Nature in The Scarlet Letter

Question: Discuss the Nature in The Scarlet Letter


In the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century, Romanticism was a very popular literary style that was adopted by many novelists. Nature, a prominent element of Romanticism, is used in the writings of these writers, not only for descriptions and illustrations but also to emphasize the main ideas. A talented writer influenced by Romanticism was Nathaniel Hawthorne (July 4, 1804 – May 19, 1864), author of The Scarlet Letter. In “The Scarlet Letter”, Hawthorne uses nature as a romantic source to critique Puritan life: the rigidity of its society, the unjust laws of Puritan theology, and the corruption of Puritan humanity.

The romantic approach for social criticism

Hawthorne uses a strong romantic approach to nature to emphasize the harshness and lack of empathy of the Puritans. In the first chapter, for example, Hawthorne describes the city as the black flower of civilized society. In this paragraph, he uses a flower, an element of nature, as a symbol of the despair of the prison city. He further emphasizes this symbolism by describing the prison plot as overgrown by burdock, pigweed, apple-Peru, and such unsightly plants. Presenting prisons and scaffolds as a dark place of punishment, Hawthorne foretells immoral events that will soon occur.

The symbolic significance of the rose bush

The use of nature as a prison symbol also establishes a dark environment that sets the scene by scaffold, the place of punishment. During this scene, the women show a curious interest in what can be expected of some punitive punishment. Presumably, moral Puritans have been portrayed as “criminals” who have no sympathy for Hester. One woman even claimed that they branded Hester’s forehead with the letter “A”. These women are portrayed as ruthless people whose religion emphasizes God’s wrath, not God’s love. Hawthorne contrasts the prison and the barracks, the evil symbol of Puritan society, with the “wild rose-bush” … which can be imagined as the prisoner enters to give her fragrance and fragile beauty … have mercy on the deepest heart of nature. And be kind to her. “The rose bush, a symbol of nature, is a completely pure element that has not been” stigmatized “by the harshness of Puritan society. Hawthorne has effectively used nature to criticize Puritan society by portraying it as a symbol. So, it is out and out transparent that Hawthorne purposefully uses these descriptions at the beginning of the novel to establish the mood. By contrasting nature with Puritan society, Hawthorne successfully criticized the Puritans.

Forest as a place of freedom

In “The Scarlet Letter”, the forest, a symbol of freedom, contrasts with the city for criticizing the cruel, strict laws of theology. The use of forests also emphasizes the romantic aspect of the novel. The forest is considered a place of evil, where black people live. However, Hawthorne has described the nature of the forest as a “wild, pagan nature … not subjugated by human law, not enlightened by higher truth.” Although the Puritans believe that a forest is an evil place, Hawthorne describes it as almost a sacred sanctuary that contrasts with the destructive and unforgiving city.

In addition, Hawthorne uses the love of Dimmesdale and Hester to portray the forest as a place of happiness and freedom. In the forest, Hester and Dimmesdale may be alone for the first time in seven years. The two lovers reunite, and Hester removes the scarlet letter and throws it away from his chest into the dried leaves.” Hester removes the red letter from his chest, denying the city and Puritan beliefs. He can only do it in the forest, a place free from borders and laws. Again, Hawthorne uses the forest in contrast to the strict Puritan society.

The blessing of the sunshine

This contrast is further clarified during the scene where Pearl indicates that the sunlight of the forest does not love Hester. It escapes and hides because it fears something in Hester’s chest. The red letter symbolizes the law of the city, and therefore the destruction of the Puritans. The sunlight of the forest, an element of nature, avoids Hester because of this letter but Hester removes the letter from her chest and fills the forest with light. The sunlight of the forest is shown as a symbol of happiness and holiness, where the sunlight only shines on the good. Puritans believe that their city is a holy village and a forest is a place of evil and sin. However, Hawthorne sees the forest as a place of purity, freedom, and happiness. Through the forest, he exploits the ignorance of the Puritans, again criticizing the Puritan society through the use of nature.

Nature accompanies the innocent

Hawthorne’s ultimate critique of Puritanism using nature exposes the corruption of Puritan society. Hawthorne reveals that the Puritan view of Pearl is unfair. The city’s Puritans hate Pearl and consider her an “idol of evil” because she is a “symbol and product of sin, committed by Hester and Dimmesdale. Yet, Hawthorne uses nature to transform Pearl into a sacred figure. During the Sunshine episode, Pearl says that Hester is not adored by sunlight, but Pearl “actually catches the sunlight, and stands smiling in the middle of it. This episode focuses that sunlight only goes from the polluted; It does not run from Pearl, a completely pure child. This incident contradicts Pearl’s Puritan view as a wicked child who is nothing more than a product of sin. Hawthorne criticizes the corruption of Puritan humanity by attacking the unjust attitude of the Puritans towards Pearl.


Now, it can be determined that through the romantic vision of nature Hawthorne has been eligible to focus on the fanaticism, corruption, and so-called religious attitude of the erstwhile puritan society. And above all, by using nature in such a way, Hawthorne is wants to say that purity of nature can’t be blamed.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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