Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, the theme of sin viewed through the prism of many colors is the essence of the novel. The protagonist, Hester, her child, Pearl, and the Reverend Dimmesdale all live in a Puritanical society in Boston, and are subject to the Puritans' strict religious beliefs and rigid attitudes. Exposed to sin and the temptation of its concealment in varying degrees, these characters evolve through the novel in different ways. Hawthorne brilliantly displays these differences by juxtaposing extreme and vivid colors—concealment is shown in dark, drab, and gloomy shades, while openness has a bright and colorful sheen. In this way, Hawthorne establishes a dichotomy between lack of color and color in order to show concealment as the greatest sin.

The Puritan world is the setting. In their isolated world, the Puritans share the belief that acts such as adultery are the greatest sins. The revolutionary writer, Hawthorne, penetrates this world to expose Puritan hypocrisy and, through Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl, shows that concealment is the greater sin. Through them, Hawthorne teaches the lesson that concealed guilt will gradually drain its bearer of all strength and power, whereas honesty will have an empowering effect.

The main characters, Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale display varying degrees of concealment. Dimmesdale is at one extreme; he is the embodiment of concealment. Pearl is at the other extreme, playfully innocent and transparent. Hester is partially exposed—although she reveals her sin for everyone to see through the scarlet letter and she allows the dark and serious mannerisms of Puritanical soc...

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...t-ridden victims of Puritanism could not look forward to the kind of transformation that Hester underwent and, instead, they were doomed to a lifetime of misery.

Thus, through the brilliant and vivid use of colors from light to shade, from the startling to the colorless, Hawthorne builds his characters, explains their strengths and weaknesses, and shows how they react and live in a Puritan world full of dark intrigue, concealment, and hypocrisy. As characters change and evolve, so do the colors in which they are draped, yielding ultimately the lesson that brightness and openness in character will always triumph over the dark sordidness of repression and concealment.
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