In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, life is centered
around a rigid Puritan society in which one is unable to divulge his
or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Every human being needs the
opportunity to express how he or she truly feels, otherwise the
emotions are bottled up until they become volatile. Unfortunately,
Puritan society did not permit this kind of expression, thus
characters had to seek alternate means to relieve their personal
anguishes and desires. Luckily, at least for the four main characters,
Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious
forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a kind of “shelter” for
members of society in need of a refuge from daily Puritan life.

In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the pivotal
characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest track
leads away from the settlement out into the wilderness where all signs
of civilization vanish. This is precisely the escape route from strict
mandates of law and religion, to a refuge where men, as well as women,
can open up and be themselves. It is here that Dimmesdale openly
acknowledges Hester and his undying love for her. It is also here that
Hester can do the same for Dimmesdale. Finally, it is here that the
two of them can openly engage in conversation without being
preoccupied with the constraints that Puritan society places on them.
The forest itself is the very embodiment of freedom. Nobody
watches in the woods to report misbehavior, thus it is here that
people may do as they wish. To independent spirits such as Hester
Prynne’s, the wilderness beckons her: Throw off the shackles of law
and religion. What good have they done you anyway? Look at you, a
young and vibrant woman, grown old before your time. And no wonder,
hemmed in, as you are, on every side by prohibitions. Why, you can
hardly walk without tripping over one commandment or another. Come to
me, and be masterless. (p.186)
Truly, Hester takes advantage of this, when Arthur Dimmesdale
appears. She openly talks with Dimmesdale about subjects which would
never be mentioned in any place other than the forest. “What we
did…” she reminds him, “had a consecration of its own. We felt it
so! We said to each other!” This statement shocks Dimmesdale and he
tells Hester to hush, but he eventually realizes that he is in an
environment where he can openly express his emotions. The thought of
Hester and Dimmesdale having an intimate conversation in the confines
of the society in which they live is incomprehensible. Yet here, in
the forest, they can throw away all reluctance and finally be
themselves under the umbrella of security which exists.
In Puritan society, self reliance is stressed among many other
things. However, self reliance is more than stressed- it is assumed.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

It is assumed that you need only yourself, and therefore should have
no emotional necessity for a “shoulder to cry on”. Once again, for
people in the stations of life which Hester and Dimmesdale hold, it
would be unthinkable for them to comfort each other. Yet, in the
forest, these cares are tossed away. “Be thou strong for me,”
Dimmesdale pleads. “Advise me what to do.” (p. 187) This is a cry for
help from Dimmesdale, finally admitting he cannot go through this
ordeal by himself. With this plea comes an interesting sort of
role-reversal. When Dimmesdale asks for help, he is no longer
sustaining the belief that he is above Hester. He is finally admitting
that she is an equal, or even that she is above him. This is possibly
one of the reasons that Puritans won’t accept these emotional
displays- because the society is so socially oriented. Hester,
assuming a new position of power, gives a heartfelt, moving speech.
The eloquence of her words cannot be overemphasized, and a more
powerful statement had yet to be made in the book. Hester’s speech
turns out to bear a remarkable resemblance to one of Dimmesdale’s
sermons. “Begin all anew! … Preach! Write! Act!”(p. 188) The
questions she asks are also like the articulate questions which
Dimmesdale would pose during his sermons. The answer is obvious, yet
upon closer examination they seem to give unexpected results. “Whither
leads yonder forest-track? Backward to the settlement, thou sayest!
Yea; but onward, too! Deeper it goes, and deeper into the
wilderness… until, some few miles hence, the yellow leave will show
no vestige of the white man’s tread.” (p. 187) If one looks at the
title of this chapter, the meaning becomes much clearer. “The
Pastor and His Parishioner” reveals that the roles are now reversed.
Where else could an incongruity such as this occur, but in
an accepting environment? What other platform is there for a man of
high regard in the community to pour his soul to a woman who is
shunned by the public for a grave sin? Nowhere else but in the forest,
could such an event occur.

