The editor of the book, which has been composed from his memory of an unknown student's work, claims to have unearthed a rare discovery that may unveil a mystery that has puzzled the best of minds in the literary field for many years. In the words of its author, his purpose is clear:
"I have thought to publish my interpretations of Hawthorne's novel so that those critics in the field of literature, who will, may have additional cause for which to expound their intelligence, either in trying to better understand this mystery, or to salvage the old cherished ambiguities by which the public brain is presently intoxicated. If I am correct in only a few of my impressions, hopefully the main ones, we shall have to reappraise Hawthorne as a literary prophet who hoped for and predicted a future time when mankind would look more favorable upon the creation, man."
Both the author and editor send the reader on a journey into the mind and heart of an American icon which have too long been misunderstood and underappreciated. He asks the reader to drink deep from the depths of his or her own intuitive awakenings, and encourages each to rediscover the man who created The Scarlet Letter. In so doing, one may see the vexations and conflicts in his own life as a "dark necessity" to be endured, as in the character of his beloved Hester, who speaks to the heart of every human, and in behalf of our own human nature.
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HAWTHORNE'S REDEMPTIONThe Mystery of The ScArlet Letter
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Gary P. Cranford
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE PRISON-DOOR AND THE MARKET-PLACE
The religious builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers ... Happy is the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity. I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages. (Thomas Jefferson)
These two chapters establish the setting of the tale consistent with the parabolic comparison with the custom house officers. They serve as a typical connection between the ministers of Puritanism and the effects the enforcement of their faith have upon their fervid adherents. In other words, they particularize the sable background, or the Puritanical attitude seemingly based upon a beast-like image of human nature.
A detailed analysis of the imagery of these two chapters, along with others of remaining chapters, will be integrated to show the internal consistency between the symbolisms of the novel and the interpretations proposed by this antiquary. One perhaps can somewhat evade the accusation of "reading into" a work if there are sufficient parallel interpretations between the parables and imagery within the allegory that run consistently throughout the work, and, chapter by chapter, point to the same possible meanings.
The Black Flower of Civilized Society
The blackness of the Puritan consciousness and singular focus upon mortal depravity is likely figured by the field of sable painted on the tombstone above the graves of Hester and Dimmesdale. Blackness is the Puritan prison, "the black flower of civilized society" (48), from which Hester emerges with child. It may be the world into which humankind may emerge from the womb. Indeed, Pearl's birth in a prison, and her exit therefrom into the market-place, may allegorically represent the present world into which humankind has emerged from another. The field of sable also seems imaged by the shadows of the tall dark trees in the forest, where Pearl plays unaffected by the dismal scene, and which themselves appear to reflect the Puritan consciousness. The black field may represent as well the dismal era of life itself, or its pains and miseries.
Hawthorne notes in the novel that the prison and the cemetery were two of the first structures Puritans planned when opening up a colony in America, the "black flower," or the first fruits of that civilized society (47). The prison could signify their obsession with condemnation and sinfulness, as likewise exemplified by the pillory upon the scaffold, which "stood nearly beneath the eaves of Boston's earliest church, and appeared to be a fixture there" (55). Thus the dark prison seems to be a symptom of the effect of the Puritan religion, as Hawthorne saw it, perhaps even a symbol for the history of a transformed Christianity as Jefferson saw it. The market-place may typify the new world in which Puritanism panders its wares before sending its parishioners home to the grave.
The symbols of the prison and market-place may then serve as a Microcosmicparable within the allegory itself about the world of Puritanism, or contemporary Christianity. The metaphor of the prison may symbolize the condemnation of human nature by the officials of Puritanism, and, perhaps for Hawthorne, may depict, besides all its disciples in Boston, other colonies under Puritan dominion as prisoners to that discipline. "Heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes" (47), the door of the prison possibly signifies the iron-braced boundaries of Puritanism from which none might stray without penalty and punishment, including those outside its grasps, as in the case of the "sainted Anne Hutchinson" (48). Along with the hardships the Puritans had to endure, their lives must have been quite bleak under the auspices of their eagle-like demeanor, "and the general truculency of her attitude" (5).
Hester's emergence with Pearl through the prison door, like the birthing of humankind from the womb, may represent, for the better part, the birth of mortal nature and humankind into a world dominated by the gloom and despair of Puritan or contemporary institutional interpretations. Her exit therefrom, and perhaps her mild punishment, though harrowing, in keeping with the theme of progressive transformation, might reflect a measure of relative growth toward a kind and sensitive heart, through the experience therein. The small measure of grace extended by the officials might reflect not only a thin movement in the right direction along the hate-love continuum but also a relaxation or waning of Puritanic dogmatism, according to this theme.
The market place in Salem may be that world of Puritanism into which the colonists of the American experiment are born. The pillory upon the scaffold, which was located beneath the balcony where the officials sat, may represent the suffering, or the cross, which straying adherents of Puritanism must bear under the scorching brow of the carekeepers of their faith.
