Last Updated 02 Aug 2020

Sexual Harassment: The Scarlet Letter

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The physical and emotional strain resulting from sex out of wedlock seems to be an almost unbearable burden. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne, and her daughter Pearl deal with the emotional abuse from her townspeople because of an affair with Dimmesdale. All of the harassment takes place in a small town in Boston, Massachusetts. In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the reoccurring image of a circle/sphere probes the thought that humanity is following a cycle of cruelty that has never been broken.

The use of actual objects to distinguish the pattern of isolation reoccurs often. Isolation plays a key factor in The Scarlet Letter, usually being hinted at with assistance from the image of a circle or sphere. In some instances, the cycle of isolation appears in nature: “Did the sun, which shone so brightly everywhere else, really fall upon him? Or, was there, as it rather seemed, a circle of ominous shadow moving along with his deformity, whichever way he turned himself. ” (172). The sunlight refuses to fall directly on Chillingworth because of his impure body structure.

The shadow casting off of him foreshadows the death he will later face. Nature isolates Chillingworth because he seems to be dark creature. Hawthorne does not just use circles and spheres in nature, he also uses them through Hester’s other possessions. Pear also plays a part in the reoccurring isolation symbol. “But she names the infant ‘Pearl” (85). In the beginning, Hester was isolated because of her sin. As the book goes on, she realizes that society continues to exclude not only her, but her daughter as well. A pearl represents a small spherical object grown in the comfort of an oyster’s mouth.

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In essence that is exactly what Pearl is. The only life she has known is one of complete distance from the rest of society. If someone shows her kindness, or acceptance, she would not know how to react. She’s been raised to think isolation is normal. Her mother on the other hand will never quite get used to the harsh reality of what she’s done; “While Hester stood in that magic circle of ignominy where the cunning cruelty of her sentence seem to have fixed her forever” (242). The amazing ability of the townspeople to shun a completely innocent woman is the pattern of humanity.

Mankind has always been unbelievably cruel to the people who least deserve it. Hester’s humility and strength is show constantly throughout the book. The invariable essence of cruelty is, and always has been, a big part of society. Not only are objects used to portray isolation, people are also used. With every mention of a circle/sphere, the patterns of isolation continue to show up. “They now felt themselves, at least, inhabitants of the same sphere” (186). Hawthorne uses the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale to prove the point of the cruel unfair ways of humanity.

The well liked man gets away with absolutely no judgment, while the lower class woman gets all the hatred and punishment. While these two people are so diversely seen in society, they formed a completely flawless creation that gets torn apart by the isolation of the town; “Pearl looked as beautiful as the day, but was in one of those moods of perverse merriment which, whenever they occurred, seemed to remove her entirely out of the sphere of sympathy or human contact” (130). Pearl has entered her own circle of dependency. She depends on her mom and herself.

Society has shut her out completely, just because she’s associated with Hester. Which makes one think; how would this child be looked at if she were to be associated with her father, Dimmesdale. With Pearl having a father as a saint, and a mother as a sinner, gave Pearl a very narrow chance of ridding this pattern of isolation. Although society didn’t bear down on Dimmesdale, his guilty conscience is what got to him. “The very contiguity of his enemy, beneath whatever mask the latter might conceal himself, was enough to disturb the magnetic sphere of a being so sensitive as Arthur Dimmesdale” (189).

The cruel patterns of humanity don’t always come from other people. Ones worst enemy is one’s self. His cruel ways of emotionally and physically tormenting himself were just another isolation tactic. He isolated himself from everyone emotionally because he felt as if the secret was bearing down on his soul. No matter whom you are, or how ‘godly’ you are, you will always fall a victim to the cruel ways of humanity. The main person being singled out by the people is Hester Prynne. Her ability to bounce back and still have a love for the people who have been ridiculing her for 7 years is unbelievable.

Although her humility is great, the cycle of isolation will not be broken; “As was usually the case wherever Hester stood, a small vacant area- a sort of magic circle- had formed itself about her” (230) Her reputation alone gives her this kind of innate ability to after awhile isolate herself. In some parts of the book Hester even tries to isolate herself, from herself; “She had flirted fancifully with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom forth, and –as it declined to venture- seeking a passage for herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky” (173).

The only thing keeping her back from complete and total freedom is her mindset. Her mind is so isolated from most other people that it would just be hard for her to even think about being part of a crowd again. The only thing keeping her somewhat part of a society greater than herself is her daughter. “The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate, until her mother had drawn almost high enough to step into the magic circle too” (180). These two are isolated together. They depend on each other yet lead completely different lives.

Society bonded them together in isolation, yet in their own little circles, they isolate themselves from each other. The cycle of isolation with humanity has never before been broken. Although it may appear to be an easy pattern to break, there is always someone or some kind of possession that will be thrown to the side and isolated from the rest of society. The patterns occur in this book through objects, people, and Hester. Don’t underestimate the power of isolation, it can make you do things you would never dream of doing. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York, NY: Tom Doherty Associates, 1989. Print

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