Various Writing Techniques in the Scarlet Letter
Throughout the novel, The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes from the viewpoint of a third person narrator. This narrator focuses is seen to have many opinions and shows an admiration toward Hester Prynne and women in general. Hawthorne’s use of certain language makes it evident that he shows a lot of admiration towards Hester and believes women are capable beings that deserve treated with value and respect. The language that Hawthorne uses to describe Hester Prynne is much different than that he uses for others. This language sheds a light on how Hawthorne thinks positively of Hester’s character. Hawthorne uses various techniques to convey his opinions and attitude towards Hester, such as forms of dictions, forms of appeal, and various forms of figurative language.
Through Hawthorne’s tone and use of words throughout the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, it can be seen that the narrator is connecting with Hester’s character. Before Hester’s character is even introduced, the reader is introduced to the townspeople’s thoughts of Hester. These opinions towards Hester were harsh and many believed Hester’s punishment was not enough. When Hester is first introduced, she is repelling the hand of a prison officer, “an action marked with natural dignity and force of character” (45) as the narrator exclaims. This is not only showing Hawthorne’s contrasting view of Hester when compared to the townspeople, it is also showing how Hester is a strong, independent woman. When describing Hester at the very beginning of the book, Hawthorne states that her hair was “so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam,” (46) even going farther in detail about her features. Continuing through the book, it can be seen that Hawthorne respects Hester’s pride and her desire to not let the townspeople get to her. The narrators exclaims that Hester “took the baby on her arm, and with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed…” Hawthorne’s use of words here makes it evident that he supports and respects Hester’s ability to deal with this situation, in a ladylike manner. Hawthorne empathizes with Hester, even going as far as showing compassion for Hester’s situation and how she is handling it. Even though the narrator has a positive viewpoint on Hester and praises her character, he does not condone her sin and his tone shows reverence to what Hester is going through. When Hester is on the scaffold, Hawthorne seems to connect with her as if he would’ve acted the same if he was in her place. Overall, Hawthorne’s use of various forms of diction and tone shows his attitude towards Hester in an effective and clear manner.
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When mentioning Hester in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses many forms of appeal. Whether it was to appeal to the reader’s emotion or the reader’s general knowledge, Hawthorne expressed his attitude towards Hester in an efficient and precise manner that truly lets the reader know how he feels. Throughout the book, Hawthorne uses pathos to give the reader a sense of how Hester feels for her current situation. Hawthorne begins to show sympathy for Hester when she speaks of her hopes for a better life in the New World, the hopes that would be interrupted by the “rude market-place of the Puritan settlement, with all the townspeople assembled and leveling their stern regards at Hester Prynne” (49). Hawthorne is attempting to appeal to the reader’s emotion, by referencing Hester’s feelings while on the scaffold. Hawthorne also attempts to appeal to the reader’s general reason when he describes the pillory as the “very ideal of ignominy” (47). Then stating how the pillory is the most outrageous humiliation, because it does not allow the victim to hide their face for shame. Further going on to say that the Puritans did not subject Hester Prynne to this confinement of the head, “the most devilish characteristic of this ugly engine” (47). Rather than this treatment, they decide to just make her stand on the scaffold. Finally, Hawthorne appeals to the reader’s values when speaking about Puritans’ values. Hawthorne talks briefly about the Puritans beliefs and describes the “grim rigidity that petrified the bearded physiognomies of these good people” (43). This is showing how the beliefs of the Puritans and how judgement is shown when they first see the prison. This relates to how Hester is treated upon her exiting of the prison doors and why the Puritans are so judgmental of her wrongdoings. Altogether, Hawthorne’s use of appeal to the reader is widely used throughout the book when addressing Hester and her situation.
Throughout the novel, Hawthorne uses forms of comparison and many other techniques of language when describe the likes of Hester Prynne. When Hester, with her child in hand, is walking through the crowd as she exits the prison, Hawthorne describes the moment as “an object to remind him of the image of Divine Maternity” (47). Hawthorne is comparing Hester’s likeness to the Virgin Mary herself. Stating that her image resembled that of Mary and having the baby in hand symbolizes a wild divinity that God had given her. Another comparison that Hawthorne makes is in the very first chapter of the book. When talking about the rosebush outside the prison door, believed to have “sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson as she entered the prison”(42), Hawthorne makes a direct comparison between Hester and Anne Hutchinson. Both of these women were of different times, but both were punished for defying society. Also, Hawthorne uses a form of personification when he has Hester and Dimmesdale meet up. The narrator states, “They needed something slight and casual to run before, and throw open the doors of intercourse” (150). Hawthorne’s use of personification is important, as it brings a sense of awkwardness to the situation. When finally in a private area, they need something to open up communication between them, this “something” or “throwing open the doors of intercourse”. This is mainly used to convey the sense of awkwardness that is in the atmosphere to the reader. Nevertheless, Hawthorne’s use of figurative language is very important in how he wants to convey certain parts of the book to the reader.
In conclusion, Hawthorne uses various writing techniques to convey his attitude and beliefs towards Hester and her situation, such as use of diction, forms of appeal, and direct comparisons through allusions and metaphors. It is easily seen that Hawthorne is a skilled writer and his techniques used throughout the book to address Hester’s character is high quality. How each technique was used makes it easy for the reader to understand what Hawthorne was attempting to convey to his audience. Through a multitude of comparisons and allusions, the character of Hester Prynne was adequately addressed throughout the novel, especially in the first few chapters. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s opinions towards Hester’s situation and how she compares to women of her day, are easily seen in these chapters. Overall, Hawthorne’s use of these techniques makes The Scarlet Letter what it is and brings a new light to the characters within the novel, most importantly Hester Prynne.