This attention-grabbing device was the juxtaposition of light and dark images surrounding descriptions of Hester Prynne (the main character). For example, on page 65 when the author first describes the woman, He calls her hair “dark and abundant”, yet “so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam”. Thus, connecting a dark and a light, confusing the reader to whether she is being described as good or evil. Later the author tells the reader that those who previously knew Prynne “had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud;” instead, “her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune.” Once again Hawthorne first hints to the audience that there is darkness about this woman, but then changes the perspective and describes her as illuminating. Hester Prynne, even though shown as a criminal at the beginning of the story, seems to be foreshadowed as a protagonist because of the light images that outshine the dark images. I predict that the juxtaposition of light and dark symbolizes the turn around of Hester Prynne into a “good” citizen, rather than seen as a disgrace.
Light and darkness, sunshine and shadows, noon and midnight, are all manifestations of the same images. Likewise, colors play a role in the symbolic nature of the background and scenery. But, similar to the characters, the context determines what role the light or colors play. The Scarlet Letter‘s first chapter ends with an admonition to “relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow” with “some sweet moral blossom.” These opposites are found throughout the novel and often set the tone and define which side of good and evil envelop the characters.
In Chapter 16, Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest with a “gray expanse of cloud” and a narrow path hemmed in by the black and dense forest. The feelings of the lovers, weighed down by guilt, are reflected in the darkness of nature. Every so often, sunshine flickers on the setting. But Pearl reminds her mother that the sun will not shine on the sinful Hester; it does shine, however, when Hester passionately lets down her hair. The sun is the symbol of untroubled, guilt-free happiness, or perhaps the approval of God and nature. It also seems to be, at times, the light of truth and grace.
Darkness is always associated with Chillingworth. It is also part of the description of the jail in Chapter 1, the scene of sin and punishment. The Puritans in that scene wear gray hats, and the darkness of the jail is relieved by the sunshine of the outside. When Hester comes into the sunshine from the darkness, she must squint at the light of day, and her iniquity is placed for all to see. Noon is the time of Dimmesdale’s confession, and daylight is the symbol of exposure. Nighttime, however, is the symbol of concealment, and Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold at midnight, concealing his confession from the community. In the end, even the grave of Dimmesdale and Hester is in darkness. “So sombre is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow . . .” The light, of course, is the scarlet letter, shining out of the darkness of the Puritanic gloom.
Many texts use contrasting places (for example, two countries, two cities or towns, two houses, or the land and the sea) to represent opposed forces or ideas that are central to the meaning of the work. Discuss one text we’ve read this semester that contrasts two such places and explain how the places differ, what each place represents, and how their contrast contributes to the meaning of the work.
In Nathaniel Hawthorn’s novel,The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses light to portray the exposure and vulnerability of Hester and Dimmesdale, while darkness provides them with shelter from the outside world and Puritan society but also consumes their souls, especially Dimmesdale’s, in guilt and remorse.Nathaniel Hawthorne has been known to be an amazing writer when it comes to his quality of the use of language and his interesting ways to write sentences and portray many things. One of his most famous novels is The Scarlet Letter. In this novel he uses many literary techniques to get his point across and sometimes leaves the reader questioning why he does many things. One recurring technique he uses is the effects of light and darkness on the novel’s main characters. Hawthorne uses light to portray the exposure and vulnerability of Hester and Dimmesdale, while darkness provides them with shelter from the outside world and Puritan society but also consumes their souls, especially Dimmesdale’s, in guilt and remorse.
In the novel Hester and Dimmesdale take refuge in the light of day but at the same time it exposes them to
Sunshine is used symbolically as well. In the beginning, “…it seemed, to her sick and morbid heart, meant for no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet letter on her breast.” (71) When Hester and Pearl go walking in the forest Pearl is able to dance and play in the sunshine but Hester is not. Pearl tells her mother, “The sunshine does not love you because it is afraid of something on your bosom. It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” (160) When Hester tries to reach out and “catch” some of the sunlight it vanishes from her grasp. Sunshine would seem, at the first, to serve no other purpose than to highlight truth. This is most evident when Hester steps out of prison with Pearl in her arms and Pearl blinks in the sunlight and tries to hide from it. The sunlight is highlighting the truth of Hester’s sin, her daughter. When the sunlight runs from Hester, it is a symbol of her being unable to admit the full truth of her situation. Later, Hester and Dimmesdale are sitting together and admit, together, what happened between them and their true feelings for each other. Upon this admission, sunshine floods the area. (177) Finally, sunshine can reach Hester and shine because she is truthful, not only to Pearl and Dimmesdale, but to herself. When Dimmesdale stands on the platform at night with Hester and Pearl it is the lack of sunlight, truth, which allows him to do so. It is interesting to see sunlight, a natural occurrence, used in such a powerful manner.
