the journey

Settings in The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne had deep bonds with his Puritan ancestors and created a story that highlighted both their weaknesses and their strengths. His knowledge of their beliefs and his admiration for their strengths were balanced by his concerns for their rigid and oppressive rules. The Scarlet Letter shows his attitude toward these Puritans of Boston in his portrayal of characters, his plot, and the themes of his story. For which reason, the novel The Scarlet Letter is set in the theocratic and patriarchal Puritan society of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Moreover, it is important to mention that there are other settings that are full of symbolism and that help us to understand the message of the novel and its Puritan background. The diverse settings of The Scarlet Letter such as the Market Place, the Forest, the Scaffold, the Prison Door and Hester´s Cottage are examples of how settings can be used as a symbol to support the novel´s theme.

The Puritan village with its marketplace and scaffold is a place of rigid rules, concern with sin and punishment, and self-examination. Public humiliation and penance are symbolized by the scaffold, the only place where Dimmesdale can go to atone for his guilt and escape his tormentor’s clutches. The scaffold scenes are one of the most dramatic structuring devices in The Scarlet Letter. They provide a framework for the entire novel and help highlight the most important themes. All of the book’s main characters are present in each of these scenes.

In the first scaffold scene, Hester and Pearl stand alone, publicly humiliated, while Dimmesdale watches from the side, standing with the other leaders of the community. Emotionally and physically, he is separate from her, but she bravely bears her solitary suffering.

The second scaffold scene contains nearly all the same elements. This time, though, the scene occurs at night, nearly seven years after the novel’s action begins. Rather than highlighting Hester’s suffering, this scene focuses on Dimmesdale’s guilt and remorse, which have led him to the edge of insanity. While in the chapter preceding this one they were divided, here Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale stand hand-in-hand. Hester learns the extent to which Chillingsworth has been torturing Dimmesdale, and she makes the important decision to save him from his enemy. However, Pearl shows that Dimmesdale’s repentance isn’t complete when she asks him if he will stand on the scaffold with her and her mother in the light of day.

The final scaffold scene in some ways mimics the first. Once again, all the major characters meet in the marketplace in full daylight. Hester is again the object of unwanted attention due to the scarlet letter, making her an outcast, while Dimmesdale is exalted as a saint. But this scene is different, because Dimmesdale is dying. Realizing that this is his last opportunity to confess before his death, Dimmesdale finds courage to perform this vital act, if for no other reason than to save his soul. As in the second scaffold scene, Hester’s strength is emphasized: Dimmesdale needs her to carry him up the scaffold where he can make this revelation. Chillingworth’s evil has become full-blown, but his power over Dimmesdale is now gone, because the minister chooses the path of truth. His death frees Pearl from her role as symbol of her parents’ guilt, so she can become a compassionate and caring human being. In this scene, the scarlet letter makes its appearance on Dimmesdale’s chest.

On the other hand, the forest is the antithesis of the Puritan world, or the town. In town, individuals are subjected to the Puritans judges who live there, bound by strict rules and vulnerable to mortifying or painful punishment; society seems awfully dark and negative in this novel. The forest, or Nature, however, represents freedom and a force that does not seem to judge individuals. In fact, Nature responds in a positive way when people break rules, as can be seen when Hester removes her scarlet letter in the forest, and the sun finally shines on her and she begins to resume some of her beauty and tenderness. The forest is also where Hester and Dimmersdale are finally able to speak honestly and freely with one another for the first time.

However, Puritans see Nature as something marred by Original Sin associated with temptation and darkness. In The Scarlet Letter, the Puritans in Boston believe the Black Man, or Satan himself, lives in the woods outside the town. Thus, it was seen as a place with no restrictions, and therefore dangerous and evil results.

Moreover, Hester’s cottage is pretty connected with the juxtaposition of the town and the forest. The fact that Hester’s house is on the outskirts of town is a metaphor for how she lives in the middle between the repression and expectations of society and the freedom of the forest.To end up with, the Prison Door is one of the most remarkable settings of the novel. The prison door is a symbol for Puritan lifestyle. The people surrounding shows how dark and emotionless the puritan ideals make them. The door’s heavy oak and iron spikes refers to that these ideas are almost inescapable. While the door represents puritan society as a whole, the rust on the door exemplifies its flaws. If the ideas were perfect, so would the iron on the door. The rust shows how at once the ideas of Puritan society was ideal, but over time it has become flawed. The prison door opening shows how the Puritan ideas can be escaped, although it is difficult. The dark shadow behind the door represents all the people stuck under Puritan idea. It shows how they have yet to become enlightened by the outside ways, which is represented by the sunshine. It is like a prison door that traps her in her own sin. It is the door that keeps her locked away from the outside world from the “non-sinning” Puritans of the town. “The Prison Door” symbolizes Hester Prynne’s life opening to the new world of criticism, shame, and life long punishment.As a way of conclusion, it is important to mention that Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the most prolific symbolists in American literature, and a study of his symbols is necessary to understanding his novels. The setting of The Scarlet Letter is important because of the fact that society and the government of the time and place where the story is set are very opposed to Hester’s actions and to the idea of individual freedom of conscience in general.