Irony In The Scarlet Letter

What are some examples of irony in The Scarlet Letter?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One example of situational irony is in Hawthorne's depiction of the Puritans, especially the women, as they gaze on Hester upon the scaffold. He calls them "pitiless . . . self-constituted judges." He paints these Christians as horrible, judgmental, merciless monsters. The irony here is that they are, in fact, Christians. As such, they ought to be merciful and forgiving, generous and loving. Instead, these women suggest that Hester instead of only wearing her letter she ought to be branded with it or, worse yet, that she ought to be executed for her crime of adultery. We would expect them to be merciful and kind; they are, rather, merciless and cruel.

Another example of situational irony is that, instead of compelling her to repent, Hester's scarlet letter actually drives her to contemplate other, worse sins. The narrator says that,

At times a fearful doubt strove to possess her soul, whether it were not better to send Pearl at once to Heaven, and go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice should provide.

In other words, Hester actually considers killing Pearl (sending her to "Heaven") and then herself (her future of "Eternal Justice"). This is certainly not the letter's intended effect, and her fellow citizens would likely be horrified to know what their punishment had driven her to contemplate.

sdchumley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Verbal  and dramatic irony:  From Chapter III, Governor Bellingham tells Dimmesdale, ". . . the responsibility of this woman's soul lies greatly with you."

Verbal irony: From Chapter IV, Chillingworth tells Hester, "Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven's own method of retribution." Chillingworth implies he will let God and Heaven handle all retribution, yet he sets out to destroy Dimmesdale himself.

Situational Irony:  From Chapter II, the townspeople have created a situation in which they believe Hester will feel ashamed by wearing the A and having to stand on the scaffold, yet she has a "marked dignity and force of character" and holds her baby "with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townsepeople and neighbors."

Situational Irony: From Chapter XI, the townspeople worship Dimmesdale as a pristine role model "[deeming] the young clergyman a miracle of holiness" when he actually has committed an immoral act.

Dramatic Irony: The audience knows Dimmesdale is Hester's father long before anyone else does, and the audience knows Chillingsworth should not be trusted long before Dimmesdale figures that out.

podunc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most obvious example of irony is the fact that Reverend Dimmesdale is the man who committed adultery with Hester Prynne. The "goodwives" of the community remark in the second chapter about how "grieved" their "godly pastor" must be about Hester's scandalous behavior.

Some more minor examples of irony: Hester's letter A, which is meant as a punishment, is mesmerizingly beautiful. It also eventually comes to designate Hester as "Able" rather than its original negative meaning. Finally, the narrator informs us that Pearl is an ironic character: we are told that "God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given [Hester] a lovely child" in return for her actions.

charmello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most commonly noted occurrence of irony is when Hester refers to Reverend Dimmesdale as knowing her because he is her pastor, but in deed the reader learns that he knows her much more intimately than that!

I believe the most understated, yet most powerful occurrence of irony is when society begins to reference the "Scarlet Letter" <i>(A)<i> as being a symbol of her dedication and hard work, as in "Able". The very letter used to brand her as an adulteress is that which notes her in lofty, respectable regards!

ybrant6712 | Student

Hawthorne use of irony to show the 'sour -peevish 'character  of the Pilgrim forefathers is visible in the first chapter itself; where he berates the so called "utopia".  The black flower of society - the prison  is contrasted with the wild rose bush that thwarts the puritan attempt to stem dissidence. In any given society evil co-exists with   good just as perversity  with the spiritual bent of mind . The author is the descendent of the  puritan immigrants ,but laments at the inhumane treatment meted out by them . The protagonist ,Hester Prynne proudly bears her illegitimate child  and sports the letter "A"  as if defying the Calvinistic doctrine. Hawthorne through Hester questions the cowardice in both her lover- Arthur Dimmesdale and spouse, Roger Chillingsworth.The former ,a devoted minister  in  puritan  Boston and the latter  a revered man of science. 

Irony has been used to denigrate the  societal norms and the so -called God's chosen  people- be it the iron visaged  Dames , the clergy, or the  the needy .Infact irony helps us- examine the agonised soul of the tormented Hester ;understand her her plight as  the second citizen .

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The Scarlet Letter

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