A Scarlet Letter in us all...

November 30, 2010
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What story does author create when he throws together a young breathtaking woman battling to overcome public hatred, an old frail man seeking revenge, a beloved priest hiding a deep dark secret from the world, all connected by a secret act of passion and sin? The author creates the Scarlet Letter, an analogy that contrasts personal struggles and confession from the characters to the modern world. Hester, a young and breathtaking woman, has a scandalous and secret affair with Dimmesdale, the handsome and beloved priest, and as a result bears his child, all while married to Chillingworth. Church officials give Hester many opportunities to confess who she had the affair with, and at some points beg her to confess, but Hester refuses. Throughout the book, Hawthorne draws a stark contrast between Hester, who publically confesses her sin and bears a scarlet letter, and Dimmesdale who keeps his sin a secret and hides his scarlet letter. The Scarlet Letter is an analogy contrasting personal struggles, confession, and the burden of guilt to the modern world.

Hester, the alluring young woman, has a heated affair with Dimmesdale, and uses the public shame and judgment to help others, an analogy reflected in the world today. The book opens as Hester walks out of the prison to carry out her sentence. The Boston magistracy in their “great mercy and tenderness of heart” spared Hester the penalty of death and only required she “stand only a space of three hours on the platform of the pillory and then and thereafter, for the remainder of her natural life, to wear a mark of same upon her bosom” (Hawthorne 54). Meticulously, Hester sews the letter “A” stitched in gold thread and surrounded by deep scarlet colored cloth onto her bosom; she wears this letter stitched on her bosom for the entire book, symbolizing the sin of adultery which she committed. Hawthorne draws an analogy in the book by writing about the scarlet letter, which symbolizes people’s personal battles and struggles. Everyone, like Hester, at some point in time has fallen and struggled with something, whether it is an addiction, eating disorder, sin, depression or suicide. Like Hester some people choose to publically open up about their person struggles and show the world their scarlet letter. The non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms seeks to reach out to those struggling by running a website, blog, and sending out a street team that all openly show the world their scarlet letters; these people proudly open up and share the struggles and addictions they have overcome. At the end of the Scarlet Letter, “Women, more especially, -- in the continually recurring trials of wounded, waster, wronged, misplaced, or erring and sinful passion, -- or with the dreary burden of a heart unveiled, because unvalued and unsought, -- came to Hester’s cottage” to seek hope and love (Hawthorne 215). Hester, like the TWLOHA team, use their scarlet letter to reach out and help those afflicted with similar problems and bring hope and healing to lives of the lost.

However, some people, like Dimmesdale, keep their letters hidden from the world out of fear and shame. Up until the last chapter of the book Dimmesdale kept his affair with Hester secret. Hawthorne again and again describes the torment and inner conflict Dimmesdale faces throughout the book as a result of hiding his sin. He stands in the middle of the night on the same scaffold Hester stood on in the beginning of the book, and “was overcome with a great horror of mind, as if the universe were gazing at the scarlet token on his naked breast, right over his heart . . . without any effort of his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud” (Hawthorne 123). Throughout the book, Dimmesdale tried to publically confess he wore a scarlet letter hidden from the world, but his lack of courage made it impossible. Like Dimmesdale, some people do not have the courage to publically acknowledge their own scarlet letter According to the World Health Organization, worldwide over 121 million people suffer from depression and over two-thirds of those 121 million will never seek help for depression (Facts). All of these people have their own Scarlet Letter, yet a staggering eighty million will hide them for their lives because many of them, like Dimmesdale, fear public judgment and condemnation. Again, Hawthorne draws a brilliant analogy from Dimmesdale’s life: many people keep their scarlet letters secret and hidden from the world, locked deep in the depths of their hearts, away from the judgment and scrutiny of society.

Hawthorn wrote the Scarlet Letter as an analogy to the modern world. At the beginning of the book, the Scarlet Letter Hester wore symbolized the sin of adultery she committed but as the book went on, “Many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynee, with a woman’s strength” (Hawthorne 134). Hester had the powerful ability to use her downfall and her scarlet letter to help others. Likewise, TWLOHA uses the stories of those who have fallen to inspire those who hide their sin and struggles from the world. Unlike Hester, Dimmesdale did not have enough courage to admit his sin and publically acknowledge his scarlet letter. “Happy are you, Hester, that wear the scarlet letter openly upon your bosom! Mine burns in secret! Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the tournament of seven years’ cheat, to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am” (Hawthorne 159)! Dimmesdale wanted badly to confess to his sins and wear the scarlet letter on his sleeve rather than on his chest, hidden from the world, but he lacked the courage and strength to confess. Many people model their lives after Dimmesdale, hiding their scars and moments of weakness from the world, because of their fear of public judgment. The analogy of confession and publically bearing one’s personal scars appears again and again in both the book and the world today. Everyone has their own scarlet letter; their own battles and downfalls. Some people, like Hester, openly share theirs in hopes of helping others, while some, like Dimmesdale, hide their scarlet letters away from the world out of fear and lack of courage. Whether they wear it on their bosom or chest, however, everyone has a scarlet letter.








Resources used

"Depression." Facts n. pag. Web. 1 Nov 2010.
<http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/definition/en/index.html>.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble Inc., 2005. Print.





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