Characterization in The Scarlet Letter

in The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem,

Massachusetts in 1804. After his graduation from Bowdoin College in Maine,
he quickly became a well-known author of literary tales concerning early

American life. Between 1825 and 1850, he developed his talent by writing
short fiction, and he gained international fame for his fictional novel

The Scarlet Letter in 1850 (Clendenning 118). Rufus Wilmot Griswold stated,

The frivolous costume and brisk action
of the story of fashionable life are easily depicted by the practised sketcher,
but a work like "The Scarlet Letter" comes slowly upon the canvas, where
passions are commingled and overlaid with the masterly elaboration with
which the grandest effects are produced in pictural composition and coloring.
(Griswold 352)

Throughout the novel, Hawthorne reveals
character through the use of imagery and metaphor.

In the first Chapter of The Scarlet Letter,

"The Prison-Door", the reader is immediately introduced to the people of

Puritan Boston. Hawthorne begins to develop the character of the common
people in order to build the mood of the story. The first sentence begins,

"A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned
hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded,
was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily
timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes" (Hawthorne 45). Hawthorne\'s
use of vivid visual images and his Aaccumulation of emotionally weighted
details" (Baym xii) creates sympathy for the not yet introduced character,

Hester Prynne, and creates an immediate understanding of the harshness
of the Puritanic code in the people. The images created give the freedom
to imagine whatever entails sadness and morbidity of character for the
reader; Hawthorne does not, however, allow the reader to imagine lenient
or cheerful people.

Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s eloquent contrast
of the jail and its captive, Hester Prynne, also creates a sympathy for
the emerging prisoner. The "ugly edifice...was already marked with weather-stains
and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect to its beetle-browned
and gloomy front" (Hawthorne 45). The depiction of the jail emphasizes
its ugliness, and the mental pictures formed in the mind of the reader
suggest an aspect of gloom and suffering. However, Hester Prynne\'s initial
description brightly contrasts the jail\'s. Hester "was tall, with a figure
of perfect elegance...she had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it
threw off sunshine with a gleam" (50). Her face was "beautiful from regularity
of feature and richness of complexion" (50). In all physical senses, Hester
was a beautiful woman possessing dignity and grace. The stark contrast
between the ugliness of the jail and Hester\'s radiant beauty not only brings
the reader to feel sympathy for the beautiful woman who was forced to suffer
in such an awful place, but it also creates curiosity as to why such a
woman of apparent gentility was confined to the prison at all.

Hawthorne\'s description of Governor Bellingham\'s
mansion uses words to create vivid images within the reader\'s mind. The
intricate description of the inside of Bellingham\'s mansion not only defines
the appearance of the house, but also the inner character of the resident.

The house was "now moss-grown, crumbling to decay, and melancholy at heart
with the many sorrowful or joyous occurrences, remembered or forgotten,
that have happened, and passed away, within their dusky chambers." As the
reader proceeds through the text, he or she learns of the character of

Bellingham as one of inner turmoil that masks itself with outward beauty,
eccentricity, and style. The splendor of the mansion also inadvertently
indicate the personality of Governor Bellingham, in respect to his materialism
and his quickness to flaunt his possessions. The face of the mansion had
been fashioned "so that, when the sunshine fell aslant-wise over the front
of the edifice, it glittered and sparkled as if diamonds had ben flung
against it by the double handful" (90). Later in the novel, the reader
encounters Bellingham dressed in very contemporary, decorative garb indicative
of his high social status, but his inner self is in a state of unrest.

Hawthorne\'s skillful use of metaphor throughout

The Scarlet Letter greatly emphasizes the dynamics of the characters. By
comparing the traits of the characters to things completely unrelated to
them, Hawthorne composes messages that are verbally inexplicable by common
descriptions. The use of metaphor allows the reader to develop a deeper
emotional understanding of the psychological and physical traits of each
character. For example, Pearl is referred to as "one of those naughty elfs
or fairies or...a little bird of scarlet plumage" (97). The comparison
of Pearl to a fantastic creature such as an elf adds a sense of alienation
and mystery to her