The forest is also a symbolic place. Because it is cut off from the rest of society and Puritan law, the forest is a place where witches gather to meet the Devil. Even while Hester and Pearl walk, Hester reminds her daughter to stay close to the brook, a symbol of God. The lack of sunshine is reminiscent of the lack of truth that is found in such a place. Hawthorne chooses to use this dark and mysterious place as a sort of sanctuary for Hester and Dimmesdale. It is this place that they choose to be honest about their true feelings; they feel that they can be honest in a place that is so removed from the rest of the world. This is the place where Hester feels that she can truly be herself. She lets down her hair, literally, and throws off the scarlet letter, a confine of society. These characters transform a place of sin and darkness into a place of truth and light. It is only when they are honest that sunshine pours into the area, making it light up.
It is not by chance that the interplay of light and dark is most conspicuously seen where the tension of the work becomes highest: the second scaffold scene of Dimmesdale’s night vigil and the forest scene of lover’s rendezvous. The meaning of the light of a meteor gleaming wide over the dark sky upon the scaffold and of the sunshine bursting forth into the obscure forest is to be considered.
Impatient of anguish, Dimmesdale comes to the scaffold and summons there Hester and Pearl, who are returning homeward from the deathbed of Mr. Winthrop. Thus he stands on the scaffold where he should have stood seven years ago as a partner of Hester’s sin of adultery and as a father of Pearl, their child. Just then, a light of one of meteors lights up the sky: “They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor, as if it were the light thatis to reveal all secrets” (I, 154). When the clergyman reveals his sin, it is no more dark. Light is emblematic of revelation of sin while dark, concealment. But it is a false and unnatural noon, because it is a private drama, a mockery of penitence. The pastor’s revelation and confession here does not meet Hawthorne’s defence of the Puritan public confession. He shrinks from Pearl’s request to stand thus together in the broad light of the following noon. We must wait his public confession in the broad light of sunshine until the last scene.
Finally Hawthorne’s use of chiaroscuro throughout the novel serves not only as a way to exemplify the characters and conflicts, but also helps to express details and perspectives about events and themes presented in the novel. Chiaroscuro The Scarlet Letter: A technique in which the contrast between light and dark is used to highlight certain elements of a piece of artistic work. Chiaroscuro in The Scarlet Letter Light versus dark is a major theme of the novel, used to comment on the nature of an individual’s sin or the overall nature of sin. Chiaroscuro in The Scarlet Letter continued… Chiaroscuro is used to show the symbolism behind scenes that take place during the daytime/in the light and scenes during nighttime/in the dark. Chiaroscuro in The Scarlet Letter continued… The opposing nature of light and dark is also used to illustrate conflicts between certain characters. Chiaroscuro in The Scarlet Letter continued… The use of chiaroscuro during the scene where Hester and Pearl go to the Governor’s house to convince him to let Pearl stay with Hester shows the reader that sin is everywhere with the little bits of light reflecting glass in the stucco front of the governors mansion. The beautiful shards of light represent natural behaviors and sin, and their position on the front of a puritan’s mansion represent sin found in unexpected places. Also, pearl is draw to the light which shows her natural inclination towards sin, while Hester says that she has none to give to pearl because she has repressed all her natural instincts because of the scarlet letter. Hawthorne’s use of light and dark Examples “A Chiaroscuro story finds the beauty in the vulgar. It speaks of dark things in beautiful ways. It takes a moment to notice the fireflies merrily dancing within the savage wood. It is a harbinger of the apocalypse who sings of your death with such a lilting voice that you find yourself overcome with joy in the final moments of agonizing death.“ -Christopher Frost, “The Secret Of Chiaroscuro“ Example: Examples: Chillingworth and Dimmesdale are foils in that one is on the path to salvation that ends with his confessions (scaffold scene) and the other is damning himself by trying to find the sin in the other-shown in the passage where he turns into a devil with blue fire in his eyes because of “mining” for Dimmesdale’s sin. Dimmesdale helps others to repent and forgives their sins-which they confess to him frequently, while Chillingworth has to dig deep to find Dimmesdale’s sin and has no intention of forgiving him. Here, Chillingworth is the dark character and Dimmesdale is the light. This contrast shows the reader that giving into natural instinct as Dimmesdale did is not a sin when compared to Chillingworth’s search for a sin with no intent to forgive. Examples: The use of light in the first and second scaffold scenes shows the difference between Dimmesdale’s secrecy and his confession. The second scaffold scene takes place in the dead of night, where Dimmesdale can freely admit to his sin and still keep it a secret because night is a time of secrecy. the final scaffold scene takes place in the day, and the light reveals his sin to everyone. The darkness carries a negative connotation, which helps the reader to see that his secrecy was destroying him and the comet’s letter A revealed that Chillingworth was in on the secrecy. The daylight, which has a good connotation, reveals him and therefore purges the sin from him-which helps him to escape Chillingworth’s clutches. The Scarlet Letter contrasting with the “sad-colored” puritans (pg.40)
