Literary Elements in The Scarlet Letter

Literary Elements in
The Scarlet Letter
Plot 1
 Takes
place over a seven-year
 Involves the familiar triangle of
 Is a struggle between good
and evil, with the eternal souls
of the characters at stake
Plot 2
 Suspense
is built around these
 Will the identities of the lover
and the husband be revealed?
 How will the identities of the
lover and the husband be
Plot 3
 The
main psychological
movement in the novel derives
from the husband’s insatiable
quest for revenge
 Boston
in the mid-1600s
 Provides a framework of rigid
social mores and religious
 a “people amongst whom
religion and law were almost
Definition of “mores”
 The
accepted traditional
customs and usages of a
particular social group
 Moral attitudes
 Manners or ways
 Hawthorne’s
form of the novel
was writing innovative for 1850
 Instead of an ongoing
chronicle of events, it is a
series of separate, fully
realized scenes interspersed
with expository chapters
Point of View
 omniscient
 Hawthorne
reveals both the
inner and outer lives of his
characters with asides on
social criticism, history and
Major Characters
Hester Prynne 1
 Young
 Has been living alone in
 Her husband has been missing
for several years
Hester Prynne 2
 Has
given birth to a child
 Refuses to name the father
 She pays for her sin in many
ways, although she never
renounces her love for
Arthur Dimmesdale
 A popular and admired young
 Refuses to acknowledge that
he is the father of Hester's child
 Undergoes intense internal
suffering and becomes prey to
Chillingworth’s slow revenge
Roger Chillingworth 1
 Hester’s
 A scholar much older than she
 Arrives in Boston after years of
 Finds that his wife has just
given birth to a daughter
Roger Chillingworth 2
 Is
the major antagonist
 The novel chronicles his
spiritual deterioration
 He takes revenge on
Dimmesdale, whom he
suspects, correctly, of being the
child’s father
 the
 blithe (happy, joyful)
 highly intuitive (capable of knowing
without deduction or reasoning)
 intelligent
 imaginative
Theme 1
 The
effects of sin and the
possibility of redemption
Hawthorne is interested
primarily in the psychological
and social consequences of
sin on his characters and in
their process of redemption
Theme 1: the effects of sin and
the possibility of redemption
 Hester
 The consequence of sin is
isolation from society
 Her redemption is worked out
through a life of patient and
selfless work
Theme 1: the effects of sin and
the possibility of redemption
 Dimmesdale
 Consequence
of his sin is
internal anguish caused by his
guilt and the psychological
torment inflicted by
 His redemption comes only
with confession
Theme 1: the effects of sin and
the possibility of redemption
 Chillingworth
 His
sin is obsession with revenge
and violating “in cold blood, the
sanctity of a human heart”
 The consequence is a gradual
shriveling of both soul and body
 Redemption escapes him
Theme 1: Secondary Effect
 Insight
into the hearts of
others is a secondary effect of
the sin of all three characters
 As eating the forbidden apple
brought a kind of knowledge to
Eve and Adam
Theme 1: Secondary Effect
Insight into the hearts of others
 Both
Hester and Dimmesdale
use this understanding to
positive ends
 Chillingworth, however, uses his
insight to torment the already
suffering Dimmesdale
Theme 2: Hypocrisy 1
 Hypocrisy
appears in the
conflict between outer
appearance and inner reality
Theme 2: Hypocrisy 2
 Depicted
in the vindictiveness
of the pious women of town
toward Hester
Theme 2: Hypocrisy 3
 Illustrated
in the portrayals of
Chillingworth and Dimmesdale
 Both live hypocritically
 Each poses as something
other than what they are
Major Symbols 1
 The
scarlet letter itself is the
central symbol
 It changes meaning for the
people of Boston as Hester
steadfastly works out her
 The A also becomes the pathway
to redemption for Dimmesdale
Major Symbols 2
 The
 the cruel public exposure of
private sins
 the means to redemption
through confession
Major Symbols 3
 Elements
of nature are used
to symbolize good and evil
 Evil: weeds, unsightly
vegetation, darkness, and
 Good: flowers, sun, and light
 The forest is a changeable
symbol representing both good
and evil
Irony 1
 Situational Irony is central to
the action of the novel
 Situational Irony is the contrast
between the intention or
purpose of an action and its
 In situational irony, the
expectations aroused by a
situation are reversed
Situational Irony 1
 The
guilty Dimmesdale is able
to minister brilliantly to his
Situational Irony 2
 Chillingworth is the wronged
 He might normally claim reader
 But he turns out to be a fiend
 A physician who destroys
rather than heals
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