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The Significance of the Scaffold Scenes in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The exhausting path from sin to salvation has been travelled regularly throughout the history of mankind. Nathaniel Hawthorne explores this common struggle to reach absolution in his thought-provoking novel, the Scarlet Letter. The novel focuses on the progression of adulteress and pariah, Hester Prynne, and her accomplice, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, over the course of several years after they commit adultery. The hardships endured by these two characters express the difficulty of absolving oneself from sin in 17th-century Puritan New England. Hawthorne cleverly structures the novel around three key scenes involving the four main characters and their local scaffold. These three scaffold scenes are pivotal and “essential to the novel’s structure, to its fusion of form and meaning,” as they suggest three crucial steps in reaching salvation: recognition of wrongdoing, inner repentance, and public revelation (Pinsker 144). Furthermore, Hawthorne symbolically uses Hester and Dimmesdale’s daughter, Pearl, as a tool to keep Hester and Dimmesdale true and as a gauge to assess whether or not the scarlet letter had “done its office” as both parents proceed down their path to absolution as they take each of these essential steps.
The first of the three scaffold scenes occurs near the beginning of the novel, before much is revealed about the four primary characters. Hester Prynne is forced to stand on the scaffold before the entire town. Here she proudly holds the symbol of her adultery, her daughter Pearl, in her arms. While it is difficult for Hester to endure the humility associated with standing so defenselessly on the scaffold, she completes the first step towards reaching her salvation. By this first scene she can no lo...


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...scene, but proves that he has not yet reached his ultimate goal of finding true salvation.
The letter “A” glows above the newly united characters in the sky, from the remains of a shooting star. This “A” appears only when the three of them join hands, symbolically connecting the “A” directly to all three characters at once. This connection further emphasizes Pearl’s importance during each of the scaffold scenes, because she is the living scarlet letter embodies all of its characteristics. (Not finished yet)
Since Pearl is symbolic of the scarlet letter and since the scarlet’s letter purpose is to allow for Hester’s penitence, it follows that Pearl is connected to the
The closing scaffold scene, symmetrically placed by Hawthorne in chapter twenty-three, duly symbolizes one of the most important steps in the path to salvation: public revelation and confession.


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