Can anyone tell me how Nature possesses qualities typically associated with people in the book The Scarlet Letter?Please explain through examples such as diction, irony, hyperbole, imagery,...

Can anyone tell me how Nature possesses qualities typically associated with people in the book The Scarlet Letter?

Please explain through examples such as diction, irony, hyperbole, imagery, metaphor, paradox, etc.

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Scarlet Letter, nothing really happens.  Hester's adultery is part of the antecedent action.  All that remains is subtext, atmosphere, and internal conflict.  Along with the literary devices that you mention, these terms contribute to the allegorical meanings of the story.  Humanity and nature are conjoined, according to Hawthorne: they are reciprocal symbols of each other.

Just look at how the novel begins:

The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized 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.

Notice the paradoxical imagery: the "virgin soil" with the "cemetary" and the "prison door."  These metaphors refer to Hester and Dimmesdale--all of us--as they are representative of social and religious mores.

In other passages, look too at the way the forest is described: an "evil," "foreboding," place associated with sin and the devil.  Look where Hester lives, on the outskirts of the community.  Her house is both within and outside society:

In her lonesome cottage by the sea shore, thoughts visited her, such as dared to enter no other dwelling in New England; shadowy guests, that would have been as perilous as demons to their entertainer, could they have been seen so much as knocking at her door.

Again, the "door" is very symbolic, as it is a gateway to heaven or hell, according to the Puritans, or to freedom and love for Hester and Pearl.

Enotes says it best:

As Hawthorne describes it, the town is situated precariously between the sea and the great "wilderness" of unsettled America. What lies outside the town is a "black forest," strongly symbolic of moral absence and evil. Thus the narrator describes a "footpath" that straggled onward into the "mystery of the primeval forest. This [forest] hemmed it in so narrowly, and stood so black and dense on either side . . . that, to Hester's mind, it imaged not amiss the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering." (©eNotes) Here we see an almost claustrophobic pressure being evoked, which alludes to not only Hester but also the community of which she is a part, always facing the possibility of moral failure.

As seen above, Hawthorne uses color adeptly in his description of settings. Besides the black wilderness there is the gray of the village and its inhabitants, who, as the narrator describes, "seemed never to have known a youthful era." Even though it was in fact a young settlement, the town jail "was already marked with weather stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its . . . gloomy front." In fact, it is precisely the dark and gloomy depiction of the town that helps to provide a tension with the forest, as if the town were already much like the forest and therefore more liable to be absorbed by its influence.


Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question