Essay on The Use of Mirrors in The Scarlet Letter

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The Use of Mirrors in The Scarlet Letter


"Life is for each man," states Eugene O'Neill, "a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors." In other words, one can fool himself, but a mirror reflects only the truth. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, mirrors are used as a literary device to convey a message. Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, Hester, and Pearl each judge themselves with mirrors.  Through the use of mirrors, The Scarlet Letter provides an insight into the faults, or lack thereof, of the four main characters.


Arthur Dimmesdale's mirror acts as a window into his sin-obsessed mind. Dimmesdale practices secret vigils, such as whipping himself in front of a mirror, as an act of penance. After Hester's humiliation on the scaffold, Dimmesdale becomes obsessed with absolving himself of the sin, while not admitting the sin to others. Thus, he begins a cycle of grief and sorrow.  Much to the satisfaction of Roger Chillingworth, Dimmesdale could "torture, but could not purify, himself." To everyone else, from his fellow priests to the church-going citizens, he could lead a false life.  Yet, when he looks into a mirror, Dimmesdale sees only the sin he committed with Hester. In fact, as the reader learns at the end of the book, Dimmesdale takes the guilt of his ignominy to the point where he carves an A into himself. His mirror punishment becomes a ritual with a bloody scourge kept under lock and key in a secret closet. The only one to gain satisfaction from the self-inflicted wounds is Chillingworth.  When Dimmesdale views the reflection of himself in a parallel universe, his saint-like ways cause his own self-tormented downfall. Dimmesdale could have looked into a mirror without magnifyin...

... middle of paper ...

...what one wants to see, but a reflection of what actually is there. A man can fool anyone, including himself, until, through his own eyes, he finds a reflection of his true self.



Proffesors Comments:  You composed a fine paper, so most of my effort has been spent in suggesting style improvements. The opening is strong, the development logical and consistent, the examples well chosen.

 The ending is the weakest part of the paper. You didn't need the title; "Hawthorne uses..." would start the paragraph just fine. You didn't need the second sentence, since your entire paper did just that, and convincingly. A comment about Pearl here is welcome, since your paper pointed toward her. The last two sentences are quite wonderful. Think of a garden -- pull any weeds and the flowers look even more beautiful. I would weed your closing paragraph.

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