Nathaniel Hawthorne was a truly outstanding author. His detailed descriptions and imagery will surely keep people interested in reading The Scarlet Letter for years to come. In writing this book he used themes evident throughout the entirety of the novel. These themes are illustrated in what happens to the characters and how they react. By examining how these themes affect the main characters, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth, one can obtain a better understanding of what Hawthorne was trying to impress upon his readers.
The first theme expressed in The Scarlet Letter is that even well-meaning deceptions and secrets can lead to destruction. Dimmesdale is a prime example of this; he meant well by concealing his secret relationship with Hester, however, keeping it bound up was deteriorating his health. Over the course of the book, this fact is made to stand out by Dimmesdale’s changing appearance. Over the course of the novel, Dimmesdale becomes paler and emaciated. Hester prevents herself from suffering the same fate. She is open about her sin but stays loyal to her lover by not telling who is the father of Pearl. Hester matures in the book; becomes a stronger character.
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The fact that revenge destroys both the victim and the seeker is another theme presented in The Scarlet Letter. Dimmesdale is the victim of Chillingworth’s revenge upon Hester and whoever her lover happened to be. Dimmesdale, besides his self-inflicted harm, was also not helped by the fact Chillingworth enjoyed watching him waste away. However, Chillingworth is also subject to this destiny as evidence by his change in the novel. Chillingworth was considered wise and aged at the beginning of the novel, although, later he is seen as being dusky and evil.
Lastly, Nathaniel Hawthorne brings out that we absolutely must accept responsibility for our actions or suffer the consequences that come with them. Hester is the prime example of this here because she was smart and freed herself of this great weight quickly so that it wouldn’t drag her down. This theme was not as applicable to Dimmesdale, however, who decided to hide his wrongful actions and was bearing this secret upon his heart and mind at all times. Dimmesdale did not get better as a character until he opened up to Hester in the forest by confessing his love for her.
Themes are an excellent method for tying in a complex story’s plot. Hawthorne executes this with perfection, which is shown by how well the characters are written compare to each other. With this knowledge, we can better understand how Hawthorne wanted these characters to be viewed and interpreted.
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