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What some exammples of tone shifts in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne? Or...

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heyiloveyou | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted August 20, 2012 at 11:21 PM via web

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What some exammples of tone shifts in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne? 

Or what is the tone at the beginning, middle, and end of the novel? Quotes/text support for the tone words would be helpful as well! 

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jjrichardson | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted August 20, 2012 at 11:43 PM (Answer #1)

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tone · Varies—contemplative and somewhat bitter in the introduction; thoughtful, fairly straightforward, yet occasionally tinged with irony in the body of the narrative

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StephanieRR | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted October 25, 2013 at 2:45 AM (Answer #2)

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In the first couple of chapters, the tone of the text is gloomy, and it creates an air of anxiety. Men in "sad-colored garments and grey, steeple-crowned hats" gather around a door "studded with iron spikes." It is the first line of the book, and already it is a forboding image. Why are these somber men gathering? What lies behind the unwelcoming door? We learn the door leads to a prison, and the people of the town in which this building resides feel just as much curiosity and concern about it. At the beginning of chapter two, they all have "...their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door." Their faces hold expressions of "grim rigidity." They are all waiting for something, and it is clear by the tone that whatever it is will not be something good. These beginning chapters, all of which detail Hester Prynne's public trial, public shame, and punishment, are written with a tone befitting the solemn occasion.

For the rest of the book, the tone varies depending on the event or person being described. For instance, whenever Pearl is described, the tone is significantly lighter, and the descriptions contain language to match. In chapter six she is described as, "...that little creature, whose innocent life had sprung...a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion." She is a light in the darkness, a precious life in the midst of all Hester's shame. "...the infant was worthy to have ben brought forth in Eden." Any time Pearl is brought into a scene, the tone is always sure to brighten. Whenever the reader gains insight into Chillingworth's mind, however, the tone grows dark and menacing. After his guise as a concerned physician begins to crumble under the weight of his malice, his physical appearance changes. "Now, there was something ugly and evil in his face, which they had not previously noticed..." At the end of chapter nine, the narrator says, "This diabolical agent had the Divine permission, for a season, to burrow into the clergyman's intimacy, and plot against his soul." Chillingworth is likened to some sort of disease or worm that can actually "burrow" into someone's soul. The language is consistently severe.

When there is not a particular evil or good that needs to be highlighted by a change in tone, the narrator employs a detached, observational tone. However, throughout the book, there are some opportunities for this tone to take on a more critical nature when the narrator intends to subtly point out the flaws in the Puritan society. An example of this can be found in chapter five. The narrator remarks that the idea of delicacy didn't exist in such a stern society. "It was not an age of delicacy; and [Hester's] position, although she understood it well, and was in little danger of forgetting it, was often brought before her vivid self-perception, like a new anguish, by the rudest touch upon the tenderest spot." Lower and upper class women alike rub her sin in her face despite the fact that she is already well aware of her guilt and of how much society has spurned her. Finally, the last chapter has a somewhat uplifted tone, because Dimmsdale has confessed his sin and Hester has proven herself to be ever-penitent and has been accepted a little more back into the commnity.

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