Essay on Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1421 Words 6 Pages
In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the theme of sin viewed through the prism of many colors is the essence of the novel. The protagonist, Hester, her child, Pearl, and the Reverend Dimmesdale all live in a Puritanical society in Boston, and are subject to the Puritans' strict religious beliefs and rigid attitudes. Exposed to sin and the temptation of its concealment in varying degrees, these characters evolve through the novel in different ways. Hawthorne brilliantly displays these differences by juxtaposing extreme and vivid colors—concealment is shown in dark, drab, and gloomy shades, while openness has a bright and colorful sheen. In this way, Hawthorne establishes a dichotomy between lack of color and color in order to show …show more content…
Hawthorne creates a bleak setting with "A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeplecrowned hats" and a dark prison with a "beetle-browed and gloomy front" which was further shadowed by "weather stains and other indications of age, which gave a yet darker aspect" to the prison. From the darkness of this setting, a vividly contrasting images emerges of "a wild rose bush" that thrives with "delicate gems" and "fragile beauty". Hawthorne sets this colorful bush near "burdock, pig-weed, apple-peru, and such unsightly vegetation" which he describes as the "black flowers". In this way, Hawthorne establishes the dichotomy between color and lack of color at the outset of the book, and relates it to the personalities of the main characters.
The astonishing survival of a sole colorful rose bush amidst the dark weeds symbolizes the potential for Hester and Pearl to survive the cruel puritanical punishments of the dark Puritans. Just as the rose bush radiates colorfully from its surroundings, Hester gleams in contrast to the large shadow of the Puritans that falls over the scaffold area. The Puritans are dressed in dark suits, "some wearing hoods" and others "bareheaded", and the hag-like women are gray and grungy with a "coarse fibre" and unembroidered attire. Hester…