The market-place could therefore represent a cross-section of the life of the Puritan character as well as perhaps of the world that has fed upon inadequate Christian merchandise, or the reformations thereof. The analogies of the prison and scaffold fade into a continuation of the main allegory itself, where the three main characters—Arthur, Hester, and Pearl—thematically struggle with the question of whether to run away from the problems of their life, or to stay and fulfill the duty of their office in preparation for a better world.
The chapter on the market-place introduces the treatment by dominant Puritanism of those who depart from its tenets as well as those who shared religious ideas other than its own. The market-place is an interesting outlet from the custom house, as though, as an analogy, it is a fitting bartering place for the exchange of goods by customers thereto. Any customer not satisfied with the present customs of Puritanism might expect adverse treatment. For example, on a particular grass-plot in front of the jail, a crowd gathers.
It might be, that an Antinomian, a Quaker, or other heterodox religionist, was to be scourged out of the town, or an idle and vagrant Indian, whom the white man's fire-water had made riotous about the streets, was to be driven with stripes into the shadow of the forest.... In either case, there was very much the same solemnity of demeanour on the part of the spectators; as befitted a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful. Meagre, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such by-standers, at the scaffold. (49)
The carekeepers of Puritanism, being both a civil and ecclesiastical order, had no tolerance for other belief systems in their community other than the customary, perhaps because civil and religious order was easier to maintain, by getting rid of the differences, rather than allowing freedom of choice in a matter. The passage above also seems to be an extension of Hawthorne's conclusion about the characters of the custom-house officials. The two-edged sword of Puritanism that fused both religion and law with equal severity for all infractions may have charged its adherents with a similar heartless character.
Therefore, should the custom house represent the Puritan institution or church, then the market-place may represent the socio-economic and political manifestations of American society, or a cross-section of it, at the time leading up to Hawthorne's generation. If the setting more broadly symbolizes the present condition of Christianity, as perhaps framed in the graphic words of Thomas Jefferson quoted at the beginning of this chapter, then Hawthorne's allegory may be a softer peddling of his similar antinomian wares. The comment by Jefferson was selected from similar opinions that have voiced this frame of mind to show that Hawthorne's allegory may have reflected identical sentiments less offensive to his public.
The Time Frame of the Allegory
An indication that the market-place might even symbolize a microcosmic representation of humanity in general is a reference to the time frame of the allegory uttered by the town-beadle, who "prefigured and represented in his aspect the whole dismal severity of the Puritanic code of law" (52):
"Make way, good people, make way, in the King's name," cried he. "Open a passage; and, I promise ye, Mistress Prynne shall be set where man, woman, and child may have a fair sight of her brave apparel, from this time till an hour past meridian." (54)
The key symbol of the time frame is the use of the word "meridian." This symbol is used a few times in the novel, and will be referred to again later. While it defines midday, it also has another definition, the division of time between B. C. and A. D., at the time of the birth of the Nazarene. There is an inordinate number of references to the seven year period of the tale; and such may incline the mind of the reader, who is perhaps sympathetic with Hawthorne's inclinations, to think of its parallels in relation to the deeper import of the scarlet letter.
Besides the wearing of the letter A, Hester must also stand three hours on the scaffold as part of her judgment, holding her sin-born infant of about three or four months old, until "an hour past meridian." The number, three, is commonly used to denote the trinity of Deity; and the number, seven, which surfaces later in the story, denotes perfection or completion. One might ask, is there also a connection between the numbers three and seven? This connection is advanced later as other references are mentioned in succeeding chapters.
The time-frame of the novel consistently seems to represent the allegorical imagery, as rendered by the author's interpretation, and in keeping with most Christian theology, concerning the earth's destined seven thousand years of existence. The reader must configure what significance Hester's appearance, dominated by the scarlet letter, has to the time reference mentioned. That significance may come slowly by intuition as she stands upon the scaffold in the meredian of time, in conjunction with Arthur Dimmesdale's oracular midnight or visionary stand upon the same platform, then again when he completes his mission of expiation and confession, and finally seals his redemptive act with his death. Barring some loose Puritanical impulse, or contrary prejudice, the life, ministry, and death of the Nazarene, whose mission contained a memorial promise, may come to the reader's mind, especially in context with so many other Biblical references thereabout, and remain somewhat in its uttermost recesses. Hester's brave apparel may therefore prefigure that promise of a time when mortality's problems may be resolved. Hester, however, is only intuitively tuned to that promise, and her rationality often clouds that picture, as may that of the reader not fully aware of Hawthorne's allegorical strategy, or wanting to consider it.
The Wild and Red Rose-Bush of Nature
Contrasting the "black flower of civilized society," is a rose bush lying near the threshold of the iron-studded oak door of the prison. The red rose bush seems to represent and herald the real centerpiece and promise of Christianity overlooked by the jaundiced eyes of Puritanis, possibly principling the promise of a relief from an oppressive world, as in the grace and mercy of it future Redemption. For the prisoner entering and the criminal exiting the prison, the wild rose-bush might betoken that "the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him" (48), despite the blackness of the background of life, as interpreted by Puritanism. Hawthorne depicted the rose bush as possibly springing up from the footsteps of Anne Hutchinson, whose antinomian ministry focused on grace.
