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Nathaniel Hawthorne's magnum opus, The Scarlet Letter, began a literary movement in America. One of Hawthorne's literary devices used extensively in this novel, symbolism, set the precedent for American writing. In fact, his first chapter's title is symbolic of the stultifying culture of Puritanism: "The Prison-Door." In the exposition of his narrative, Hawthorne writes,
A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments, and grey, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.... Certain it is, that, some fifteen or twenty years after the settlement of the town, the wooden jail was already marked with weather-stains,... which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browed and gloomy front. The rust on the ponderous iron-work of its oaken door looked more antique than anything else in the New World.
In Chapter II as Hester Prynne,
tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale...lady-like, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days
stands on the scaffold, Hawthorne ironically states,
Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman, with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity...
This description is, of course, in sharp contrast to the reality of why Hester stands before the crowd of gray-clothed Puritans. And, the harshest reality occurs as she with the "letter A, in scarlet, fantastically embroidered with gold thread, upon her bosom," recognizes the man, "clad in a strange disarray of civilized and savage costume."
And, in Chapter III, with another irony, Governor Bellingham addresses the Reverend Dimmesdale,
"...the responsibility of this woman's soul lies greatly with you. It behooves you, therefore, to exhort her to repentance and to confession, as a proof and consequence thereof.
But, Hester refuses to speak, crying, "Never....I will not speak!" Then, in Chapter IV, as Hester is visited by the mysterious stranger who is her husband, she refuses him. Roger Chillingworth tells her,
"Believe me. Hester, there are few things,...few things hidden from the man who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery.....Sooner or later, he must needs be mine."
In Chapter V, Hawthorne explains why Hester does not leave the community:
But there is a fatality....which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked event has given the colour to their lifetime; and still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it. Her sin, her ignominy, were the roots which she had struck into the soil.
Yet, as she wears the "red infamy," Hester feels a loss of faith that "one of the saddest results of sin." It is only her lovely child that sustains Hester,
the mother's impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life....(V)....this sole treasure to her her heart alive. (VI)
For Hester, Pearl is her scarlet letter.
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