Tradgedy:The Scarlet Letter

Tradgedy:The Scarlet Letter

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Tragedy, many people have defined it so many different ways. So, what is a tragedy? Arthur Miller has defined a tragedy by specifying certain characteristics that must be included in the story; there must be living and breathing characters, it must bring knowledge or enlightenment, there must be an internal conflict, and there must be a struggle for happiness. This definition does a really good job of defining what a tragedy is, but I think that there is more to it. I believe for a story to become a tragedy it does not have to have the above aspects, but every reader has to decide whether it is a tragedy to them. Take The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne for example.
Arthur Miller states that the story has to have living characters. In The Scarlet Letter, the main characters are Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Pearl, and Roger Chillingworth. Nathaniel Hawthorne successfully brings these characters to life by showing us human nature and by making them breathe and cry and have emotions that only real people can feel. Hester has real emotions as Hawthorne shows us when he tells what is going through her head when she is on the scaffold in the first scaffold scene; “…she saw her own face, glowing with girlish beauty…” He also shows us Dimmesdale and the guilt he endures “…the judgement of God is on me…it is too mighty for me to struggle with!” He shows us how Pearl’s darkness throughout the book, “Hester could not help question…if Pearl was a human child…. deeply black eyes…” Hawthorne brilliantly portrays these characters as living.
Finding enlightenment or knowledge from this book is a bit more difficult. In a specific section of this book, Hawthorne tells the reader right out what the knowledge to gain from this book is, he says that to lie and to be dishonest to oneself and to the public and to carry guilt, as Dimmesdale and Hester did, is the worst possible thing that a human can do. Dimmesdale carried his guilt for so long that it deteriorated his physical and emotional state and drove him nearly mad. Hester carried Dimmesdale’s secret along with Chillingworth’s and it hurt her emotionally also.
The third aspect of a tragedy is that there must be a conflict internally. There is definitely a conflict in Dimmesdale about his guilt. When Dimmesdale and Chillingworth are discussing why men keep their sins quiet, Dimmesdale becomes weak from the emotional pain that it brings him.

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We also see his conflict when the letter “A” is revealed on his chest, probably self-inflicted.
The final aspect that Miller says must be in a tragedy is the struggle for happiness. In this book, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth are all searching for happiness. Hester wants to rid herself of the scarlet letter and run away with her lover and her daughter as shown in the last section of the book. Dimmesdale longs to be rid of his guilt that has deteriorated him for seven long years. He achieves this in the end by confessing on the very scaffold and then dying in peace. Chillingworth never finds happiness however. He thinks that exposing the man who wronged him would be his joy. But since he is bent on vengeance, he can find no real happiness in the end and perishes shortly after Dimmesdale. This whole story is about these three characters and their journey for comfort and happiness.
By Arthur Miller’s definition, The Scarlet Letter is clearly a tragedy. And that it may be to some readers. The only way a book is a tragedy, in my opinion, is if it touches a reader to the point where he or she loses her breath and gasps because the story is so beautiful. Of course, every book is different for every reader so for one person, this book might be a beautiful love story while at the same time may be the most boring book to another reader. It all depends on what how individual reader interprets the story.
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