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In his book, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne tells of a story where a young woman has had an adulterous relationship with a respected priest in a Puritan community. Typical of Hawthorne’s writings is the use of imagery and symbolism. In Chapter 12, The Minister’s Vigil, there are several uses of imagery when Dimmesdale, the priest, is battling with confessing his sin, which has plagued him for seven years. Three evident techniques used to personify symbolism in this chapter are the use of darkness versus light, the use of inner guilt versus confession, and lastly the use of colors (black versus white).
Hawthorne’s use of darkness versus light is vivid throughout the entire book. However, there are two very important passages in chapter twelve that should be mentioned. The first one is when Hawthorne is talking about Dimmesdale: “Without any effort of his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud; an outcry that went pealing through the night, and was beaten back from one house to another reverberated from the hills in the background; as if a company of devils, detecting so much misery and terror in it, had made a plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and fro” (Page 130).
In this scene the event is taking place through the middle of the night when darkness and sin (Satan) lurk about. It is even personified when Hawthorne mentions the scream and the devils making a plaything of the sound. Darkness has taken a toll on Dimmesdale’s heart. The second use of darkness in chapter twelve is where Governor Winthrop finds Arthur Dimmesdale’s glove on the scaffold. The Sexton says, “Satan dropped it there I take it, intending a scurrilous jest against your reverence. But, indeed, he was blind and foolish, as he ever and always is.
A pure hand needs no glove to cover it” (Page 138). In response to the sexton Dimmesdale said, ” ? Thank you, my good friend, at this point he was startled at heart; for, so confused was his rememberance, that he had almost brought himself to look at the events of the past night as visionary. ?Yes, it seems to be my glove indeed'”(Pg 138)! The use of darkness and light is being portrayed and also the use of black versus white. The darkness is represented in Satan and also the darkness of the glove, which shows a covering of something.
In this case it is a covering of Dimmesdale’s sin. The light is represented in the Sexton telling Dimmesdale that he has a pure hand, which needs no glove to cover it. In reality the sin is being covered already, and Dimmesdale tries to make this known by telling the sexton that it is indeed his glove. There are various uses of darkness used in this chapter. For example: “Not but the meteor may have shown itself at that point, burning duskily through a veil of cloud; but with no shape as his guilt might have seen another symbol in it”(Page 136).
The darkness is represented in the thickness of the cloud. Dimmesdale, even though he is hiding his sin inside where no one can see it, knows it’s there and he thinks that others should see it more clearly. He does not realize however, that the Puritan society can only see what is on the outside and not what is on the inside a direct contradiction to the fundamentals of belief. Another technique used by Hawthorne is the contrast of inner guilt versus confession, and its effects. No eye could see him, save that ever-wakeful one which had seen him in his closet, wielding the bloody scourge”(Page 129), and “the shriek had perhaps sounded with a far greater power, to his own startled ears, than it actually possessed”(Page 130). In this paragraph, Hawthorne shows how Dimmesdale is being tortured with his guilt so much so that he can no longer hold it in. He does the only thing he can, he lets out a shriek in the night in hopes that people will come forward to witness, for the first time, his sin.
Dimmesdale still has not come to the reality that he is still in darkness and is not ready to completely confess his sin, for the very thing that sin represents is darkness. In Dimmesdale’s coming forth at night one should assume that he is not ready to do what it takes to relieve this inner guilt welling up inside him, even though he thinks he is. However, Arthur Dimmesdale’s confession is not as clear and resounding as he wants it to be. His shriek in the night was only loud to him because he partly wanted to confess, and he perhaps thought that in standing on the scaffold he was taking a huge step.
When a person gets to this point, they have two options according to Hawthorne. Either go all the way in confessing or go half-heartedly into it, and if this path is taken, it is more likely to stay hidden. Dimmesdale, himself, does try keeping it hidden even longer since no one found him there that night. However this should be viewed as a failure of Dimmesdale’s courage lacking for necessary confession, rather than character for repentance. Another use of inner guilt versus confession is used when Dimmesdale is on the scaffold with Hester Prynne and Pearl. “The minister felt for the child’s other hand, and took it.
The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own, pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and child were communicating their vital warmth to his half torpid-system” (Page 134). At this point in the chapter, Hawthorne expresses that Dimmesdale was on the verge of true repentance and confession. He even caught a glimpse of what it would be like if he did confess, if only a short-lived relief from the burden he carried. However, his courage was not where it should have been.
