Do certain parts of The Scarlet Letter come across as contrived?

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Unquestionably, there are contrivances in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter; however, these planned actions and circumstances are probably more disconcerting for modern readers than for contemporaries of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  For, The Scarlet Letter is much like a morality play; that is, it is dramatic, it has a character who is a personified abstract quality, and it presents a lesson about human conduct and integrity. Of course, readers of the nineteenth century would be more familiar with morality plays than readers of the twenty-first century. In addition, Hawthorne's is one of the first American novels, so contemporary readers are naturally going to be more judgemental than earlier readers.

Nevertheless certain sections of Hawthorne's narrative are obviously contrived.


In Chapter I Hawthorne carefully arranges his symbols of the prison door, the rose bush, and the drabness of the Puritan life with the use of grey imagery.  In Chapter XII, when the Reverend Dimmesdale stands in the night on the scaffold, Hawthorne strategically lines up his symbols: 

...a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky....a singularity of aspect that seemed to give another moral interpretation to the things of this world than they had ever borne before. And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol....

Then, as the minister looks up, he beholds the letter A marked by the red light of a falling meteor.  This "A" later is interpreted by the townspeople in another way regarding Hester's personality. 

Plot Arrangement

Clearly, the plot is staged in three acts involving the scaffold. The first scene provides the introduction of Roger Chillingworth into the lives of Hester and the Reverend Dimmesdale. This scene also allows Chillingworth motivation for his revengeful vow to insidiously enter the minister's life so "he will be mine." Then, the second scaffold scene certainly sets up the action for the third scaffold scene.  For instance, little Pearl asks him if he will hold her hand and that of her mother in public, and when the minister refuses, she tells him "...thou wast not true!"  Later in Chapter XXIII, when the minister is "true," Pearl, the symbol, becomes human as she kisses her father, pledging that she will "grow up amid human joy and sorrow" and ending her "errand as a messenger of anguish" for Hester.

Stated moral

Finally, Hawthorne as narrator enters in the final chapter to declare the moral of his novel.



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