Literary Criticism: the Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Lord of the Flies by William Golding both relate to the quote No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the truth (205-6; ch.20). The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a romantic novel used to criticize Puritan society and question its punishments and way of life. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding is an allegorical novel that speaks about the loss of innocence and the duality of man. In both novels, the authors argue that if people constantly try to hide their true self from others they will suffer emotional and psychological consequences. Throughout the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne criticizes Puritan culture and questions the Puritans laws and way of life while highlighting the double life that many characters live which later lead to their demise. A prime example of a character that lives a double life is Arthur Dimmesdale. Throughout the novel, he is portrayed as this pure Puritan priest who is not capable of any wrongdoing.

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The townspeople see him as the godly youth the saint on earth! (Hawthorne 120). Early in The Scarlet Letter, Reverend Dimmesdale is tasked with prevailing upon Hester Prynne’s “hardness and obstinacy”: “Exhort her to repentance, and to confession,” Governor Bellingham begs, and Reverend Wilson echoes the appeal: “Exhort her to confess the truth!”” (Hawthorne 1991, 66, 67). Despite his interest in preserving Hester’s silence, the guilt-stricken Dimmesdale does his best to comply. “I charge thee to speak out the name of thy fellow-sinner and fellow-sufferer!” he commands, and urges her: (Alsop 1) be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life. What can thy silence do for him to add hypocrisy to sin? (Hawthorne 57-58), but as the story progresses we learn that Arthur is, in fact, the father of the child born from adultery, Pearl. This double life that he lives leads to a decline in his health.

All of the townspeople thought the paleness of the young ministers cheek was accounted for by his too earnest devotion to study, his scrupulous fulfilment of parochial duty, and, his more than all, by the fasts and vigils oh which he made a frequent practices in order to keep the grossness of this earthly state from clogging and obscuring his spiritual lamp (Hawthorne 99-100). Little do the people know that Arthur is actually starving himself and doing all these prayer vigils because he feels immensely guilty. He suffers under bodily disease, and gnawed and tortured by some black trouble of the soul Mr.Dimmesdale had achieved a brilliant popularity in his sacred office. ( Hawthorne 117). Even though Arthur is thriving in his public life he is slowly drowning and being wholly consumed by the guilt that he bears. Hawthrone highlights how Puritans feel that every preacher or church leader is pure even when they have committed crimes punishable by death while trying to show that hiding your sins or part of you, such as a child, can have physiological, physical, and mental consequences.

Nathaniel Hawthorne uses Hester Prynne as a foil to Arthur Dimmesdale to challenge Puritan life and culture. The A on Hester Prynne’s breast both demands and defies interpretation. That “scarlet letter, so fantastically embroidered … had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and inclosing her in a sphere by herself. (Pringle 1). From the very beginning of the novel, Hester has always stood in the truth that she has committed adultery and that has made her viewed as lesser in her Society. Most of the major and minor characters in the novel–the tormented lover and guilty minister, Arthur Dimmesdale; the cold, vengeful husband, Roger Chillingworth; the town gossips and magistrates–are guilty at one time or another of reducing the complex humanity of Hester Prynne to the fixed meaning associated with the letter she must wear on her breast for life, the “A” that identifies her, simply, with the single fact of adultery. (Hodges 1) but none of this bothers Hester, only when they threaten to take away Pearl because they see her as an unfit mother. The fact that Hester stands in her truth shields her from the consequences of living a double life for Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation she wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest. (Hawthorne 165). Being cast out from society to live in the wilderness helped Hester find her true self and she was no longer apologetic about her sin she was just living life and her standing in that truth saved her from the same end that Arthur Dimmesdale had on the pillage.

Although the Lord of the Flies teaches a message about lost innocence, is also relates to my central theme that if you constantly try to hide your true self from others you will no longer know who the true you is. A prime example of this is Jack, even though he himself is not suppressing his true nature as described at the beginning of the novel he is this uniformed superiority (Golding 21). As the story progresses we start to see the true nature of Jack, we see his savagery come out. In English society, they always put pressure on the boys to be perfect because they are meant to be perfect and the next heirs. This molding ultimately stripped Jack from being able to experience childhood, where you build your core values and beliefs and discover who you are and who you want to be. When he first got to the island he felt that the superficial stuff is what made him-him. The lack of parental guidance constantly molding Jack into this perfect being really lets him tap into his true character, his true self. As we get further into the novel we start to realize that Jack isn’t the good kid we see in the beginning in the novel he is a full savage, signified when he smeared on the clay…rubbed the charcoal stick between the patches of red and white on his face (Golding 63). This complete change in behavior and actions show that the once suppressed part of jack, by parents, has now come out whether good or bad he is completely embracing the new person that he has always been just shoved deep down in his being.

In Conclusion, both Hawthorne and Golding support the quote No man for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the truth (205-6; ch.20) in unique ways while also supporting the theme that if people constantly try to hide their true self from others they will suffer emotional and psychological consequences.

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Literary Criticism: The Scarlet Letter. (2019, May 08). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from

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