The Scaffold Essay

978 words - 4 pages

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is known as a psychological novel regarding humanity, sin, guilt, and a fair amount of other ambiguous concepts. One of those is the significance of the three scaffold scenes throughout the work. The scaffold scenes signify religious and moral ideas, such as sinfulness, the spiritual figures the characters each portray, and the character development achieved by public and private absolution.
The first scaffold scene begins the novel. In chapters two through three, the protagonist Hester Prynne stands on the scaffold, bearing a scarlet “A” and a child at her breast as signs of her adultery. She is interrogated and lectured by the Puritan ministers of the town, including Arthur Dimmesdale, who is later discovered to have been Hester’s partner in crime and the father of Hester’s baby Pearl. The first scaffold scene hosts also the initial appearance of Hester’s speculated-dead husband, Roger Chillingworth, amidst the crowd of townspeople watching his wife’s public humiliation. “Had there been a Papist among the crowd of Puritans, he might have seen in this beautiful woman [Hester], so picturesque in her attire and mien, and with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity…” (Hawthorne, ch.2, ¶17). The depiction of Hester as the Virgin Mary connotes a sympathetic tone of the author towards her character. The sin Hester committed is to be with her for the rest of her life, and when she removes the scarlet letter in chapter nineteen, Pearl, the embodiment of her sin, barely recognizes her without it. Dimmesdale, as well, was a sinner, and it was possibly doubly so, due to his position as a reverend. However, in the first scaffold scene, Dimmesdale makes no hint as to his errant partnership to Hester; and furthermore, the identity of Pearl’s father was not pursued.
In the second scaffold scene, on “…an obscure night in early May” (ch.19, ¶2), Arthur Dimmesdale’s guilty conscious drives him to the scaffold. The fact that he goes at night indicated just how shameful he feels, despite the years that had passed since Hester’s initial crime and public humiliation on the same spot he stands now. The reverend feels he needs to absolve his sin, and what better place to do it than there on the scaffold? “Without any effort of his will, or power to restrain himself, he shrieked aloud: an outcry that went pealing through the night…as if a company of devils, detecting so much misery and terror in it, had made a plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and fro” (ch.12, ¶3). Hester and Pearl join him momentarily on the platform. When Pearl asks him when he will “…stand here with [Hester] and [her]…” (¶20), in daylight, in the public eye, Dimmesdale responds, “At the great judgment day…” (¶27), which clarifies the intensity of his remorse. Suddenly, a meteor lights up the sky, and Pearl...

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