This brought him into the depths of his inner guilt. If Dimmesdale had done what Pearl wanted him to do and confess in the daylight, then at this moment in time, Dimmesdale would be relieved of all guilt and come to repentance. Since he could not do this, his only option was to die with deep sorrow and grief in his heart, or so it seemed. When people do not rely upon God for rescue from their temptations and refuge in their struggles, they seek deliverance in other things. It was not uncommon for people in that day to look at signs in the skies for their answers.
This particular night was no different than any other; for “a blazing spear, a sword of flame, a bow, or a sheaf of arrows, sun in the midnight sky, prefigured Indian warfare. Nothing was more common, in those days, than to interpret all meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena, that occurred with less regularity than the rise and set of sun and moon, as so many revelations from a supernatural source”(135). When the signs appeared in the sky, several people thought about their own inner struggles and perhaps viewed them as spiritual warfare.
These signs told them what needed to happen in order to be released from this bondage. Dimmesdale did not know what to do with those signs in the sky, for they portrayed something beyond his understanding. Hawthorne sought to show the internal struggle that Arthur Dimmesdale faced was weighing on his conscience. Dimmesdale’s guilt weighed on him so heavily that he perceived other people standing under the same sky capable of clearly seeing his sin. He did not know, however, that unless he opened his mouth the guilt and remorse would not go away. Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, also xperienced guilt. Though he did not commit a sin that the Puritans would consider as heinous as Hester Prynne’s, his sin was heinous to God above. This would be the death of him like it was for Arthur Dimmesdale. Like Dimmesdale, Chillingworth also kept his sin hidden from the world. His deep, bitter resentment was directed toward the man who committed this sin with his wife. Clearly Hawthorne shows that hidden sin is so much worse than sin that is made known to the entire world. The sin that is held within the soul eats away to the very core and makes it difficult to live a happy life.
Though Hester was the only one suffering the punishment, her soul was being purged of the sin she committed, if she would only forgive herself. Hawthorne portrays Chillingworth as he talks to Dimmesdale and tells him how he knew that Dimmesdale was on the scaffold. Chillingworth’s explanation told about the lifestyle that he lived. “He was going home to a better world, likewise, I was on my way homeward, when this strange light shone out (138). ” On the other hand, Gov. Winthrop led a life free of guilt and revenge. He was going to a better world, which I believe Hawthorne meant to be Heaven.
Chillingworth, deep down in his soul, knew how evil he was, and knew that he would not go to the same place that Governor Winthrop went. This is personified by using the words “when the strange light shone out. ” The light was strange to Chillingworth because all he recognized was darkness. The last technique that Hawthorne uses is the use of colors. The Scarlet Letter in itself is a good example of the use of color. If Hawthorne didn’t want the use of colors to be a part of his technique and style then he would have entitled the book?
The Red Letter A. However, Hawthorne wanted the reader to be made aware of how vile the Puritan society deemed Hester’s sin to be. Included in this essay are also images of black and white colors and even sometimes the color gray. Black is represented in the “black glove” and also the blackness of the night. The color white is represented in the light that shone out on the night that Dimmesdale stood on the scaffold and also when Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl grasped hands to make the electric chain. It was also represented in the virgins in Mr.
Dimmesdale’s church: “Hither, likewise, would come the elders and deacons of Mr. Dimmesdale’s church, and the young virgins who so idolized their minister, and had made a shrine for him in their white bosoms; which, now, by the by, in their hurry and confusion, they would scantly have given themselves time to cover with their kerchiefs” (Page 133). Though gray is not mentioned in Hawthorne’s book, it is another color that is a symbol of two deeper meanings. Gray is brought about by the hidden guilt and the almost confession.
When these two collide it brings darkness (black) and light (white) together. Like any school kid knows, Hawthorne knew that black and white makes gray and he could depict this color in Dimmesdale’s guilt. He also knew that black, being the dominant color, would win out in Dimmesdale’s heart. In the chapters to follow you will see that even in a dark and dying world, light would overpower and turn the outcome to God’s glory. In conclusion, with the various uses of imagery, personification, and colors Hawthorne brings about a story that is powerful and well-written.
