Psychological fiction emphasizes interior, subjective experiences of characters. Discuss why The Scarlet Letter can be seen as psychological fiction.I really don't understand this question. Any...

Psychological fiction emphasizes interior, subjective experiences of characters. Discuss why The Scarlet Letter can be seen as psychological fiction.

I really don't understand this question. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With one of the themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter being the effects of secret sin, the inner tortures of the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale certainly contribute to the novel's being considered psychological fiction.  For instance, in the chapters in which Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest there is much introspection on the part of the two main characters.  The chilly gloom of the forest matches Hester's mood when she views it as the "the moral wilderness in which she had so long been wandering."  The story of the Black Man and his mark is described as a superstition, but for Hester, it has a special and personal meaning:

"Once in my life I met the Black Man!...This scarlet letter is his mark!"

Furthermore, when Pearl asks her mother why the brook makes such a mournful sound,  Hester replies that if Pearl had a sorrow like her mother's, she might understand.  Then, as Pearl, who is symbolic of her mother's soul,  moves away along the brook, her singing mingles with the poignant sound of the stream.  As she sings, a haggard Dimmesdale moves listlessly with a staff.  He holds his hand over his heart and seems without purpose.  When he and Hester converse, his cry of anguished despair at hearing of Chillingworth reveals his inner torture.  The suggestion of Dimmesdale's own scarlet A is underscored when, after referring to Hester's letter, he says, "Mine burns in secret!"

That Dimmesdale is tortured in his solitary battle of guilt over his secret sin and the "secret poison of his [Chillingworth's] malignity is apparent by his failing health and his subjective experiences of walking back from the forest in Chapter XX when he has the impulse to use blasphemy about the communion supper to an old respected deacon, as well as the urge to corrupt an innocent virgin from his congregation with inappropriate language and teach wicked words to children.  Experiencing these impulses, Dimmesdale wonders if he is has sold his soul to the devil. With these wild and wicked impulses, Hawthorne demonstrates the psychological effects of Dimmesdale's secret sin.

These subconscious struggles are not dissimilar to those in Chapter XII when Dimmesdale tries to make his guilt known.  In this chapter the minister keeps vigil and walks to the scaffold and mounts it.  Realizing the mockery of his standing unnoticed in the dark where he should have stood seven years before, Dimmesdale is overcome with "a great horror of the mind" as he senses his "vain repentance" and "heaven-defying guilt."  The minister imagines that the "universe were gazing at a scarlet token on his naked breast."  He is so overcome that he "shrieks aloud."

Even the malevolent Chillingworth has his inner tortures as Hawthorne describes him as a "poor, forlorn creature...more  wretched than his victim." As he talks with Hester, the wretched Chillingworth admits what he is:

A mortal man, with once a human heart, has become a fiend for his especial torment.

Chillingworth's Calvinistic denial of the freedom of the will contributes more to the psychological aspects of Hawthorne's novel as well as the pathos of his classic novel.


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The Scarlet Letter

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