Research Papers

How Does Imagery Construct the Major Themes in The Scarlet Letter?-Nabila Nazish


Abstract:Nathienal Hawthorne,using symbolic language and imagery created a novel The Scarlet Letter which is considered a masterpiece in American Literature.Here,this research paper aims to find out the image pattern which works throughout the novel and helps to construct the major themes and ideas of novel.How language used as concrete and airy images provides an alternative and parallel way to build an atmosphere which creates an air corresponding to ideas presented through actions of the characters is to be explored in this paper.This paper aims to find the relation between characters,action,events and images where images adds to their significance and help to create an understanding of meanings and ideas of different actions.

Data Analysis:

Imagery is a linguistic device where verbal equallance of concrete ideas is created through words.Imagery creates a visual which enhances meanings of existing ideas and situations.Nathaniel Hawthorne by creating an image pattern and giving the story an allegorical form makes the whole story more poignant and evasive.Language here works as an army of moving images and Scarlet Letter hovers around the whole story as an all pervasive and pregnant image which in Market-Place attracts the whole gathering as an icon of adultery and shame. The Scarlet Letter had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself created a horizon where torture and torment worked as food of Hester Prynne’s soul.This image does not remain static throughout the novel yet its interpretations and versions of essences fluctuate and work behind and with main events and develop a continuity of developing ideas throughout the course of story.”Guillotine” and the “door” also working as images of puritan severity and rigidity, in very opening chapters, construct the idea of a society which believes in beheading the infidels of their self-illustrated versions of life where statue and scripture both don’t let any fresh air come to their fellows in Puritan states.The image pattern in initial chapters work as suffering begins and torment visualized with the motherly figure of Prynne holding her baby before the religious establishment which is reminiscence of Divine Maternity and sinless motherhood.The image of mother-child which was put to public shame and was awarded a punishment of excommunication by theocratic establishment and political aides.Puritan  society stands in parallel with the society which committed eternal crime of inflicting sin upon sinless mother where the name of Father was a question of conflict.Hester Prynne was also questioned by the clergy and the Godly minister was trying to unearth mystery from her heart.The image of Trinity was disoriented and distorted there and the mystery has to be revealed by further probing.Hawthorne constructs the structure of imagery which makes a world having dual layers and figures perpetuating different meanings.

Hawthorne creates a parallel between image of Prynne and Red Man both standing apart from whole society and creating a link between two of them.The Red Man and Prynne as victim of civilization and custom stands for lawlessness and savagery where innocence and nature works as their sole owner and their instincts are led by their own primitive nature.The sin committed by Hester is most vulnerable in the eyes of society while nature and wilderness accepts her as its own.The image pattern works more effectively and pregnant in this novel more than any other Magnum Opus of American literature.Illustrating and exposing an important phase of American history, the confrontation of Red Man with sinner on the scaffold among a multitude of hate-bearers connect these two souls as bearers of agony that was inflicted by the “righteous” and civilized settlers and Hawthorne not only recollects a story of suffering on personal level but also gives voice to the forgotten miseries of Native Indians. The Recognition is the chapter where the eternal confrontation of human and eternal foe begins the and Roger Chillingworth and image of Snake stand together to send us back to the story of Fall.The snake curling in the visage of Chillingworth works as a reminiscent of eternal jealousy and hate and his heart as bearer of malice and eternal agony torments his face with such a force that makes the heart of Hester tremble with fear.

“While this passed ,Hester Prynne had been standing on her pedestal, still with a fixed gaze that, at moments of intense absorption, all other objects in the visible world seemed to vanish, leaving only him and her.”(pg 96,ch iii)

The story continues as a chain of images where solitary confinement and banishment of Prynne in her cottage and her refuge with needle work stands as parallel to the society which has excluded her from its “pure soil” and with an image of angel Arthur Dimmesdale stands there as bearer of grace and purity.Hester and her needle-work, sitting in her cottage, moving in streets as bearer of shame and infamy, serving and healing the burning wounds of poor makes her a figure of mystery equally.

The image of the mysterious Woman with Scarlet Letter following her journey from inferno to purgatory never leaves its bond from the soil which has inflicted a penalty so heinous and troublesome that can only be removed by continuous retribution and penance.As her journey moves,the image and its standing fluctuates however the bearer of A remains attached with the soil.

“there is a fatality, a feeling so irresistible and inevitable that it has the force of doom, which almost invariably compels human beings to linger around and haunt, ghost-like, the spot where some great and marked event has given the color to their lifetime ;and, still the more irresistibly, the darker the tinge that saddens it.”

The continuous correspondence between the “soil” and “soul” never ceases and the chain doesn’t seem to be broken. Her own soil is very limited and excluded which has given her own space and the image of her own existence stands there against the exclusion.

