How can Munch's "The Scream" relate to Chapter 12 in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter?

1 Answer | Add Yours

herappleness's profile pic

M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

A lot of similarities can be drawn from Edvard Munch's pre-Expressionist painting The Scream, and chapter 12 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Let's begin by addressing the state of mind of Edvard Munch at the time that he created his painting. The Scream, a.k.a The Cry, is a manifestation of one of Munch's radically varying emotional states.

Munch would have been declared as clinically bipolar if the diagnosis had been available in the 19th century. Unfortunately for him, the field of psychoanalysis was emerging during his time, with Freud, Erikson, and a myriad of other psychoanalysts, just paving the way into what we know today as the field of Clinical Psychology.  

Further evidence can be found in his diaries. In an entry dating back to 1892, Munch explains his emotions at the time that he decided to start the painting

“I was walking along the road with two friends—the sun went down—I felt a gust of melancholy—suddenly the sky turned a bloody red. I stopped, leaned against the railing, tired to death—as the flaming skies hung like blood and sword over the blue-black fjord and the city—My friends went on—I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I felt a vast infinite scream [tear] through nature"

Just picture a very conflicted, and gifted, man with a hypersensitivity to his surroundings, an Empath, screaming loudly in the middle of a road because he is overstimulated by his surroundings. That, is The Scream.

In chapter 12 or Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter we find a similarly disturbed and equally gifted young man, Reverend Dimmesdale, nearly at the end of his rope when it comes to his mental state.

Just like in the painting The Scream, there are two people walking way ahead of the focal character on the same road that he is walking, while the main character is left behind. Like in the painting, the man being left behind (Dimmesdale) lets out a primal scream of organic desperation because he cannot keep up with his reality.

The two people walking ahead of Dimmesdale are Hester and Pearl. In a very telling way, these women are ahead of him on the road of his life because they are in no way at the mercy of "a male figure", less so Dimmesale, like most females would have been back in the 17th century. It is ironical that Dimmesdale is at the mercy of the pariah of the village when he is considered a leader and a spiritual master.

Another awesome comparison that can be made between The Scream and chapter 12 of The Scarlet Letter is the physical state of Arthur Dimmesdale. He actually looked pale, scrawny, and had his robes on at the time that he lets out his desperate scream. 

He looked like a ghost, evoked unseasonably from the grave.

Hawthorne describes him as "a ghost". This holds a striking resemblance to the ghostly, androgynous figure that Munch illustrates to represent himself. Moreover, when Dimmesdale screams, his noise is more supernatural than it is loud. This is evident when Mistress Hibbins, the village witch, not only hears it, but understands its nature. This just goes to show that Dimmesdale's cry, like Munch's own, comes from a deep, dark place in his soul. 

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this venerable witch-lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry, and interpreted it, with its multitudinous echoes and reverberations, as the clamor of the fiends and night-hags, with whom she was well known to make excursions into the forest.

All this said, it is safe to argue that The Scream would have very well represented the state of mind of Arthur Dimmesdale at the time that he let out his own cry of desperation in chapter 12. Also, The Scream represents the emotions of a gifted man during a time of intense turmoil. The actual cry for help is precisely that: a huge begging for something or someone to rescue these men from their internal demons. Therefore, the painting and the literature mirror each other perfectly.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,982 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question