words intended. Hawthorne brings back the idea of valuing the simplicity of nature as opposed to the complexity of society, and one can only hope to listen.






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