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Though Hawthorne is writing a story about a woman and her sin, and the effects her sin had on that society, he is also writing about the human man and the moral dilemmas one faces today. There are many hidden spiritual references as well in Chapter 12, which would be another paper. Due to Hawthorne’s use of spiritual references, he was a Christian, although he didn’t allow for redemption among any characters, he wanted it to get across that if the Puritans and the main characters would put their trust in God and not other things, then they would have been purged of all sin.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Analytical Essay on the Scarlet Letter
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Essay on Imagery and Symbolism in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
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The Scarlet Letter: Imagery and Symbolism
In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes imagery to convey that Dimmesdale can represent Puritan Society rather than the round character that can be seen on the surface level. This is seen through the imagery and symbolism of hypocrisy, Dimmesdale as a Christ figure, and the scarlet letter.
First of all, Hawthorne parallels the hypocrisy of Dimmesdale to that of Puritan society. Hawthorne describes Dimmesdale as, "a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners," even though Dimmesdale is seen as the most holy man in the Puritan community. Puritan society was supposed to be a utopian society and do away with their English traditions. Similarly, as Dimmesdale was supposed to be holy, yet they both were hypocritical. Secondly, Dimmesdale portrays the Puritan society by not initially taking his place on the scaffold, "Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you… and we will stand all three together." The Puritans modeled Dimmesdale's hypocrisy, as they were supposed to be a "city on a hill" for the world to see while they ended up mixing up English tradition with their ideals. While Dimmesdale hid his sin at the first scaffold seen, so did the Puritans when they colonized America. The Puritans faults were not initially that obvious but as time grew on they appeared on their scaffold just as Dimmesdale does. Hawthorne writes about one of Dimmesdale's sermons that is, "addressed to the multitude a discourse on sin, in all its branches." In Dimmesdale's sermons, he spoke out against sin while at the same time he commits this sin, just as the Puritans committed sins that they condemned Dimmesdale's character models Puritan society in the way they treat religious persecution. The Puritans left England to flee from religious intolerance, but when they got to the colonies, they had no religious tolerance for people with different religious beliefs. Dimmesdale speaks out against adultery and commits it, the Puritans demand religious tolerance but refuse to give it.
Dimmesdale symbolically portrays Jesus Christ in certain ways. For example, Dimmesdale's death marked the beginning of a new era, just as Christ's death marked a new beginning for all of those who believe in Him. Dimmesdale's death symbolically marks the beginning of American History and the end of colonial history, just as Christ's death marked the beginning of the Christian church.
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Symbolism In Hawthorne Scarlet Letter Imagery Puritan Community Religious Persecution Puritan Society Utopian Society Christ Figure
Also, Dimmesdale mirrored Jesus Christ, in His teaching that to save your life you must lose it. Anyone that wants to follow Jesus must give up their life and let Him live for them. Similarly, Dimmesdale cannot truly live until he confesses his sin, but when he finally confesses he dies. Finally, Dimmesdale parallels Christ through the suffering of his death. Hawthorne describes Dimmesdale's suffering, "This burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat!" So it can be seen that Dimmesdale does not just die, but rather he suffers much pain in his death. In this way, Jesus did not just die but was brutally murdered and suffered indescribable pain. Through this imagery that parallels Dimmesdale to Jesus Christ we can see that Dimmesdale represents a Christ figure for the Puritan society, and Hawthorne uses this to criticize Puritan society.
Finally, the character of Dimmesdale represents the rise and fall of Puritan society, through the imagery of the "scarlet letter" on his chest. Dimmesdale is described with much potential; "His eloquence and religious fervor had already given the earnest of high eminence in his profession." This potential of Dimmesdale and Puritan society is contrasted by the weight of sin seen in the scarlet letter. While they both could be very successful, indeed they are not; their sin holds them back. Furthermore, the scarlet letter develops Hawthorne's criticism as the weight of the burden on Dimmesdale's chest grows larger, so does the weight of sin on Puritan society. Dimmesdale goes from having, "his hand upon his heart," to being, "burdened with the black secret of his soul." Similarly the Puritans go from having a few dissenters, to the foundation of Rhode Island. Last of all, Dimmesdale and the Puritans are linked by the consequences of their sin, the permanent affects that they have. From the time Dimmesdale hides his sin, the "scarlet letter" on his chest develops and its affects are not stopped until he confesses his sin. Yet, even when he confesses his sin, he still dies. The Puritans on the other hand were able to have somewhat of a level of success, while they never live up to their hope of being a "city on a hill" for the world to see.
So, through the symbols of hypocrisy, Christ, and the scarlet letter we can see that Hawthorne uses Dimmesdale as a symbolic character of Puritan society, rather than the personal character that is seen without looking into Hawthorne's use of imagery to convey characterization.