Significant Allusions

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Biblical Allusions and Allegories: Hawthorne makes use of allusions to symbols and individuals from the Christian tradition in order to explore the subjects of sin, guilt, and salvation. Hawthorne uses allusion in tandem with allegory, drawing a set of sustained connections between the novel’s characters and the biblical figures and elements to which they correspond.

  • Hester as Eve: Many read Hester’s character as an allegorical reflection of Eve, the first woman. In the biblical Book of Genesis, God creates the first humans, Adam and Eve, and allows them to live in the Garden of Eden, forbidding them only from eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. A serpent tempts Eve with the fruit, and Eve succumbs and eats it. She in turn persuades Adam to eat the fruit. God, furious, casts them out of Eden and condemns humankind to lead lives of suffering. For the Puritans, as well as many other Christian denominations, Eve’s transgression was the Original Sin; it justifies the subjugation of women on the basis that they are inherently weak and capable of tempting men into corruption. Some read Hester’s adulterous affair with Reverend Dimmesdale as an echo of Eve’s submission to temptation and her subsequent corruption of Adam.
  • Roger Chillingworth as Satan: Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth, is frequently referred to as the “Black Man,” which is a colloquial name for Satan. In many Christian traditions, Satan is a fallen angel who wages a revolution against God. He is cast into hell, where he rules over other sinners who are denied entrance into heaven. He delights in tempting people to sin and lose their places in heaven. In The Scarlet Letter, the narrator likens Chillingworth’s behavior to Satan’s, especially when Chillingworth discovers that Reverend Dimmesdale is Hester’s lover: Had anyone seen Chillingworth “at that moment of his ecstasy, he would have had no need to ask how Satan comports himself, when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom.”
  • Pearl: The name of Hester’s daughter possibly alludes to the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price in Matthew 13:45–46. In chapter 6 of The Scarlet Letter, the narrator explains that Pearl is “of great price—purchased with all [Hester] had—her mother’s only treasure!” Told from the perspective of Jesus Christ, the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price relates the immense value of the kingdom of heaven. As written in the King James Version, the parable tells of “a merchant seeking beautiful pearls who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” The character Pearl represents purity and beauty, though she is the result of her parents’ adultery. Hester receives Pearl at great sacrifice, much like the merchant who sells everything to buy the valuable pearl he so desires.

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