Essay, Research Paper: Scarlet Letter Reflection

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne has a sufficient reason for repeatedly making reference to
mirrors throughout his refined novel, The Scarlet Letter. The use of mirrors in
the story serve a beneficial purpose of giving the reader a window to the
character’s soul. The truth is always portrayed in the author’s mirrors;
thus, his introspective devices will continuously point out the flaws to whom
gazes in it. Hester’s “A” has now become the most noticeable part of not
only her physical features, but her spiritual being. The reflection of Pearl
Prynne uncovers her hard shell and brings out the loneliness, the innocent
recklessness, and the wild beauty within her. Reverend Dimesdale’s image only
radiates the dark, gloomy truth of his impurities. The looking glass Nathaniel
Hawthorne places in front of his characters, therefore, focuses on the realms
that each beholder attempts to hide from the world around them. In chapter two
while Hester is standing on the scaffold, she tries to run from reality by
reminiscing of her youth. At that moment, “she saw her own face, glowing with
girlish beauty, and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which
she had been wont to gaze at it.” Sadly, the mirror will never again give
Hester that immaculate reflection. Instead, the image will always resemble that
of the breastplate at the governor’s mansion in chapter seven, “owing to the
peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in
exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent
feature to her appearance.” Ironically, the two symbols of her sin and
suffering, the scarlet letter and Pearl, are now the most significant elements
of her life. Hester is no longer looked at as a woman in society, and in the
mirror, “she seemed absolutely hidden behind it (the scarlet letter).” As
for her child, “that look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the
mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne
feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was
seeking to mold itself into Pearl’s shape.” Pearl’s mischievous looks are
magnified in the mirroring surface to remind Hester that her child is in fact a
part of the punishment of her sin. “Once this freakish, elvish cast came into
the child’s eyes while Hester was looking at her own image in them. . . . she
fancied that she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but another face, in
the small black mirror of Pearl’s eye. It was a face, fiendlike, full of
smiling malice, yet bearing the resemblance of features that she had known full
well, through seldom with a smile, and never with malice in them.” This is
another indicator in chapter six that Pearl’s presence does in fact haunt
Hester. It also speaks the truth that Roger Chillingworth is not the same man he
once was, and Hester will continue to be haunted by him also. Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s use of mirrors plays a crucial part in portraying the hidden side
of Pearl Prynne. Though Pearl has a reputation to be “of witchcraft” and
gives the reader an impression of being a “brat”, the child has a very
fragile and endearing soul that wanders on the other side of the mirroring
surface. In chapter fourteen by the ocean, Pearl “came to a full stop, and
peeped curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to
see her face in. Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark glistening
curls around her head and an elf-smile in her eyes, the image of a little maid,
whom Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take her hand and run a race
with her.” The reflecting pool portrays Pearl as an innocent and beautiful
child who is very lonely. That is very understandable, for Pearl is not like the
other children; her only two friends are nature and her mother, Hester. In
chapter fifteen, Pearl “flirted fancifully with her own image in a pool of
water, beckoning the phantom forth, and--as it declined venture--seeking a
passage for herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky.
Soon finding however, that either she or the image was unreal, she turned
elsewhere for better pastime.” Pearl’s reflection is very real, and chapter
sixteen smoothly continues this concept through another body of water--the brook
in the forest. “Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life
gushed from. . . . like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy
without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and
events of somber hue.” As interpreted through the description of the brook,
Pearl lacked many simple encumbrances growing up, and therefore, lacks sympathy
and emotions that numerous individuals take for granted. In chapter nineteen,
Pearl’s alliance to nature is clearly shown as “the brook chanced to form a
pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little
figure, with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment
of flowers and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the
reality.” Nathaniel Hawthorne was wise to use the forest brook in relation to
Pearl, for she is untamed like the forest. Branching from that wild gift within
Pearl, the wrath she is compelled to carry is also lustered through the brook
that flows beneath her. “Seen in the brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath
of Pearl’s image, crowned and girdled with flowers, but stamping its foot,
wildly gesticulating, and, in the midst of it all, still pointing its small
forefinger at Hester’s bosom!” The speculum reveals the hard truth that
Pearl is a part of the scarlet letter, and that she feels emotionally
nonexistent when she realizes her mother had abandoned the emblem on the ground.
The weak mortality of Reverend Dimesdale is also depicted by Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s exercise of mirrors throughout the novel. In chapter eleven,
Arthur is desperate to flush away his sins and absorb righteousness back into
his soul. “He kept vigils, likewise, night after night. . . . sometimes,
viewing his own face in a looking glass, by the most powerful light which he
could throw upon it.” Unfortunately, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s mirrors show no
mercy. “He thus typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but
could not purify, himself.” Little does Arthur know that the looking glass is
only functions as a tool to represent truth, and in actuality, the reverend is
not acquitted of his sins. The very limited light that shines onto the looking
glass is used to burn deep into the minister’s soul, grasp the shameful secret
he hides within his heart, and shine the consequences back in his face over and
over again. “In these lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled and visions
seemed to flit before him perhaps seen doubtfully, and by a faint light of their
own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more vividly, and close beside
him, within the looking glass.” Reverend Dimesdale tried to overcome these
ghastly images, but he couldn’t fight the fact “that they were, in one
sense, the truest and most substantial things which the poor minister now dealt
with.” The looking glass frankly reveals that Reverend Dimesdale’s existence
now relies on “the anguish in his inmost soul.” Within The Scarlet Letter,
Nathaniel Hawthorne analyzes his main characters’ distinctions through his use
of mirrors. By using this device of imagery, the reader of the novel can easily
grasp Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dark opinions of the world, man, society and their
relationships to each other. Most importantly, the author wants to exhibit to
the reader the close relationship between good and evil, and the importance in
telling the truth under all circumstances. Nathaniel Hawthorne has done a
wonderful job in this piece of literature by referring to mirrors as a tool to
dig into the “truth of the human heart.”
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