Finally, the forest brings out the natural appearance and
natural personality of the people who use it correctly. When Hester
takes off her cap and unloosens her hair, we see a new person. We see
the real Hester, who has been hidden this whole time under a shield of
shame. Her eyes grow radiant and a flush comes to her cheek. We
recognize her as the Hester from Chapter 1. The beautiful, attractive
person who is not afraid to show her hair and not afraid to display
her beauty. The sunlight, which previously shunned Hester, now seeks
her out, and the forest seems to glow. Dimmesdale has also come back
to life, if only for a short time, and he is now hopeful and
energetic. We have not seen this from Dimmesdale for a long time, and
most likely will not see it ever again.
Puritan society can be harsh and crippling to one’s inner self.
Hawthorne created the forest to give the characters a place to
escape and express their true thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. It was
here that thoughts and ideas flowed as endlessly as the babbling
brook, and emotion was as wild as the forest itself. There are no
restraints in the natural world, because it is just that, natural. No
intrusion from people means no disturbance in the natural order, and
therefore serves to bring its inhabitants away from their world, and
into this older one. I believe Michel Eyquem de Montaigne stated it
most emphatically when he said “Let us permit nature to have her way:
she understands her business better than we do”.

Author

By: Greg Cober
Greg Cober 10/26/98 English P. 4 Scarlet Letter In Hawthornes, The Scarlet Letter, life evolves around a rigid and harsh Puritan view. In this society people are not free to express themselves as well as they are today. This is very sad because it is a necessity for humans to be able to express their deepest thoughts and desires. Unfortunately the Puritan society did not permit this so people had to find other ways to satisfy their needs. For two of these characters the satisfying of their urges condemn their fate in life. Hester and Dimmesdale, a reverend, have an affair, which costs Hester life, as she knew it. The only place where these two people were free was in the confinements of the forest. As much as freedom and confinement is a paradox it makes perfect sense. You will gain the freedom of expression in the confinement of that expression. The forest was the only place this could be accomplished. The forest was Hester and Dimmesdales sanctuary throughout the novel because they could freely communicate their love, their sin, and their future plans. Being able to confess to someone a sin you have committed is one of the finest feelings. The forest provided that ability to Hester and Dimmesdale. At one point Hester comes right out and brings up the committed sin. What we did had a consecration of its own. We felt it so! (pg. 179) When Dimmesdale first hears this bold statement he is somewhat distraught and tells Hester to Hush! and then he realizes the freedom they have. May God forgive us both! We are notthe worst sinners in the world. (pg. 179) There is no way that Dimmesdale would have become this bold if he were in spectacle of the Puritan society. Once again a warm blanket that the forest lay upon Hester and Dimmesdale. It is apparent that there is a mutual love between Hester and Dimmesdale. Although there are very few quotes which will directly state this fact there are many that will allude to this obvious fact. At one point Hester begs for Dimmesdales forgiveness and he grants it to her. I dont think he grants it to her because of his religious beliefs but because he loves Hester. I also dont believe that Hester would be so worried about Dimmesdales forgiveness if she did not love him. Though shalt forgive me! Though shalt forgive Will though yet forgive me? (Hester) I freely forgive thee. (Dimmesdale) (pg. 179) This is evidently love. Of course there is no possible way that these young people could confess their love in public, they will barely allude to it in private. It is quite clear that the two lovers can express their future plans in the confinement of the forest. The ultimate plan is for the two characters to up and leave the town of Boston. Let us not look back. The past is gone! Wherefore should we linger upon it now! (pg. 185) This is a clear example of how free the two are to talk about their future plans to leave. In no other section of Boston would either of the two dared to speak about such a thing. She had not known the weight, until she felt the freedom. (pg. 185) Concise statement which states quite clearly that just talking about their future plans made them feel many times more free than before, a luxury only available in the forest. The forest was Hester and Dimmesdales sanctuary throughout the novel because they could freely communicate their love, their sin, and their future plans. If these characters did not have the forest the outcome of the story would have been completely different and the entire plot would be deviant from the intended. Isnt it weird that something as wild as the forest can, through confinements of society, become a comforting, tranquil shelter?
Bibliography
None neccesary other than the book, The Scarlet Letter
Word Count: 650

Author