One of its flowers is to be plucked for the reader to symbolize "some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow" (48). Though Woodberry claimed that Hawthorne intended no moral in his novel, it seems Hawthorne himself thought otherwise. Experiencing the moral fragrance of that sweet blossom may strain the reader's imagination, at this point, but perhaps spark the intuitive challenge Hawthorne framed for his readers by his imagery and questions.
It is the firm position of this analysis that that moral is developed in the allegorical meanings and is symbolized by several metaphors of red. Like a relief, the rose bush stands out against the prison as a contrast to suggest some significant message. The rose that releases its moral fragrance begins to unveil the promise of a better world, perhaps through a perspective of life higher than that which either the Puritanism of Hawthorne's forefathers or the contemporary religion of his day could provide. Much like the scarlet letter A embossed upon a black field, the rose forecasts an enlightened meaning within a darkened tale of human misery, perhaps even the hope of a special dispensation that triumphs over a mortal nature condemned by Calvinistic doctrine, or the like.
This rose bush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed it,—or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison-door,—we shall not take upon us to determine. (48)
Perhaps the gigantic pines and oaks of the stern old wilderness, that overshadowed the rose bush, represent the former religious empire across the Atlantic that overshadowed the message of grace. Wherein the rose bush may symbolize either the survival of that message, despite the long history of failing ecclesiastical dominions, or the fresh revival of that compassionate message by certain antinomians, Hawthorne leaves somewhat to the reader to determine. Although the ministry of Ann Hutchinson brought her banishment from the Massachusetts' colony, yet Hawthorne might have believed that her emphasis on divine grace and love, without respect to church or minister, may have kept the elan vital of pristine Christianity from being completely extinguished in the early American experiment. The point Hawthorne seems to make is that the rose bush survived, and that its delicate gems still offered to each prisoner entering or emerging from the prison some token effusion of pity and compassion, perhaps despite the mythologies of current religious thought, or the common miseries of mortality. Perhaps, in the passage above, to Hawthorne, hope springs eternal, in the symbol of the red bush, as the remaining life-blood of the Nazarene's teachings that emphasized mercy over judgment and forgiveness over condemnation.
"The deep heart of Nature [which] could pity and be kind" to the prisoner (48), might describe the compassion of the Creator of Nature for those who suffer from the benighted machinations of humanity's justice, or the plight of mortalilty itself. The "fragrance and fragile beauty" of the roses are possibly the promise of this compassion for each prisoner who might be condemned for the smallest deviation from the Puritan society.
The rose bush, then, appears to be a symbol that introduces the reader to a tale of passion and compassion. "Finding it directly upon the threshold of our narrative" (48), Hawthorne apparently is proposing to the readers that they are about to cross a threshold into an act or tale of grace. At the moment Hester Prynne exits the prison door, Hawthorne begins to grace his sad story with a rose bush raised to greet Hester, and the reader, as a glimmer of relief from the dark tale of Puritan society in particular, and perhaps, in general, of like institution interpretations.
[W]e could hardly do otherwise than pluck one of its flowers and present it to the reader. It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow. (48)
Excerpted from HAWTHORNE'S REDEMPTION Copyright © 2012 by Gary P. Cranford. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Romanticism, Anti-Transcendentalism, and Puritanism....................31
The American Experiment and Beyond....................39
The Problem of Sin....................43
The Paradox of Pain....................53
The Characters of the Allegory....................62
The Hidden Message....................77
Code of Silence....................95
The Custom House–Introductory....................107
Chapters 1 and 2 The Prison-Door and the Market-Place....................134
Chapter 3 The Recognition....................154
Chapter 4 The Interview....................169
Chapter 5 Hester at Her Needle....................186
Chapter 6 Pearl....................201
Chapter 7 The Governor's Hall....................215
Chapter 8 The Elf-Child and the Minister....................229
Chapter 9 The Leech....................244
Chapter 10 The Leech and His Patient....................258
Chapter 11 The Interior of a Heart....................274
Chapter 12 The Minister's Vigil....................291
Chapter 13 Another View of Hester....................308
Chapter 14 Hester and the Physician....................331
Chapter 15 Hester and Pearl....................354
Chapter 16 A Forest Walk....................365
Chapter 17 The Pastor and His Parishioner....................379
Chapter 18 A Flood of Sunshine....................394
Chapter 19 The Child at the Brookside....................404
Chapter 20 The Minister in a Maze....................414
Chapters 21 and 22 The New England Holiday and the Procession....................427
Chapter 23 The Revelation of the Scarlet Letter....................446
Chapter 24 Conclusion....................468
Appendix 1 References....................493
Appendix 2 Extractions....................498
Appendix 3 An Apology....................535
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