What is the role of nature in the book The Scarlet Letter?  Is it human nature to sin?

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James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I just finished listening to this novel (as a book-on-CD) during my long commute to work. Listening to it, I was struck by how there is such a divide in the novel between the town (especially the marketplace, where nearly everything seems to happen in the story) and the woods. The woods are thought by many of the town's residents to be the residence of the devil, and the woods are certainly the place where Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale are most open in their communication with one another.

kc4u | Student

The word "Nature" has a Romantic double-edge to it in Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel The Scarlet Letter. It refers to the nature outside as well as human nature or the nature within. The two complement each other throughout the novel quite beautifully. The flower and the prison-house, the gardens of the minister's house, the jungle and the river where Hester and Arthur meet are all instances of a quasi-pastoral discourse of country-nature. Hester's hut located right at the heart of it. The jungle scenes with the supernaturally portrayed Pearl have an unearthly aura about them and the intimate moments between Hester and Arthur there have an Adam-Eve feel to them. Sin (as in Original Sin) and the resultant moral Fall of man is the central theme of the novel. the country-nature is like a healing touch in the process of atonement.

On the other hand, the scaffold scenes with all the public noise set a contrastive tone for the urban world, scarred with humiliation, devaluation, conspiracies and groupism. The tendency towards sin as in the Christian framework is seen as intrinsic to man. The stimulus without and the lineation within make up the condition of sin. But as the "A" of adultery turns into the "A" of atonement for Hester, we are encountered with the human endurance, the ability to suffer and the overcoming of sin through repentance and authentic feeling e.g. the real love shared by Hester and Arthur.

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The Scarlet Letter

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