– Sin symbolized by the scarlet letter is beautiful and an expression of natural instincts, while the pure puritans are dull and repressed-showing the reader that sin-or at least what Hester did, is natural and beautiful and the puritans fear and abhorrence of beauty is just their fear of what’s natural. Example: The scene where Hester release the physical and metaphorical clamp of the Scarlet Letter (ch. 17)
– here Hawthorne uses chiaroscuro to express the theme of “nature as evil” throughout the novel. Before, when Hester is suppressed by the wearing of the scarlet letter, the forest is dull, and dark with just a small “sad” stream flowing. It can be seen that the scarlet letter prohibited Hester from falling to natural depravity. Yet, when she finally releases the scarlet Letter, the forest begins to brighten up-literally. The clouds spread and the sun begins to shine as if nature is supporting her in giving in to her natural instincts. Yet, through Hawthorn’s tone and description of the forest and Hester as happier, it can be assumed that the reader is meant to see this display of giving into nature as natural and good.. During the same scene Mistress Hibbins represents an example of sin found in an unexpected place because of her frequent conferences with the “black man” and her relationship with the governor, is shown “thrusting” (p.88) her face into the sunlight. From this description the reader can infer that her sin of dealing with the devil is not natural, as represented by the sunlight, but she pretends it to be. Pearl saves Hester from this-so Chiascuro is used to show that meeting the black man is the wrong path and that Pearl is an agent of her mother’s salvation by keeping her on the right track.
“She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquaintance only with the grey twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison.””The door of the jail being flung open from within there appeared, in the first place, like a black shadow emerging into sunshine, the grim and gristly presence of the town-beadle, with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand.””Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped.”
“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.”
“Such an interview, perhaps, would have been more terrible than even to meet him as she now did, with the hot mid-day sun burning down upon her face, and lighting up its shame.”
The use of light to symbolize sin and evil is evident in The Scarlet Letter. From the beginning, the scarlet letter is described as “[…] that Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom”(Hawthorne 37). If the traditional meaning of light were to be applied, as a reader would be inclined to do, the scarlet letter would, instead of a symbolizing sin and evil, be a symbol of good and truth. Progression through the novel reveals that the scarlet letter is in fact evil and light a symbol of sin and evil. Hester Prynne is also described with hair “[…] so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam […]”(37). Yet this is the Hester that the reader has just been introduced to, the Hester that has committed adultery and is being punished. Pearl, moreover, is described as “[…] the very brightest little jet of flame that ever danced upon this earth”(69). Pearl, who is the symbol of Hester’s sin. Pearl, who is the scarlet letter in another form. Pearl, who makes Hester put back on the scarlet letter after she takes it off. This is an evil Pearl, made from sin, cloaked in the adjective of light, which in actuality is evil. Light is plainly evil in this description of Chillingworth: “Sometimes, a light glimmered out of the physician’s eyes, burning blue and ominous, like the reflection of a furnace, or, let us say, like one of those gleams of ghastly fire that darted from Bunyan’s awful door-way in the hillside […]”(88). However, if light symbolizes evil, then what connotation does dark hold?
Dark, usually the symbol of evil and sin, is used as a symbol of good and truth. Minister Dimmesdale, by his name, should be evil. However, Hawthorne reveals that although Dimmesdale sinned, he is good, and compares him to “[…]the dimmest of all shadows”(Hawthorne 98). Minister John Wilson, a thoroughly good character, stands before Hester “with a border of grizzled locks beneath his skull cap; while his gray eyes, accustomed to the shaded light of his study, were winking, like those of Hester’s infant, in the unadulterated sunshine.” (45) The narrator says of Hester Prynne that “It was only the darkened house that could contain her.”(111) Hester has been tamed, not by sin and evil, but by good and truth. Thus dark must symbolize good for this reference to make sense. Dimmesdale is described with a glow “[…] which they had just beheld burning on his cheek, was extinguished, like a flame that sinks down hopelessly among the late decaying embers”(171). Yet this is when Dimmesdale is about to confess his adultery and take ownership of Pearl, both of which are good. Hawthorne has made dark symbolic of good and truth in The Scarlet Letter, yet even with different connotations, light and dark still remain firm opposites.