Battle Between Corruption and Stability


Nathaniel Hawthorne's background influenced him to write the bold
novel The Scarlet Letter. One important influence on the story is money.

Hawthorne had never made much money as an author and the birth of his
first daughter added to the financial burden ("Biographical Note" VII). He
received a job at the Salem Custom House only to lose it three years later
and be forced to write again to support his family (IX). Consequently, The

Scarlet Letter was published a year later (IX). It was only intended to be
a long short story, but the extra money a novel would bring in was needed
("Introduction" XVI). Hawthorne then wrote an introduction section titled
"The Custom House" to extend the length of the book and The Scarlet Letter
became a full novel (XVI). In addition to financial worries, another
influence on the story is Hawthorne's rejection of his ancestors. His
forefathers were strict Puritans, and John Hathorne, his
great-great-grandfather, was a judge presiding during the S! alem witch
trials ("Biographical Note" VII). Hawthorne did not condone their acts
and actually spent a great deal of his life renouncing the Puritans in
general (VII). Similarly, The Scarlet Letter was a literal "soapbox" for

Hawthorne to convey to the world that the majority of Puritans were strict
and unfeeling. For example, before Hester emerges from the prison she is
being scorned by a group of women who feel that she deserves a larger
punishment than she actually receives. Instead of only being made to
stand on the scaffold and wear the scarlet letter on her chest, they
suggest that she have it branded on her forehead or even be put to death
(Hawthorne 51). Perhaps the most important influence on the story is the
author's interest in the "dark side" ("Introduction" VIII). Unlike the
transcendentalists of the era, Hawthorne "confronted reality, rather than
evading it" (VII). Likewise, The Scarlet Letter deals with adultery, a
subject that caused much scandal when it w! as first published (XV). The
book revolves around sin and punish
ment, a far outcry from writers of the time, such as Emerson and Thoreau,
who dwelt on optimistic themes (VII). This background, together with a
believable plot, convincing characterization, and important literary
devices enables Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter to the develop
the theme of the heart as a prison.

The scaffold scenes are the most substantial situations in the
story because they unify The Scarlet Letter in two influential ways.

First of all, every scaffold scene reunites the main characters of the
novel. In the first scene, everyone in the town is gathered in the market
place because Hester is being questioned about the identity of the father
of her child ( Hawthorne 52). In her arms is the product of her sin,

Pearl, a three month old baby who is experiencing life outside the prison
for the first time (53). Dimmesdale is standing beside the scaffold
because he is Hester's pastor and it is his job to convince her to repent
and reveal the father's name (65). A short time later, Chillingworth
unexpectedly shows up within the crowd of people who are watching Hester
after he is released from his two year captivity by the Indians (61). In
the second scene, Dimmesdale is standing on top of the scaffold alone in
the middle of the night (152). He sees Hester and Pearl wal! k through
the market place on their way back from Governor Winthrop's bedside (157).

When Dimmesdale recognizes them and tells them to join him, they walk up
the steps to stand by his side (158). Chillingworth appears later standing
beside the scaffold, staring at Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl. In the
final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale walks to the steps of the scaffold in
front of the whole town after his Election day sermon (263). He tells

Hester and Pearl to join him yet again on the scaffold (264).

Chillingworth then runs through the crowd and tries to stop Dimmesdale
from reaching the top of the scaffold, the one place where he can't reach
him (265). Another way in which the scenes are united is how each
illustrates the immediate, delayed, and prolonged effects that the sin of
adultery has on the main characters. The first scene shows Hester being
publicly punished on the scaffold (52). She is being forced to stand on
it for three hours straight and listen to peop! le talk about her as a
disgrace and a shame to the community (55)
. Dimmesdale's instantaneous response to the sin is to lie. He stands
before Hester and the rest of the town and proceeds