Alienation in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Novel The Scarlet Letter
An analysis of how public and personal alienation in The Scarlet Letter drives the story forward and leads to much of the characters’ suffering.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter gives an audience wonderful insight into the strict, moral world of New England in the early days of American colonization. Puritan society looks severely upon Hester Prynne’s crime of adultery, and the magistrates of Boston condemn her to wear a scarlet A on her dress as an acknowledgment and token of infamy(Hawthorne, 68) for her moral lapse. This scarlet letter is very significant to Hawthorne’s novel, for it symbolizes much more than Hester’s obvious adulterous crime; the A is also interpreted under different circumstances as representing angel (Hawthorne, 153) and able(Hawthorne, 156). However, upon examination of the text, one might say that the scarlet letter A could also be symbolic of the alienation that takes place in The Scarlet Letter. The four major characters in Hawthorne’s tale all undergo an alienation process sparked by Hester Prynne and the Reverend Dimmesdale’s sin of passion, and the resulting birth of Pearl. Hester’s public alienation from society is blatant; Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth and Pearl sustain more intimate forms of estrangement. It is this public and personal alienation process that drives the story forward and leads to much of these characters’ suffering in the novel.