Tag Archives: hester prynne

Guilt is not so easy

scarlet-letter

Image thanks to https://www.enotes.com.

Just because Hester Prynne unclasps her scarlet letter and flings it away doesn’t mean disposing of guilt is so easy.

As a symbol of the difficulty of working through guilt, Pearl the brat demands her mother put the fabric “A” back on her dress. On one level, the infant simply can’t accept a disruption in her mother’s appearance. But on another level, for Pearl, the letter is like a wedding ring, and casting it off is tantamount to breaking worse her already broken family.

If all you come away with in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book is stones to throw at repressive religion, I respectfully suggest you’re not delving past a superficial reading of The Scarlet Letter. That is only one of the themes. Hawthorne’s genius explores the intricacies and complexities of the human psyche, and you’re settling for gold dust and missing the mother load.

scarlet-letter-hester-pearlTo be sure, Hawthorne rains his pen down on failed religion. Arthur Dimmesdale flogs himself and performs excessive good works yet cannot find peace. His understanding of Jesus is deficient. A Christian is neither saved by piety nor charity; he is saved simply by Christ’s forgiveness, which Dimmesdale is blind to.

The book is full of ironies because Dimmesdale’s brokenness makes him the town’s favorite minister. This is eminently keen insight. If you have never suffered, you can’t have compassion on your fellows when ministering the word.

Hester Prynne herself, after her one sin of passion, likewise constrains herself to a rigorous life of charity. She dresses the drabbest colors and constricts her luxurious mane of hair to the insides of a bonnet.

After seven years of suffering, the pair meet in the forest and scheme to run away together back to England. Suddenly, sunshine pours in on them and the feel the exhilarating release of nearly a decade of pressure, scrutiny and condemnation.

It’s a good plan — except that they see themselves a sinners for doing it. Pearl is only the first to ruin it. She insists with a temper tantrum that her mother restore the letter to its rightful place. Then Roger Chillingworth, the evil avenger, completes the fatal stroke by booking passage on the same ship.

In traditional Greek fashion, the story must end as a tragedy. Hawthorne is sounding the dark regions of the human conscious, not writing a treatise on salvation. Nevertheless, the message emerges that only grace, only forgiveness in Jesus, can heal the heart. Religion never works — only relationship with Jesus.

The traditional spin on this book is that society is to blame for oppressing these free spirits. If you want to read the book that way, go ahead. But I can’t help but see deeper. You can’t just throw away guilt so easily. You and I need to come to Christ and be healed of our sin. Restoration works, not repression.

Ostracism and bullying

ostracismThe whole town turned against Hester Prynne. She got caught — by the out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

The Puritans forced her to wear a scarlet A on her dress always as a continual stigma of shame. She was violently flung from human friendship and affection. The hardened ladies looked at her with eyes of condemnation. Preachers wanting to exhort congregations or crowds about the dangers of sins pointed out Hester. Newcomers to the town gazed curiously at the letter, wondering what it meant. Kids, unaware of the concept of sin, treated her as an outcast following behind at a distance and making fun of her.

No one should be subjected to ostracism and bullying — no matter what the cause.

Such mistreatment can make a person turn into a sociopath.

Scarlet Letter teaches loveHolding up under psychological pressure for years and years, Hester doesn’t become a monster. The hero of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter becomes a saint, giving to the poor and helping the sick. But she is the exception.

Maybe, just maybe, one of the reasons we see so many massacres, so much mental illness, is because of the way we reject people. And the absolute last place where rejection should be pervasive is Christ’s church.

We all need motivation to do and be good

Hester prynne

Mistress Hibbins invites Hester Prynne to witchery in the forest. She refuses but admits that she very nearly would have gone.

Why? First the Puritans forced Hester to wear a red letter A on her dress always as a testimony that she was an adulteress. This public shaming she withstood. But when the somber town fathers threatened to take away her baby, she would have nothing left to live for. Barely was she allowed to keep her child.

Scarlet Flames

Mistress  Hibbins then gives her the satanic invitation. “If they would have taken my child away, I would have not only joined you but I would have signed my name in blood in Satan’s book,” she responded.

The power of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is its knack for portraying poignant psychological realities. If we are deprived of all motivation to do and be good, we will be bad.