The Symbol of the Town Scaffold as the Acceptance of Sin in The Scarlet Letter, a Novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Category: Novel, Scarlett Letter
Last Updated: 15 Mar 2023
Pages: 3 Views: 56

Though extremely subjective, ‘sinning’ and the actions that cause it have always been vilified. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne shows the ostracization of Hester Prynne, known only for being an adulterer. Hester and her daughter, Pearl, are pushed to the outskirts of town, wholly rejected by the Puritans. The novel shows how Hester and many others must come to terms with the fact that every person is a sinner. Hester has her wrongdoing broadcasted to everyone, which releases she and Pearl from the oppressive restrictions the Puritans enforce. Hawthorne shows that acknowledging one’s sin is freeing, and criticizes the Puritans for trying to hide it. Hester and Pearl’s father, Arthur Dimmesdale, must seek out a new place for forgiveness. The scaffolding in the town center symbolises acceptance of sin, as shown by the experiences of Hester, Dimmesdale, and their family.

By walking out onto the town scaffold, Hester will forever be known openly as a sinner. Those gathered are in shock that she can be so stern, standing above them and presenting the letter. At first, she is trying to ignore what is happening around her, until she snaps back to reality. “It was an instinctive device of her spirit to relieve itself [...] from the cruel weight and hardness of the reality. Be that as it might, the scaffold of the pillory was a point of view that revealed to Hester Prynne the entire track along which she had been treading, since her happy infancy,” (40). She is made into a spectacle by the entire town, and their gawking is just the starting point to her seven year struggle. The scaffold shows her to be a sinner, but in doing so, she is now effectively devoid of sin. Hester no longer needs to hide that she is a sinner, and comes to find that everyone around her is one aswell. Realizing the hypocrisy, she understands that she no longer has to hide anything, and sympathizes with those who do.

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The scaffold becomes the only place where Dimmesdale feels safe. He feels as though his secret sin is consuming him, and needs to let it out. During his mental breakdown, he somehow ends up standing upon it in the same way Hester had. When he sees Hester and Pearl heading home, he calls out for them to join him. “She silendy ascended the steps, and stood on the platform, holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the child’s other hand, and took it. The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life. [...] The three formed an electric chain.” (105). The connection of their hands really binds the three, and Dimmesdale even feels that he is given new life. Previously a place of contempt for Hester, the scaffold is now the hope for the family. The three feel the connection, finally being together after seven years not only apart, but in hiding. This liberation inspires the three to seek freedom from Puritan society.

To confess his sins, Dimmesdale stands upon the scaffolding and proclaims that he is truly Pearl’s father. This confession is parallel to Hester’s, complete with the judgement of the townsfolk. After finishing his monologue and shocking everyone, even Hester, he calls down to Hester and Pearl to join him as they did before. “‘Hester,’ said he, ‘come hither! Come, my little Pearl!’ It was a ghastly look with which he regarded them; but there was something at once tender and strangely triumphant in it. The child [...] flew to him, and clasped her arms about his knees. Hester Prynne—slowly, as if impelled by inevitable fate, and against her strongest will— likewise drew near, but paused before she reached him,” (172). With this confession, the family would be together like never before. Hester is apprehensive, and doesn’t mount the scaffold along with Pearl. Dimmesdale is having the same terrifying experience of broadcasting his sin as Hester. After this revelation, Dimmesdale dies, and Hester and Pearl are alone once again.

From the first chapter of the novel, the scaffold takes on a different meaning to the Prynne and Dimmesdale family. Though used by the town to punish sinners, it really becomes a point of liberation. Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl all feel it transform from a sign of ridicule and sin into a beacon of freedom. This is where Hester accepts her fate, realises she can change it all, and watches Dimmesdale finally follow through. A pinnacle of relief, the scaffold connects the family over the p of seven years. Standing upon it liberates both Hester and Dimmesdale, absolving them of all they hid inside. Sin no longer paralyzes them - it sets them free.

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The Symbol of the Town Scaffold as the Acceptance of Sin in The Scarlet Letter, a Novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2023, Mar 15). Retrieved from

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