“The chain that bound her here was of iron links,and galling to her inmost soul,but could never be broken.”

The elf-child enters in the story to reconnect the both souls with each other and with her preternatural existence her image stands for different interpretations for both spaces,the spaces of Trinity and society.The baby appears to arise a conflict and her appearance remains a mystery.The image of Pearl stands for the result of a sin where it needs the other offender to complete its image. Hawthorne has given her a description by linking chains of images to construct her existence.She comes to existence and makes us reminiscent of that fatal error committed by Adam and Eve and she is so natural and pure that she stands against the civilization and society.Her image also makes us think of that blessed soul which has to bless the whole progeny of Adam and Eve as she has to be a source of purgation of guilt from “Godly”minister.Hawthorne describes her in such a moving army of images

“A lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion.”

By its perfect shape,its vigor, and its natural dexterity in the use of all its untried limbs, the infant was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden: worthy to have been left there to be the plaything of the angels after the world’s first parents were driven out.”(pg 134 ch 6)

Hawthorne describes Pearl as a “circle of radiance, wild flow of spirits, airyspirtie,which hovers in the air and questions her own and mother’s existence.

The Minister’s vigil is full of images and stands in middle of that journey of completion where night is a space of natural refuge from society and they create their excluded space where Trinity is completed. Yet that image wouldn’t have created such an air if the lightning star of A hadn’t appeared on sky to pay its tribute to the Trinity. However the image stands on two parallel positions as puritans took it as a tribute to dead minister while Trinity received it as something far more significant for their existence. Reader cannot dissect A by dislocating it from the chain of images which begins from the very beginning of n over where A was attributed to sinner but now it is transiting its meanings. What makes the scene more striking is presence of Roger Chillingworth in darkness as evil putting its “eye “on that image of Trinity to put blots on nature and to poison that union.

“And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; the little Pearl herself a symbol and the connecting link between these two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendour, as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets, and the daybreak that shall unite all who belong to one another.(pg232 ch xii)

The natural imagery here works as a separate world which gives the trinity a space and where the bond between the family was secure and acceptable while society doesn’t allow itself to bear the reality as a godly minister cannot be allowed to be a sinner. The shadows of trees, brooks and water are really accepting what has been rejected by the society and their identities and destinies are being explored and exposed by that Mother Nature. There sorrows and souls are being dissected there where they are taken into a shadow and their souls are free from that torment which always agonize their souls.

‘What does this little brook say, mother? Inquired she.

‘’If thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee of it, ‘answered the mother, even as it is telling me of mine.”

The removal of scarlet letter from her bosom offends Pearl so much that it turns wild towards her mother and her bond with the letter is as important as it changes the whole perception of her understanding. The letter was the first image she gazed in her mother’s lap and she has made a bond with the image so strong that she doesn’t recognize her mother without it.

“Pearl,without responding in any manner to these honey sweet expressions, remained on the other side of the brook. Now she fixed her bright wild eyes on her mother, now on the minister, and now included them both in the same glance, as if to detect and explain to herself the relation with which they bore to one another.For some unaccountable reason, as Arthur Dimesdile felt the wild eyes upon himself, his hand with that gesture so habitual as to have become involuntary stole over his heart .At length assuming a singular air of authority, Pearl stretched out her hand, with the small forefinger extended, and pointing evidently towards her mother’s breast. And beneath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the flower –girdled and sunny image of little Pearl, pointing her small forefinger too. (pg 313,ch xix)

The imagery created by Hawthorne continuously work with theme and idea of novel from opening to climax of story. The image of Hester wearing the scarlet letter in very beginning turns into an image of honor with her long journey of penance and people begin to respect her.Story reaches its climax in the last sermon where the scene is laden of images corresponding to each other.The sinner is also there with symbol of her sin while the saint is going to speak his most eloquent piece of sermons.Roger Chillingworth growth there stands in that place where the victim of his revenge and hatred is going to die.The image which overpowers the whole scene is of Scarlet Letter A. The trinity which has always remained in separation is there to complete their body.The revelation comes from Arthur as he finally accepts Hester and Pearl as his own and now the sun was shining over Arthur and he was holding the hands of his offspring and fellow-sinner.

The whole scene was spellbound with the immensity of situation and Arthur being a dying took a part from shame of his own.The scarlet letter has left the bosom of Hester and her soul was now free from that agony which made her life a story of penance.Finally her penance was accepted by divinity and she was relieved. Through the novel imagery remained working parallel to the story and this image pattern never left the situation unexplored.The natural imagery also added to construct theme and idea of the whole novel and in this novel language seems to be a moving army of images.

About the writer :Nabila Nazish did her MA in English Language and Literature from Islamia University Bahawalpur. She is pursuing her Masters in Education from AIOU.
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