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The latter portion of The Scarlet Letter reveals the growing tension that is in all societies. Humankind has a desire to do good and find goodness, but man is often overpowered by evil. This condition of man is demonstrated through a righteously suspicious tone:
This might be pride, but it was so like humility, that it produced all of the softening influence of the latter
quality on the public mind.
This quote from chapter 13 demonstrates the above referenced paradoxical tone. The public wanted Hester to suffer for her crime, but they were beginning to soften to her as she produced rich results for the community. They still longed to see her partner in crime.
This contrasting tone continues throughout the rest of the novel. If compared to light and dark, or good and evil, this tone can be identified in description of the setting.
From chapter 16:
Overhead was a gray expanse of cloud, slightly stirred however, by a breeze; so that a gleam of flickering sunshine might now and then be seen at its solitary play along the path.
This suggests that in between all the evil, there are glimmers of hope for goodness or righteousness.
In chapter 23, this paradoxical tone is once again at work in a description of Hester:
Arthur Dimmsdale gazed into Hester's face with a look in which hope and joy shone out, indeed, but with fear betwixt them, and a kind of horror at her boldness, who had spoken what he vaguely hinted at, but dared not to speak.
When such contrast or paradox is at work, we can certainly assume as readers that the tone is also questioning.
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