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Identity Theme in

The Scarlet Letter


1. Author and works
The Scarlet Letter is considered to be the American author Nathaniel Hawthorne's
masterwork. Born in Massachusetts, this is probably the reason the action of the book takes place
there. His other well known works include The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale
Romance and Twice-Told Tales.

2. Plot, setting, characters


This romance is an 1850 fiction set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, during
the years 1642 to 1649. First and foremost, the novel starts with the scene of Hester Prynne, the
story's protagonist, who is at the customs, which symbolizes the fact that she has to cross a border
in order to be accepted by the scoiety. She is a young married woman whose husband was presumed
to have been lost at sea on the journey to the New World. Hester begins a secret adulterous
relationship with Arthur Dimmesdale, the highly regarded town minister, and becomes pregnant
with a daughter, whom she names Pearl. She is then publicly vilified and forced to wear the scarlet
letter 'A' on her clothing to identify her as an adulteress, but loyally refuses to reveal the identity of
her lover. She accepts the punishment with grace and refuses to be defeated by the shame inflicted
upon her by her society.

3. Identity theme
a) Hester Prynne
- fixed name: Hester
- name by marriage: Prynne
- appearance: beautiful, young
- family: one girl, Pearl
This theme can be easily observed due to the fact that the Puritans force Hester to wear the
scarlet letter A as a symbol for her sin, so that her identity is associated with her actions. On the
other hand, she is never required to remain in Boston. Hesters behavior is premised on her desire
to determine her own identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her. To her, running
away or removing the letter would be an acknowledgment of societys power over her: she would
be admitting that the letter is a mark of shame and something from which she desires to escape.
Instead, Hester stays, refiguring the scarlet letter as a symbol of her own experiences and character.
Her past sin is a part of who she is; to pretend that it never happened would mean denying a part of
herself. Thus, Hester very determinedly integrates her sin into her life.

b) Arthur Dimmesdale
- name: fixed
- professional: minister, town leader
- family: Pearl's father
Dimmesdale represents societys ideal individual. Hes a minister, and is supposedly holy.
However, he defies societys standards and becomes what he preaches against, a sinner.
Dimmesdale also faces the difficulty of dealing with the guilt, which takes a physical toll on his
body as he is unsure who he is and how he fits in society since he has sinned. At one point,
Dimmesdale becomes so overcome with grief he stands on the scaffold where Hester received her
punishment and cries out in pain against his will. He begins harming himself in an attempt for
redemption.

c) Roger Chillingworth
- name: firstly, by marriage, then he changed it in order not to be associated with Hester
- profession: doctor
- appearance: in contrst with Hester and Dimmesdale, ugly and old
- family: Hester's former husband
In society, Chillingworth was well received because was a doctor who seems willing to
improve Puritans' health conditions. In reality, Chillingworth was a cold and evil man who was
spending the remainder of his life enacting revenge. While the town thinks of him as goodhearted
and kind, he has many instances where he is comparable to Satan. Not only does he discover a mark
that etched Dimmesdale's chest, but he also pretends to take care for Dimmesdale, providing him
with herbs that never once helped cure him.