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The Use of Mirrors in The Scarlet Letter Essay

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The Use of Mirrors in The Scarlet Letter



"Life is for each man," states Eugene O'Neill, "a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors." In other words, one can fool himself, but a mirror reflects only the truth. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, mirrors are used as a literary device to convey a message. Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, Hester, and Pearl each judge themselves with mirrors. Through the use of mirrors, The Scarlet Letter provides an insight into the faults, or lack thereof, of the four main characters.



Arthur Dimmesdale's mirror acts as a window into his sin-obsessed mind. Dimmesdale practices secret vigils, such as whipping himself in front of a mirror, as an act of penance. After Hester's
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Roger Chillingworth's mirror is associated with the harsh realization of what he has become. In the first few chapters, Hester reflects upon her life with Roger Prynne, her former husband, and refers to him as a well-educated, scholarly man. The progression of the story places Chillingworth in an ever dimming light; the reader realizes that he is no better than the devil himself. Chillingworth's true nature is not known to Dimmesdale at this time. Chillingworth does not realize fully the implications of his actions upon himself. Moreover, Chillingworth "lifted his hands with a look of horror, as if beheld some frightening shape" when looking at himself. Prior to the mirror, he had just conveyed to Hester his slow and painful manipulation of Dimmesdale. This realization of his malicious intent makes him all the more bitter. Quite possibly, this realization could have resulted in a change of his character. However, Chillingworth only places additional blame upon Dimmesdale for his own faults. At this point, it becomes obvious that Chillingworth is traveling down an unyielding path. Chillingworth has always had this evil within him as represented by his slightly offset shoulders in the earlier chapters. As the novel progresses, so does Chillingworth's level of deformity, until he can finally no longer look at himself without feeling pity for that which could have been.



Hester looks into herself and finds
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