The Scarlet Letter Questions and Answers
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter book cover
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Analyze the theme of nature in The Scarlet Letter.

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As a Romantic author, Hawthorne ascribed to the idea that nature is a positive entity that stands in contrast with the corruption of society.

Hawthorne introduces nature to the plot of his famous novel in the very first chapter, when he describes the wild rose bush that grows beside the prison door. The rose bush is both beautiful and purely natural, yet it is positioned next to the hideous, oppressive symbol of society’s penchant for punishment. When the narrator says that he might pluck one of its gorgeous blooms and offer it to the reader, he explicitly demonstrates his favorable view of nature.

Later in the novel, the Puritans of Boston oppose themselves to the forces of nature. The forest outside the village is associated with witches’ sabbaths and shaded secrets. Pearl, Hester Prynne’s daughter, is often referred to as an impish elf-child, whose seeming commune with nature disturbs the townspeople. Bostonians, and by extension society, are suspicious and afraid of nature’s uncertainty. Their mistrust of nature signifies Hawthorne’s opposition to society.

When Hester and Pearl convene with Dimmesdale in the forest toward the end of the novel, Hester experiences a moment of blissful freedom that she does not experience before or after. While society condemns the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale, nature seems to approve—the sunlight bathing Hester’s returned natural beauty with a glow after she takes off the titular letter and throws it on the ground during this forest meeting.

Each of these ways that nature is addressed throughout the text should help you to formulate a succinct theme statement expressing Hawthorne’s message about nature.

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