In The Scarlet Letter what is left out of Hawthorne's account, and how does this affect the conclusions he is able to draw?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Letting the eyes follow along the course of the stream, they could catch the reflected light from its water, at some short distance within the forest, but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and underbrush, and here and there a huge rock, covered over with grey lichens. All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool.

This passage from Chapter XVI of The Scarlet Letter reminds the reader of the characteristic ambiguities of Hawthorne's narratives.  For, while Dimmesdale and Hester "catch the reflected light" of good in their "good intentions" and love that has a "consecration" of its own, there are yet blurrings of this good with the sins of their lives. And, in the concluding chapter, this ambiguity yet exists, leaving the the dogmatic Puritan code yet in grey, just as it is dressed in the opening chapter much like the tombstone of Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale that is "so sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow...."

While Pearl is rendered human by her father's confession of his sin, and Dimmesdale achieves a certain heroic success in his revelation of his secret sin, Hester remains enshrouded in doubt, left to live out her tragic existence as a grey figure who resumes the wearing of the scarlet letter, taking up "her long-forsaken shame" and continuing her counsel and comfort to the "perplexed and forlorn."

In the end, Hester Prynne still does not know whether she has done right or wrong, for her "good intentions" have no bearing on the inevitable penalty of which she cannot rid herself.  Even in death, Hester's soul remains in ambiguity as she lies in the same grave with Dimmesdale, yet there is a space between them, "as if the dust of the two sleepers had no right to mingle."  So, while Hawthorne urges his readers to "Be true!  Be true!" but he cannot explain the mystery of redemption.

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