Dynamic Characters in the Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter endeavors to express the American national identity through religious morality and the struggle to mold relationships between the white settlers and the Native Americans. With utmost efficacy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, its author, managed to reveal the similarity between the struggle during the Puritan colony and the twenty-first century’s struggle in Puritan Massachusetts by using a number of dynamic characters to establish the plot of his work. Dynamic characters are personalities that keep on changing throughout the track of the story. The experience between dynamic characters elicited sinful acts the lead to suffering. Tying the culture to Christianity in terms of love and relationship has helped in molding individual characters. This essay focuses on the three dynamic characters in The Scarlet Letter, namely Hester, Chillingworth, and Dimmesdale, in an attempt to explore the Puritan’s way of life.
Although the romance is about Hester, the story has exposed Hester as a character who persevere the consequences of breaking the social norms. As a dynamic character, Hester managed to live in both extremes of morality. In the beginning, little is known about Hester, but she is portrayed as young and elegantly bewitching beautiful girl. Hester went through both physical and emotional exposure, which depicted her as wretched woman immediately after leaving the prison with a child. The letter ‘A’ that was stitched in scarlet and gold on her dress was an acronym for “adulterer”. Hester was adamant, as she refused to expose her sin even when promised a lesser punishment (Wolter 25). Some people claimed, “one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another” (Hawthorne 61). When the Puritans rejected Hester, she began a dolorous life of solitude, which kept her away from the church, but she vowed not to let the punishment affect the love that she had towards Dimmesdale. Her sagacity and courage helped in regaining identity and commitment to raise Pearl, her daughter, in a responsible and motherly nature. Hester knew that her daughter did not understand the meaning of letter ‘A’. “‘Truly do I’ answered Pearl, looking brightly into her mother’s face. ‘ It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart!’” (Chapter 15). She eventually changed from “adulterous” naive person to “able” mature woman that the Puritans could look up to for assistance. Her transformation relieved her from the embarrassment that was symbolic to the scarlet letter.
Chillingworth is depicted as a man that lacked kindness since his engagement with Hester. He was a difficult man whose shrewdness made him ignored his wife on most occasions. Unlike Hester who seemed cheerful and charming in initial stages, Chillingworth is depicted as a flat character. His evil vengeance emerges when Hawthorn introduced him as “…dropping down, as it were, out of the sky, or starting from the nether earth …” (142). This character linked Chillingworth to mysterious power. He took the character of a “leech” when he found her wife being ashamed publicly for her adulterous act. “hester gazed after him a little while, looking with a half-fantastic curiosity to see whether the tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him” (Chapter 15). Chilingworth’s show of humility was depicted when he tempted to offer Hester some gifts to forget her ignominy (Cranford 172). In the end, Chillingworth had borne the visage of a true evil character, particularly when he chose to associate himself with illegitimate forms of wisdom. His death was due to consumption of obsession, hatred, and revenge. However, Chillingworth’s machination did not get the best side of him, as he left all his possessions under the name of Pearl, her daughter. Perhaps this was, to some degree, a sign of redemption of a character was perceived as the darkest in the romance.
Arthur Dimmesdale is initially portrayed as a passionate and ineffable Christian devotee, who commanded respect among the Puritan community. He was just like many interregnum puritans, who linked their evangelical fanaticism with strong dedication to social life (Capp 117). Dimmesdale evolved to become a charismatic and emotionally powerful orator, who was sought for spiritual guidance. The Puritans perceived him as “a miracle of holiness” and “the mouthpiece of Heaven’s message of wisdom, and rebuke, and love” (Hawthorne 169). However, Dimmesdale’s mortal character did not betray his innate nature, as he managed to conceal his adulterous life from the Puritan people. Nobody had a reservation about Dimmesdale. “The aged member of his flock, beholding Mr. Dimmesdale’s frame so feeble, while they were themselves so rugged in their infirmity, believed that he would go heavenward before them… that their old bones should be buried close to their young pastor’s holy grave” (Chapter 11). He is quite tolerant, even though he was consumed by guilt. He struggled with his conscience as he watched Hester being humiliated by the public, leading to his insidious behavior. Eventually, Dimmesdale realized that nothing could heal his hear, or amend his soul, without an honest confession that he was Pearl’s father. Dimmesdale was committed to reconcile with society by accepting his sin. After his death, the Puritans came to realize that Dimmesdale was truly an icon despite his aloof life. He began in purity but concluded in unchristian-like behavior.
The three dynamic characters expressed their sinful behaviors differently throughout their lives in the Puritan culture.The Puritan culture was quite categorical concerning in human condition, thus was extremely critical to the three individuals who elicited struggle with the cultural norms. Although both Hester and Dimmesdale showed magnificent change in characters, Chillingworth remained as evil as he started in the romance, as was eventually consumed by the urge to revenge. Hester changed from a naïve beautiful girl to adulterous woman, who later regained her best traits by becoming responsible and mature woman. Although the Puritans knew Dimmesdale as a reverend who revere God, Dimmesdale knew that his soul was being consumed by guilt and depravity. The three characters demonstrated that the beginning of human nature does not determine its destiny, and that the struggles for love and relationships in the Puritan colony still exist in the contemporary Puritan Massachusetts.
Capp, Bernard S. England’s Culture Wars: Puritan Reformation and Its Enemies in the Interregnum, 1649-1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.
Cranford, Gary P. Hawthorne’s redemption: The mystery of the scarlet letter. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2012. Print.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Scarlet Letter. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004. Print.
Wolter, Jürgen C. “Southern Hesters: Hawthorne’s Influence On Kate Chopin, Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, And Tennessee Williams.” Southern Quarterly 50.1 (2012): 24-41. Academic Search Premier. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.