What is the significance of the forest in "The Scarlet Letter" and how is the forest related to the black man and to Dimmesdale's moral confusion?

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, the forest surrounding the Puritan settlement represents two opposing forces: evil that seeks to steal the soul and freedom that liberates the human capacity for love.

The Puritans see the forest as a threat because they believe the devil, whom they call the Black Man, lives there. Hester’s daughter, Pearl, relates to her mother the stories they tell in the village of the encroaching dangers:

How he haunts this forest, and carries a book with him a big, heavy book, with iron clasps; and how this ugly Black Man offers his book and an iron pen to everybody that meets him here among the trees; and they are to write their names with their own blood; and then he sets his mark on their bosoms.

The Puritans have convinced themselves that as soon as they leave the safety of their village, their immortal souls will come under immediate attack from the source of all evil. It is their civilization that keeps them safe from the peril embodied by the...

(The entire section contains 4 answers and 1172 words.)

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