Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of my favorite authors. His blatant use of symbols and clear messages about life through his stories is refreshing since, being an English major, my professors often tasked me with finding “deeper meanings” in texts. The back of my mind always wondering, “Does there have to be a deeper meaning?”

One thing I find interesting about him was he valued anonymity in his writing; he frequently published under pen names and was quite a recluse. Time Magazine writes, “From 1825 to 1836, Hawthorne had little contact with anybody, even members of his family. He took walks by himself, ate meals by himself, published the few pieces he was to publish anonymously or under an assumed name.”

When he published The Scarlet Letter under his own name, his fame instantly blossomed. It lifted him from the burden of financial stress. Reports tell us this was short lived, but why not publish under his name more if he knew that he could be successful?

I think Hester Prynne was in some ways a biographical character of Hawthorne’s. She frequently walked about not talking to others, but running her own little errands, something Hawthorne did. She works hard at her labor, but gets little praise for it, although her work is talented and even respected. Her earned wages are enough to get by, but she seeks only this. She lives isolated, a little way from town. Her adultery forced Hester into isolation, but she also felt solace in it. About his own isolation, Hawthorne writes, “Living in solitude till the fullness of time was come, I still kept the dew of my youth and the freshness of my heart” (quoted by Time).

Hawthorne uses Hester as an example of the benefits of isolation; Hester’s faith and well-being grew during it. Her only struggle was that Dimmesdale, her child’s father and her romantic interest, could not convince himself to leave the multitudes to be with her. Instead, he chose to live a “fake” life, simultaneously trying to live among and hide in shame from his parishioners. He ended up dying on the scaffold in front of the people he was trying so hard to stay amongst.

Dimmesdale, a depressed and emotionally isolated character, is also similar to Hawthorne. Hawthorne struggled with depression. Hawthorne’s fame after publishing The Scarlet Letter caused him to hide away even more than he did before, something readers of The Scarlet Letter see in Dimmesdale who hid from the eyes of his church members. Fame to both seem to be the last thing they wanted; Dimmesdale felt himself too hypocritical to deserve it, but if Hawthorne struggled with depression, we can assume he, too, was busy dealing with some inner struggles.

In the end, Hawthorne gives Hester a content life. I have to wonder if Hester and Dimmesdale were elements taken from Hawthorne’s own identity, how does his villain, Chillingworth, come into play? 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Yarbrough is a writer, mother, teacher, gardener, and many other things. She writes about it all here: Feel free to take a look!

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