The aim of this essay is to present you with a review of chapters 22-24 of the book ‘The Scarlet Letter’. Barlow (2000) refers to this book as ‘The magnum opus’ of Nathaneal. (Barlow, 2000). ‘The Scarlet Letter’ is a story of love, adultery, betrayal, faith, belief and social criticism which was published in 1850 and holds a little bit of all these elements which can attribute to it the characterization of being a romantic novel.
The historical context of the novel’s plot is the social environment of the society living and developing in the area of Puritan Salem, in Massachusetts during the years 1642 to 1649. This is a socio-historical context of great significance since this context is the reason why the protagonist of the novel fell in the tortures of being strictly criticized and condemned to social rejection on behalf of almost everybody due to her actions which if performed nowadays, they would probably remain in the dark of ignorance, provoking nothing else but just a kind of social criticism in the terms of plain gossiping.
The thematic core of the novel is the love which the female protagonist of the novel, Hester Prynne has for another man and not the one she is married to. Her husband has been away on business for so much time that everyone has started suspecting that since they have not heard from him, something bad must have happened to him. The majority of the town probably considers him dead but it is still too early for any kind of conclusions to be drawn since they ought to wait for his return. This kind of obligation is according to the ethical and social principles of that era necessary to be kept on behalf of Hester who is his wife.
Hester Prynne turns into the hands of her creator, the author Nathaniel Hawthorne, into the symbol of free will and free choice. She is a courageous woman who falls in love with another man, other than her husband and accepts to be wearing the scarlet letter , the A letter which is the initial of the word Adultery as a way of showing that she has accepted her mistake and she accepts her punishment by the society. When Hester is asked to reveal her lover’s name she denies strongly and she keeps her promise up to the end.
Hester is the symbol of faith into the principles and feelings one stands for and believes in. She is the living proof of those people who know how to respect other’s freedom and not to take advantage of others’ mistakes in order to save themselves any kind of punishment. She is the symbol of true, genuine love since she knows how to protect the ones she loves who are her lover and her daughter. She does not appear in the process of the thematic plot of the novel to experience any kind of second thoughts or remorsing on what she experienced and felt. Hester is a woman who behaves in dignity and seems to know that she dared to act against the social status – quo of her era.
In chapters 22-24 which are the last chapters of the story, readers witness the climax of the story itself. It is the moment where Hester starts being treated as something common and not something that ought to be treated in special attention while the letter A loses its significance and bad meaning and symbolism. In these chapters we witness the last moments when Hester wears the Scarlett letter and awaits for her freedom and dignity to come back. The crowd though is not ready to come in terms with the idea that Hester will get rid of the title and characterization that they have imposed on her. At the same time we see Dimmesdale who has been fighting against his shame all this time of the story’s evolution and has stayed away from admitting to his being the father of Hester’s daughter, to finally come in terms with who he really is and how he really feels. This is one of the highest moments of the dramatic tension of the novel. It is the moment when the masques fall apart and the real inner self of the main persons of the story start finding their way out in the light.
It could be argued that it is during these last chapters of the story when Nathaneal decides to confront his readers with the real reason of his writing. He wants to make it clear that the most difficult thing in life is when people have to admit to who they really are and bring outwards their real inner self. Nathaneal criticizes through his story the society and the hypocrisy of people of his era. He knows that people are living under strict social rules which are imposed upon them depriving them from their freedom of will. Dimmesdale decides to admit in front of everyone that he also carries a mark, which the story does not really reveal whether it is a scarlet letter or something else. The mark of Dimmesdale stays in legend within the limited borders of their society and people start making up their own beliefs in what it really was.
The confession of Dimmesdale brings everyone from the crowd who are waiting in line in order to get revenge and feel satisfied that Hester who disobeyed their rules is finally punished, in front of another kind of reality. The personal reality of each person. Each one of them has secrets well hidden and is afraid of admitting to them or confessing them. Every single person has his / her own secrets. So why should they await in such impatience for treating Hester as the scape goat? This is the rising question from the story’s plot. The question remains unanswered and the events meet their readers quickly. Since Dimmesdale is capable of committing such a crime then everybody is capable of anything. There is no perfection. Every human being has the tendency of falling into his / her mistakes. There are two deaths in the last chapter of the story. Both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth die and each death stands for a different symbolism. Dimmesdale is the man who symbolizes the freedom of one’s sins once he / she admits to them. Chillingworth symbolizes the death of unnecessary hypocrisy in the society which desires to treat people in equality as far as their differences are concerned and in respect.
Hester and Pearl are presented by the writer to have a different fate. Pearl goes to Europe and gets married to one from aristocratic origins. Hester returns to her town, her Puritan strict society. But the meaning of the scarlet letter has vanished in time. Probably because strict social criticism is something that fades away pretty quickly. Because every social group loses its interest quite quickly and looks forward to find a new reason to criticize a new person form their society.
Hester is characterized by dignity. She is a descent woman who knows that she dared to act otherwise than the social status quo of her era could accept. She is the woman who in a way could be symbolized as Eve form the Bible who was sent out from paradise since she disobeyed God’s orders. The question on who Adam is supposed to be in the novel is an easy one to be answered. Adam is the man who remains hidden up to the end of the novel and who was her lover. Hester’s lover is the symbol of Adam, a weak man who although treated with respect and trust due to his authority by his social group, he turns out to be too weak to admit to who he really is. It could be the fear he has for losing power the real reason why he seems unable to admit to his loving Hester and to him being the father of Hester’s daughter.
The society of the Puritan town of Salem is the miniature of the world of paradise but this is a depiction carrying lots of irony. How could common mortals be the depiction of God’s paradise? No one is unmistakable. Therefore it can be easily drawn that Hawthorne wishes to show the hypocrisy of his era and condemn it.
The Scarlet Letter is a social criticism on behalf of the writer towards his era, his society and the social beliefs and principles of his time. Hawthorne uses the literary device of this female figure to show that it is time people were awaken and became aware of what would really make their souls feel full, happy and calm without imposing any restrictions on others and without becoming austere critics of others without having looked into themselves at first.
The Scarlet Letter is a novel which can offer lots of opportunities to its readers for personal reflections on issues of common social concern.
Barlowe Jamie, (2000) The Scarlet Mob of Scribblers: Rereading Hester Prynne Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press
Baym Nina (1986) The Scarlet Letter: A Reading. Boston: Twayne Publishers