The Scaffold in the Scarlet Letter
In addition to being a symbol of sin, the scaffold represents shame and guilt. When Hester is seen on the scaffold in the opening chapters, she hides the scarlet letter “A” because the letter is viewed as a symbol of shame and guilt: “When the young women – the mother of this child – stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom: not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress.” (Hawthorne 36-37) And because the infant, Pearl, was the product of the adulterous affair between Hester and Dimmesdale, Hester doesn’t provide the full motherly affection.
While standing on the scaffold, Hester also tries to “hide” herself from the crowd, since she can’t take the harsh reality: “Reminiscence…came swarming back to her…Possibly, it was an instinctive device of her spirit, to relieve itself, by the exhibition of these phantasmagoric forms, from the cruel weight and hardness of reality.” (Hawthorne 40) On the other hand, the second scaffold scene features an important character, Arthur Reverend Dimmesdale. One faulty thing about Dimmesdale’s personality is that he is afraid of what the public thinks of him: “It is inconceivable, the agony with which this public veneration tortured him!
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It was his genuine impulse to adore the truth, and to reckon all things shadow-like, and utterly devoid of weight or value, that had not its divine essence as the life within their life. ” (Hawthorne 119) He is constantly living in fear and is unable to own up for everything he did to Hester. He steps on the same scaffold because he wants to be relieved of his sin, and because he doesn’t want to bear the emotional pain: “” (Hawthorne ##) Thousands of emotions and thoughts run through both Hester and Dimmesdale while they are on the scaffold.