Role of Archetypes in The Scarlet Letter

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Embodiment of Symbols- The Scarlet Letter

Sinning along with the consequences of ostracization are embraced in The Scarlet Letter, a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne constructed around the Puritan society. Told from the perspective of an unknown narrator, Hawthorne implements several archetypes to further the meaning of this tale such as “The Battle Between Good vs Evil”, “The Unhealable Wound”, and “Death and Rebirth”. Hawthorne’s piece suggests that despite rejection from society and the guaranteed pain, the way an individual manages a situation determines their future. The use of archetypes adds depth to the plot as more symbols are brought into play, causing almost everything begins to develop double meaning.

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The archetype of the Battle Between Good vs Evil displays both internal and external conflicts that the characters face throughout the novel. Roger Chillingworth plays the devil figure as he plots for revenge as the custom-house- man narrates, “Old Roger Chillingworth was a striking evidence of man’s faculty of transforming himself into a Devil… undertake a Devil’s office (95). Although Chillingworth is a doctor, he dedicates his life to making Dimmesdale’s life miserable. Emotionally tormenting him suggests that the lack of human empathy truly makes Chillingworth a terrible man. When Dimmesdale dies at the end, a piece of Chillingworth dies as well due to his investment in driving Dimmesdale to the brink of insanity. It became a part of his identity , and without the driving motivation for revenge, he was lost. The Battle Between Good vs Evil is also manifested through Dimmesdale because although he has sinned, he is a good person who is ashamed of his adultery and inflicts pain upon himself to deal with the guilt consumes him. In a debate with Hester, he states, “We are not… the worst sinners in the world… worse than even the polluted priest! That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin… cold blood” (153). Trying to find an excuse to make his sin with Hester acceptable shows that Dimmesdale is barely keeping alive emotionally. Preaching about religion and sin show that he is a hypocrite despite his good intentions because he is not fully cleansed of sin. This archetype highlights the character struggles between and within people to give the readers an insight on the fact that these characters have qualities and similar actions as real people. It sends a message that all actions do have a consequence, reinforcing that sin influences individuals in accordance to the well being of the individual. It affecting their willingness to embrace consequences.

The Unhealable Wound is manifests the character's’ vulnerability. The narrator describes the “A” as something branded within her as he stated, “Strangers looked curiously at the scarlet letter and none ever failed to do so,- they branded it afresh into… soul… covering the symbolism with her hand… never grew callous… grow more sensitive with daily torture” (52). Hester’s unhealable wound is the “A” as it caused her so much pain from society. Her good deeds within the community after her adultery causes the meaning to change to “able” and “angel”. The “A” will always be part of Hester’s identity, but she tries not to dwell on the negative side and attempts to accept her sin. Although she tries to make the best of her situation,the judgement is inevitable. Dimmesdale also has an unhealable wound as his chest bares the “A”. They are both equally responsible for adultery, leading him to inflict pain himself as penance due to his undying guilt. As the narrator describes Dimmesdale’s pain, he says, “under the lock and key, there was a bloody scourge… it was his custom… rigorously… as an act of penance” (99). Dimmesdale’s unhealable wound reveals the rigor in the way society judges others for being different in any way shape or form. His hypocrisy eats away at him and causes him to reach the brink of insanity. Trying not to accept confession to traditional way seems to be his only way for him to cope because of his public image as a reverend. The juxtaposition as to how Hester and Dimmesdale cope with their unhealable wounds portrays that society may relentlessly judge an individual, but the outcome of it all depends on how the individual takes this treatment. Hester embraced it, despite the constant discrimination she got, while Dimmesdale never truly was relieved, until his ultimate breaking point of confession.

Death and Rebirth is seen throughout the novel as it conveys the effects of sin. Death is seen as Hester Prynne exits prison and the narrator states, “characterised by a certain state and dignity… there was something exquisitely painful about it… SCARLET LETTER... fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom, “ (37). Prison is what destroyed Hester emotionally due to how she was viewed by the rest of society. Her act of adultery made her question her purpose in life. For a period of time, it is clear that she lost her motivation. However, rebirth of Hester is seen through the birth of Pearl as the man in the custom house says, “But she named the infant Pearl as being of great price purchased with all she had, - her mother’s only treasure” (73). The new version of Hester is born because she no longer is living for herself and has someone else to dedicate her life to. Although there was emotional pain in the idea of Pearl, she was a blessing as she caused Hester to excel in society. Pearl served as a catalyst in making Hester make the most what she can out of her symbol that brands her. Her rebirth helped her accept her sin, showing that allowing sin to fester will perpetuate the soul, while being honest with oneself can cleanse the soul of emotional turmoil.

The use of archetypes helps readers develop the meaning of the polit because of the different concepts introduced into the characters. With archetypes, characters base their identities off of symbols such as the “A”. The Battle Between Good vs Evil emphasizes the struggles of all characters, making their journey more meaningful. The Unhealable Wound conveys how their vulnerability can be used to their advantage or disadvantage. Death and Rebirth symbolized the act of becoming a new person or it can symbolize the death as a result of inner turmoil. Archetypes makes plots relatable to readers as most of them can be found in everyday life.

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