Isolation by Default of Assessment

May 28, 2008
By Monica Saunders, Irving, TX

No one person can ever live the perfect life to please everyone they meet. When people disagree with others, sometimes an invisible barrier of tension, misunderstanding, and lies forms between the two opinionated people. Problems such as racism and creating cliques are everyday examples of situations that build tough barriers between people. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is subject to the torment of living the life of an outsider in her own colony. Because of the known adulteress act, the colony treats her like an alien. In order to create a barrier that separates Hester from the normal society of the colony in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses commentary as a narrative strategy to highlight the deep affects of the scarlet Letter in her life.
By using commentary, Hawthorne emphasizes the colonists’ first encounter with the scarlet letter. The author portrays the colonists’ surprise by using sentence structure to format his commentary on the scarlet letter’s affects. Hawthorne describes the moment, “so that both men and women, who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne, were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time’ but that scarlet letter ‘had the effect of a spell.” Hawthorne conveyed that the scarlet letter changed the colonists’ opinion of Hester; she no longer was the same innocent woman they once knew; now she was the embarrassment of the colony. Hawthorne conveys the importance of Hester’s light through the structure of this complex sentence. When the author states “both men and women”, this means that Hester Prynne was well known around the colony. As he says “familiarly acquainte", Hawthorne’s commentary creates a picture of a friendly woman minding her own business. But when the author says it was “as if they beheld her for the first time”, the invisible barrier of uncertainty between strangers was rebuilt around Hester. Here, this particular idea was the only independent clause in the sentence. Hawthorne emphasizes the fact that the scarlet letter changes people’s perspective of Hester. Hester’s scarlet letter created a new environment for her to live in; sadly the scarlet letter deeply affects her life in general throughout the colony. In a way the scarlet letter “had the effect of a spell”; it was now separating her from society. Hester Prynne’s normal status, instantly ruined by the presence of the scarlet letter, no longer existed. She officially held the title of an outcast. Hawthorne also creates the perfect image of her seclusion when he states that the effect of the letter was like, “taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.” The author’s image perfectly describes Hester’s predicament, because of her wrongdoing, she was an outcast and denied “ordinary relations.” As stated above, she was no longer normal and she was now significantly different from all humanity itself! Since, Hawthorne states she is “in a sphere by herself”, Hester’s isolation is identified. When people talk about spheres in society, usually they refer to the role of the person in their societies. In Hester’s case, her role was now to be an example for those who might want to avoid her fate. Her own personal sphere is one of the many ways the Hawthorne describes the deep affects the scarlet letter had upon Hester.
Once the scarlet letter places Hester in a sphere away from society, Hawthorne uses commentary to intensify her seclusion from society. To explain her situation in life, Nathaniel Hawthorne clarifies that, “Every gesture, every word, even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished , and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere.” The author clearly comments on the fact that the colony uses all the tricks in the book to make Hester feel unwelcome. He emphasizes their persistence through the repetition of the word “every”. The colonists with held nothing from Hester, the purpose of the scarlet letter was to make her uncomfortable with the shame of her sin for the rest of her life. Also, when Hawthorne uses commentary to reveal that Hester feels “banished”, we begin to see the deep affects of the letter. The governor might as well have cast her out of the colony but he knew the scarlet letter would cut Hester deeply by turning away her acquaintances that were mentioned before. Even though the author utilizes commentary to describe how the scarlet letter placed Hester in a sphere, Hawthorne also uses commentary to show how she feels “as if she inhabited another sphere”. During the duration of wearing the scarlet letter, Hester learns the meaning of isolation. Through her trials with the scarlet letter, Hester becomes a martyr, someone who undergoes severe constant suffering. One of the affects of the letter was the constant suffering she continued to be a victim of. As mentioned before, Hester Prynne, now martyr, was separated from normal society because of the scarlet letter.
Even though the colonists never let Hester forget the shame of her sin, Hawthorne uses commentary to illuminate an aspect of the barrier that the scarlet letter built. Hawthorne describes her as “walking to and fro, with these lonely footsteps in the little world with which she was outwardly connected.” When using the adjective “lonely”, the author emphasizes Hester’s connection to the people around her. The scarlet letter has left Hester alone in the colony. But when Hawthorne uses “little” to describe the world, it should be taken into consideration that maybe Hester felt like this particular colony was the world. England was overseas, there were Indians everywhere, and her family was gone; this colony was her world yet she was “outwardly connected.” She was not the same, her seclusion from society made her different but the fact that the scarlet letter granted her with a gift kept her connected. Hawthorne comments, “she felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense. The fact that she “felt or fancied” this new sense in her moments of separation from society make this endowment questionable. When something is felt it cannot be triggered by situation. When you fancy something, usually it is formed in your mind to eliminate the pain caused by an event. Hawthorne comments on Hester’s devastating time with the scarlet and because of her circumstance, this new sense could be a figment of her imagination. Hawthorne comments on this because her new sense could be a gift from God for the continuous suffering. Either way the author uses commentary to convey a possible bright opening in Hester’s account.
Hawthorne uses commentary as a narrative strategy to build an invisible barrier between Hester and the normal society in The Scarlet Letter to highlight the serious affects of the scarlet letter in Hester’s life. Like many other people, Hester was subject to separation from society because of her differences. She was ignored, neglected, and rejected; because of this she felt lonely and banished in her own home. But people like Hester should not be secluded because of their differences. It is not likely that we will find people who match our description of perfect all the time. In the meanwhile we need to accept those around us. Because as much as we believe they are unfit to exist we have to remember we are not always the image of flawlessness ourselves.

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