What is the main theme of "The Scarlet Letter"?

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the final chapter, the narrator suggests that love and hate are, in many ways, the same.  He says, 

It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry, whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom. Each, in its utmost development, supposes a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent for the food of his affections and spiritual fife upon another: each leaves the passionate lover, or the no less passionate hater, forlorn and desolate by the withdrawal of his subject. Philosophically considered, therefore, the two passions seem essentially the same, except that one happens to be seen in a celestial radiance, and the other in a dusky and lurid glow. 
In other words, both love and hate require a deep knowledge and understanding of the other person; both render the person who feels the intense emotion dependent upon the person for whom they feel it, and both feelings leave the lover or the hater without purpose if the object of their feelings is removed.  Thus, the narrator reasons, the two—love and hate—are basically the same, only that love is seen as something divine and hatred is seen as something evil.  This is another theme of the novel.
 
Moreover, as the narrator says in this same chapter, "in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike."  We are all sinners and pretending to the world that we are not would actually be another sin. We would be living a lie.  This idea underwrites his command that we "Be true!": if we admit to our sinful natures—natures that we all, according to this narrator, possess—then it becomes easier to admit it!  Everyone is in the same boat, so we can and should be honest.
ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unlike many novels, Hawthorne tells us main theme or moral in the last chapters. Hawthorne writes, "Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister's miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence:—“Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” In other words, do not be a hypocrite. Do not put on a false front to the world to make it seem like you have no faults. It is OK to let others know you are not perfect. This idea is exemplified in the life of Dimmesdale and Hester. Dimmesdale tried to hide his sin and guilt from the world. As a result, he was eaten alive by remorse and guilt, his heart literally weakened, and he died. Hester, on the other hand, never hid her sin and learned to rise above it by becoming humble and doing good deeds. She becomes stronger and more respected in the end that Dimmesdale, who loses all credibility with the people of Boston at the end of the novel.

melissa1106 | Student

The main theme of the scarlet letter is to be true. Hawthorne clearly says to "be true, be true, be true" at the end of the novel. Hester and Dimmesdale should have been honest since the beginning so they did did not have to suffer guilt. The moral also means to be true to yourself even when others make fun of you or try to isolate you.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question