Isolation In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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A popular example of romanticism, The Scarlet Letter is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s critically acclaimed portrayal of Puritan society and its emphasis on sin (and punishment of said sin) during colonial America’s formative years. This portrayal consists of an exploration of isolation, as well as the effects thereof, through Hawthorne’s rich characters and their complex inner psychological turmoil.

Growing up, Nathaniel Hawthorne had deep, unbreakable ties with his home in Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne’s ancestors consisted of Puritan magnates, judges and seamen, most of whom had been involved in religious persecution, starting with their first ancestor, William Hathorne, who pronounced sentence on the early Quakers. William’s son, John Hathorne, …show more content…

Dimmesdale’s psychological grief is portrayed as almost akin to that of a physical illness or affliction; it is almost as if this burden might be enough to kill him. His voice, as described by Hawthorne, “...had a certain melancholy prophecy or decay in it.” More significant to the narrative as a whole, however, is Dimmesdale’s habit of putting his hand over his heart, “...with first a flush and then a paleness, indicative of pain.” In establishing this parallel, Hawthorne manages to seamlessly capture the severity of Dimmesdale’s isolation, and ultimately foreshadow his eventual psychological downfall. In her article, Sarah Chaney writes, “[Hawthorne’s] use of self-injury as a symbolic literary device… indicates that he expected his audience to be familiar with the idea of a clear connection between mind and body” (Chaney 283). His existence from this point on then begins to echo that of a man hiding in plain sight, and he suffers in silence. He is forever burdened with the discrete nature of his sin, especially since no one is there to punish him, and he feels love he knows he does not deserve. Furthermore, as Chaney notes, since Dimmesdale does not “[receive] the public punishment necessary to ease his pain (as Hester does), Dimmesdale is forced to punish himself” (Chaney 284). This punishment reveals itself in a disturbing show of guilt and self-mutilation when Dimmesdale commences to whip himself, as he “[laughs] bitterly at himself the while…” The mere fact that Dimmesdale keeps a whip hidden serves to show that such a breed of self destruction is a natural, hidden part of him, only to bear its face in the midst of isolation. This is not to say, however, that isolation necessarily creates these

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