As written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Be true! Be true! Be true!” (Hawthorne, 254). In a world full of corruption and deceit, the light of truth always finds a way to shine through, even in the darkest of places. It may be argued that forests and prisons, cloaked with gloomy ambience, are unlikely places to find this ray of honesty. However, in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the author reinforces the rawness of truth and forgiveness, the destructiveness of secrets and revenge, and the evolving symbolism of light by the use of contrasting settings presented by the forest and prison.
While a forest and prison are two common settings in novels, they vary in their depictions, associations, and the events that took place within them. First and foremost, the prison and forest differ in their descriptions and essences. The prison is illustrated as a dank, stagnant, and foreboding establishment, with a rustic, ancient feeling. It is described as an aged, ugly edifice, composed of weather-stained wood with a “beetle-browed, gloomy front”, giving it a scowling appearance (Hawthorne, 45). It has an iron-clamped door, similar to the clamp on the Black Man’s book. This reflects the sins that lurk inside its bindings. In addition, the narrator defines it as, “the black flower of civilized society” (Hawthorne, 46). It is dark and confined, and the littlest beam of light creates pain in Hester and her child. In spite of this gloom, the prison is accompanied by a bright, beautiful rosebush, a sample of the divergent forest.
In contrast to the prison, the forest was a living, dynamic setting. At first the forest is described as solemn, reflecting the serious subject of Hester Prynne’s travels. She sits with her daug...
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..., pouring a very flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming adown the gray trunks of the solemn trees.”(Hawthorne, 199). The change from a dark, gloomy forest, into one filled with sunshine and stunning nature, emphasizes light’s role as not only truth, but forgiveness. The meaning of light changes and evolves throughout the story and varying settings.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the story conveys nature’s pure role in truth and forgiveness, the misery due to deceit and revenge, and the dynamic meanings of light. These themes are reflected in the contrasting settings of the forest and the prison. Overall, Honesty is essential to a full and purposeful life. By being mendacious, humans set themselves up for despair, guilt, and pain. Solely truth can free the soul from suffering.
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