The Scarlet Letter: A love story?

Bruce Lee once said, “Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable” (Lee). Similarly, in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne documents the maturation of two lovers, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, following the moment of passion that leads them to sin, the undeniable force of affection which continually pulls them together, and finally the death of one lover. Hester and Dimmesdale’s force of devotion presents itself in the three scaffold scenes of the text and proves their care for one another time and time again, guiding them to execute actions of guardianship in preservation of their love, despite outsider’s forces, such as the Puritan society and Hester’s cunning husband Roger Chillingworth, to thwart the intensity of the lovers’ “sinful” affections.

The three scaffold scenes demonstrate the potency of affection in its truest form—one where even in estranged circumstances yields to no other divinity than love itself.  In the first scaffold scene, Hester’s stubbornness in refraining from revealing the father of her baby, Pearl, stems from her apparent love for Dimmesdale, and her desire to protect him. When inquired to confess, she exclaims, “I will not speak!…And my child must seek a heavenly Father; she shall never know an earthly one!” (61). She refuses to jeopardize her lover’s reputation at the cost of her own happiness when given the chance to reveal the father’s name in exchange for forgiveness for her sin. Thus, due to her resistance to the jurors’ demands, Hester is branded with the scarlet letter as a means of retribution. She is even willing to deny her child an earthly father in order to protect Dimmesdale, and therefore relies on God to provide baby Pearl with the extra support of love. This act of defiance on Hester’s part is the first introduction to the couple’s affections within the text. Furthermore, the family stands together in a united fashion, hand in hand, in the second scaffold scene. Hawthorne writes, “The moment that [Dimmesdale held Pearl’s hand], there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life…pouring like a torrent into his heart…as if the mother and child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain.” (158) Dimmesdale, now joined together with his loved ones, is reimbursed with a flood of life into his decaying, “half-torpid” body. Hester and Pearl are, in a sense, the missing pieces to Dimmesdale’s health and happiness who fill his heart with lively refreshment of warmth. Though the shame his sin casts upon him constantly burdens him, Dimmesdale is momentarily relived of the guilt weighing him down in this instance of invigorating truth. As the three stand together, they form an “electric chain,” symbolizing the powerful, electrifying bond of the link, as if the connection was of the natural forces endorsing this idea of the righteous order of love. The “electric” forces between the characters further embody a revitalized sense of passion that seems to be lacking up until now, and fill the reader with reverence for the lovers’ true spirits which finally embrace the connection of their love. The last scaffold scene, and the final moments of Dimmesdale’s life, portrays the ardor of love between Dimmesdale and Hester. In his final sermon to his fellow puritans, Dimmesdale confesses, “I stand upon the spot where, seven years since, I should have stood; here, with this woman, whose arm, more than the little strength wherewith I have crept hitherward, sustains me” (233). The last scene of the united forces of the lovers demonstrates the characters’ maturation throughout the text. Dimmesdale is finally confessing to his wrongs, saying he is now in the state which he should have been when Hester was first convicted. He is less engrossed in the public’s image of him and, rather, his passion arises from deepest sentiments which he has spent years denying. Dimmesdale compliments Hester’s strength here, which he has continuously relied upon to help him. Hester too has matured, as she is less concerned with protecting Dimmesdale’s reputation and more concentrated on fulfilling the prophecy of their love. Thus, her outlook of what is right and better to do for the both of them changes. Even in her lover’s final moments, Hester pursues her love interest to the very end, trying to find some reconciliation in the idea of their future immortal lives together.  She cries to Dimmesdale as he dies, “Shall we not spend our immortal life together? Surely, surely, we have ransomed one another, with all this woe!” (234). After the years of protection she has granted Dimmesdale of their secret, Hester’s undeniable power is finally broken by the uncontrollable reaper who has successfully pilfered her love from her. Nevertheless, she feels as though their confessed affections have “ransomed,” or freed them from the state of their sinful passions into true love, and that one day, they may reunite in a heavenly home amongst their requited passion of love to one another. Though they may not have exhibited a grand entrance of their love to the world whence they were consumed with ignominy and guilt, their tale ends on the scaffold in a moment of passionate bliss between two estranged lovers finally and unashamedly together.

        Hester and Dimmesdale’s sentiments of love towards one another are exposed through their guardianship of each other and their desires to remain equitable in their sin by even lessening the intensity of their peccadillo. The couple’s actions are, from the beginning, stimulated by their affections. When Hester visits the Governor’s residence to plead for custody of Pearl, Dimmesdale convinces the skeptical jurors of Hester’s worthiness. In defending his case, Dimmesdale presents, “There is truth in what she says…is there not a quality of awful sacredness in the relation between this mother and this child?” (102). Dimmesdale acts as Hester’s guardian as he convinces the officials to allow Hester to keep Pearl. He speaks earnestly, strengthening his argument and articulating his words to seem as though, rather than speaking in favor of a stranger’s cause, he is emotionally drawn to Hester and the child. The “sacredness” of the relation not only lies in Hester and the child, but between Dimmesdale as their guardian angel as well, pushing forth the fluent, overpowering force of familial love. This same adoration between the duo is expressed in the forest when Hester and Dimmesdale confess to one another, “‘Thou and I, Hester never did [sin blackly] so!’ ‘Never, never!…What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! We said so to each other! Hast thou forgotten it?” (178). After Hester confesses the true identity of Dimmesdale’s physician Roger Chillingworth and his plot of revenge, the two justify their own sin in face of the newly presented one. Whereas Dimmesdale lessens the intensity of their sin in comparison to Chillingworth’s, Hester condones it entirely in the sense that she feels their moment of passion had meaning. Hester’s ardor in expressing the matter denies wrong in her sin as she clearly does not regret her wrongdoing despite the years of condemnation from the locals. In fact, the intense passion and hope between the two lovers seems very much alive.

