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Hester vs. the Community in The Scarlet Letter

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Hester vs. the Community in The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter seems to be created around Hawthorne's obsession with the forbidding quality of the scarlet "A", the symbol from which the novel takes its title. Rrom the rose-bush which Hawthorne selects a flower from as an offering to the reader(1) to the "elfish" child Pearl, every aspect of the story is drenched in this letter's scarlet hue. Perhaps this repetition reflects Hawthorne's own repressed desires, as some critics suggest(2). However, what seems more compelling is the function which the symbol serves for Hester Prynne and the community which has condemned her. For Hester the symbol is clearly a literary one; she fashions the scarlet "A" to fulfill the function of telling, in one solid image, her story of sorrow and strength. For the Puritan community the symbol does not lead to truth, but rather conceals it. They place their fears and darkest imaginings into this brand. Hawthorne's possible artistic obsession brings to life a tortured woman, and the torment of the society that inflicts her punishment.

Freudian symbolism must be differentiated from literary symbolism in order to form a deeper understanding of the symbolic scarlet "A" conceived as a punishment by a Puritan society's desire to uphold its truths, but brought into physical existence by Hester Prynne's "fancy."(3) Daniel Weiss embarks on the enterprise of solidifying this distinction in the first chapter of his book titled The Critic Agonistes: Psychology, Myth, and the Art of Fiction.(4). Weiss suggests that "the literary symbol is a concrete and untranslatable presentation of an idea, or an experience that cannot find its way into consciousness except throu...

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...Art of Fiction. Ed. Stephen Arkin and Eric Solomon. Seattle: U of Washington P. (1985): 21.

11. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter: Ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York, New York: Bedford Books of St. Martins P., (1991): 74.

12. Weiss, Daniel. "The Critic Agonistes". The Critic Agonistes: Psychology, Myth, and the Art of Fiction. Ed. Stephen Arkin and Eric Solomon. Seattle: U of Washington P. (1985): 21.

13. Brodhead, Richard H. "New and Old Tales: The Scarlet Letter." Hawthorne, Melville, and the Novel. Chicago: U of Chicago P., (1973): 44.

14. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter: Ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York, New York: Bedford Books of St. Martins P., (1991): 58.

15. ibid. 57.

16. ibid. 112.

17. ibid. 75.

18. ibid. 75.

19. ibid. 161.

20. ibid. 154.

21. ibid. 200.

22. ibid. 201.

23. ibid. 134.
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