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Nathaniel Hawthorne employs several structural devices in chapter 5-8 in The Scarlet Letter. He uses these devices to characterize several of the major characters and to move the action along for the reader. The most important devices in these chapters are exposition, narration, and dialogue. Plot, of course, is also a structural device. Although plot divisions are always something of a matter of opinion, these four chapters can be considered as the beginning of the part of plot often called the rising action, or sometimes the complication. Hawthorne has already introduced the reader to the story’s main idea in chapters 1-4, and now he begins to move the story along and develop his characters in greater detail.
Chapter 5 is subtitled “Hester at Her Needle.” In this section, Hawthorne uses a type of writing called exposition. Exposition is intended to explain (you know, like all of those expository essays you’ve had to write in school). Since the reader is still in the early stages of the novel (about a quarter of the way through), Hawthorne uses this expository technique to explain Hester Prynne’s character to the reader. The reader finds out that she has learned to use her sewing skill to make a living. The reader also learns about some of the hardships Hester is going through as an outcast in Puritan society. What this chapter does not do is give any dialogue at all between characters or any narration (think of narration as a scene or scenes in which the reader witnesses live action). It is thoroughly Hawthorne’s explanation. Near the end of the chapter, Hawthorne summarizes the effect that the scarlet letter has had on Hester’s life in the following line:
"She [Hester] shuddered to believe, yet could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden in in other hearts."
This line characterizes Hester as someone who can empathize with others—it’s a positive effect of the suffering that she has had to go through.
Chapter 6 is subtitled “Pearl.” This chapter too is mostly exposition—an explanation that characterizes Hester’s daughter Pearl. This time however, Hawthorne finally includes some dialogue in a brief narrative scene at the end of the chapter. This is a verbal exchange between Hester and Pearl that helps to show what a unique child Pearl is, and how she can sometimes confound her mother.
Chapter 7 is subtitled “The Governor’s Hall.” This shorter chapter finally returns the novel to its narrative purpose as the reader sees Hester and Pearl on their way to visit the Governor’s home. Although the first half of the chapter is still chiefly expository, the second half is narrative scene in which Hester and Pearl arrive at and enter the richly appointed home of the most important man in the colony (Governor Bellingham).
Chapter 8 is subtitled “The Elf-Child and the Minister.” This chapter is much closer to the modern style that today’s readers are accustomed to. It is composed entirely of narration with scene and dialogue that portrays the interaction between Hester, Pearl, Governor Bellingham, Reverend John Wilson, and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. After all of the exposition of the previous three chapters, the reader now sees a scene in which Hester is in danger of losing Pearl until Reverend Dimmesdale intercedes on her behalf. At the end of the chapter the reader watches as Pearl approaches Reverend Dimmesdale and pulls his hand to her cheek in an extraordinary gesture.
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