Literary Analysis in the Scarlet Letter
Raven 1 In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book, The Scarlet Letter, the phrase “Opposites Attract” does not always ring true. Such is the case between a young beauty and an aging scholar. Through Hawthorne’s use of figurative language and imagery, he creates a winter-spring relationship between the two characters Roger Chillingworth and Hester Prynne, which ultimately leads to Hester’s downfall.
The character Hester Prynne’s unparalleled youthful beauty and passionate nature makes her the perfect embodiment of spring.
Early on in the text, Hawthorne says “She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, . . . ”(50) This picturesque description of Hester is used to not only to show her beauty, but also how her beauty is so fresh and vibrant. Her hair being described as “glossy and abundant” alludes to her spring-like qualities because in spring, all plants and creatures are new and plentiful in number. Hester’s position as being a new mother also makes her symbolic of spring, because both represent fertility and new life.
Hawthorne even goes as far as saying “…with the infant at her bosom, an object to remind him of the image if Divine Maternity…” (53) Hawthorne using this comparison portrays Hester as being a perfect representation of fertility, almost to a god-like degree. It is Raven 2 unquestionable that spring is the most benign and gentle season. Hawthorne almost directly states that Hester is spring when he says, “…Hester’s nature showed itself warm and rich; a well-spring of human tenderness, un-failing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. (146) This is why Hester’s demeanor and character also contributes to her embodying spring. Even by saying that her nature was warm, Hawthorne adds to Hester’s symbolism, because spring is the first season where warmth is introduced; the warm quality it possesses is also why spring is considered “friendly”, because it is the savior after a cold, hard winter. Roger Chillingworth represents winter in every possible aspect. His demeanor and appearance both are strong evidence of how he symbolizes the season of cold.
When he is examining Hester’s health in the jail, he had “…a gaze that made her heart shrink and shudder, …and yet so strange and so cold,.. ” (67) His cold demeanor directly relates to how winter is the coldest of all the seasons. Even something as simple as his gaze made Hester’s heart, which is the warmth of spring, shudder and get smaller. This parallels how a winter frost can kill off the warmth and vibrancy of spring. Chillingworth’s appearance also contributes to him symbolizing winter.
He is described as a “…man well-stricken in years, a pale, thin, scholar-like visage” (55) Winter is the season where things get old, barren, and start decaying. So Hawthorne purposely describes Chillingworth as old, pale, and thin to make the most obvious statement of how the man and season are so closely related. Chillingworth is anything but a thriving individual: being thin and pale, he possesses the attributes that a sickly, perhaps dying, would have. Chillingworth’s insatiable appetite for revenge against Dimmesdale also lends to him being seen as a representation of winter.
Winter, by itself, is a symbol for wrath and revenge. So when Hawthorne says that “This unhappy man had made the very principle of his life to…revenge. ”(232), he is showing the uncanny similarities between Chillingworth and winter. Raven 3 Finally, Chillingworth’s own name alludes to how he embodies winter. The first eight letters of his name spell out “chilling”, which can only be associated with the cold temperatures in winter. The vast difference between the two characters Hester Prynne and Roger Chillingworth leads to the rapid decline and incompatibility of their relationship and to Hester’s downfall.
Chillingworth is quick to admit how unrealistic his expectations of their relationship are when he says “I, …- a man already in decay,… what had I to do with youth and beauty like thine own! ”(69) Chillingworth, describing himself as “a man already in decay” re-instills how he represents winter, which is the season where all things decay and die. He also says that “Mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay. (70) Hawthorne’s use of figurative language is ingenious when he describes Hester’s age as a “budding youth”. Flowers begin to bud at the beginning of spring, so by describing Hester’s youth as budding, Hawthorne gives Hester spring-like qualities. The combination of the two previous quotes explains why a relationship between winter and spring could never exist in harmony. Chillingworth and Hester are two completely different individuals; Chillingworth’s cold frost halted any hope of the seedling of love to grow within Hester’s heart.
Chillingworth acknowledges this fact when he says “My heart was a habitation large enough for many guests, but lonely and chill, and without a household fire. ”(69) In the end, a relationship between this pair could never work. Hester’s lack of love for Chillingworth led her to commit the sin of adultery, her ultimate downfall. When Chillingworth says “… from the moment when we came down the old church steps together, a married pair, I might have beheld the bale-fire of that scarlet letter blazing at the end of our path! (69) it’s as if he knew that Hester would cheat on him all along. Hester’s downfall was inevitable because Chillingworth could not make her love him due to them coming from two entirely different places: winter and spring. Raven 4 The character Hester Prynne experiences a downfall due to the winter-spring relationship established between her and Roger Chillingworth, which Hawthorne illustrates by using the literary devices of figurative language and imagery.
By using the characters as symbols for seasons, the meaning of why a relationship between the two characters cannot work is intensified and given depth. Through this particular analysis of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, readers can perhaps see that when two people are so completely different from one another, a happy relationship cannot exist: love is never going to grow in spring when it is halted by a winter frost. Raven 5 Works Cited Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. 1850. New York: Bantam Dell, 2003. Print.