Moreover, the A on Dimmesdale’s chest represents his loyalty to Hester and the sin they committed together. Though throughout most of the text Hawthorne describes the clergyman’s hidden A negatively, for example, by stating, “The young minister at once came forward, pale, and holding his hand over his heart,” the finality of the text presents a glowing Dimmesdale in a beam of illumination as Dimmesdale “with a convulsive motion tore away the ministerial band before his breast” and revealed the letter penetrating his chest (102, 234). Therefore, after years of concealing the burning A on his chest and drawing his hand over his heart, as if to assure that his sin was hidden, Dimmesdale reveals his secret to the community and releases its burden of guilt from his chest. The very fact that his A compliments that of Hester demonstrates his penitence, through partly for the sin itself, for not having the strength to stand side by side with Hester. Therefore, he attempts to make up for his weakness and prove his love for Hester by physically scarring himself with the same A, a visible display of the level to which the sin has eaten at his soul.

 Hester and Dimmesdale’s love causes them to receive excessive hatred from the other characters in the text, which ultimately brings the two lovers closer together. Whereas Hester is subjugated to criticism and judgment under Puritan law, the wrath of Chillingworth’s vengeance undermines Dimmesdale’s well-being. Hawthorne demonstrates Hester’s segregation in the marketplace while Hester and the townspeople await the upcoming procession in the final scene. He notes, “As usual the case wherever Hester stood, a small, vacant area–a sort of magic circle–had formed itself about her…It was a forcible type of the moral solitude in which the scarlet letter enveloped its fated wearer” (214). The punishment of Hester’s sin clings to her, and the embroidered A on her bosom encompasses a seemingly supernatural force which separates Hester from the public. Although the public’s opinion of her has altered since her trial seven years ago, she is still subjected to isolation. No matter how much she attempts to redeem her reputation, Hester remains an outcast, defined by the actions of her sin. Even her household lies in the seclusion of a remote cottage. However, although Hester remains estranged from social comfort, with Pearl as a continual reminder and product of her sin, her isolation does allow her to embrace her own independence and individuality through freedom from the rigid and hypocritical laws of the Puritan society. Thus, the author actually sheds a positive light on Hester and the magic circle which encompasses her while also allowing Hester too see past her sin and into her affectionate sentiments for Dimmesdale despite public disdain. Similarly, Dimmesdale is constantly bared by Chillingworth’s constantly vigilant eye. When Chillingworth first discovers the A on Dimmesdale’s chest, he is overcome with such a divulgence of devilish spirit. The author examines, “With what a ghastly rapture…bursting forth through the whole ugliness of his figure…Had a man seen old Roger Chillingworth, at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself, when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom” (124). Chillingworth’s intentions of revenge have been obvious since his first face to face talk with Hester after her trial. His undying lust for revenge is reimbursed when he discovers the infamous A on Dimmesdale’s chest. In this passage, Hawthorne even goes so far as to equate Chillingworth to the devil. Chillingworth is compelled by forces of demonic exuberance and frantic thrill at the thought that the young clergyman has been “won into his kingdom” of revenge and appalling sin. This demonic creature leads Dimmesdale to unknowingly collapse into his arms to the point of “[violating] the sanctity of the human heart” (178). The abusive relationship between Chillingworth and Dimmesdale leads to the reverend’s ailment and restrains Dimmesdale from seeking the comfort of true, sanctified love. Nevertheless, the preacher is able to eventually break from the leech’s grasp due to his stronger commitment to Hester, finally justifying his love for her through admittance of his true feelings. In defying the efforts of the outside world to prevent their relationship, Hester and Dimmesdale display the force of their passion.

Throughout The Scarlet Letter, Hester and Dimmesdale’s love is verified through the actions in their personal lives which bring them to the scaffold scenes and further amplify the care of the two characters, unwavering against society’s backlash against the duo. Love itself is a pitiless beast, constantly keeping an eye out for the opportunity to feast. And it is but this angelic demon which carries the aficionados to the end. In a world of ignominy, penitence, and blame, only the bearers of these sentiments can settle on their fates—to decide for themselves how they will construct their own images in the face of love’s ultimate divinity of affection.

 

Works Cited

“Bruce Lee.” BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2013. 12 December 2013. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/brucelee137154.html

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Print.

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