Thematic Analysis
Nathaniel Hawthorne


Thematic Analysis

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter, the author uses many themes to develop the story. These include: good vs. evil, redemption, loyalty and many recurrent symbols and motifs.

           One of the many themes in the novel is good vs. evil. The ‘good’ in the novel is Hester Prynne, her daughter Pearl, and Reverend Dimmesdale, Hester’s lover and the father of her child. They are perceived as good in the story because the above people committed the crime that conceived their child through love, not trying to hurt or seek vengeance on anyone. They are the protagonists. The antagonists in the story are the towns people who put Hester in jail and tried to take Pearl from her. Also another evil person in the story is Hester’s ex-husband  Chillingworth. He tried to kill Dimmesdale and swore Hester to secrecy regarding his real identity when he was ruining Dimmesdale’s life. In theses ways, the theme of good vs. evil is one that influences Hawthorne’s entire novel, as every character’s life has been touched by actions that prove either good or evil.

Another theme in the novel is redemption. Redemption is a theme because of the revenge that Chillingworth tries to gain on his ex-wife, Hester Prynne, who was jailed for adultery and have the Reverends child. Chillingworth figures out the connection between Prynne and Dimmesdale and does all he can to corrupt the life of the reverend. In the process, however, he ends up ironically contributing to his own destruction.

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Another theme in contrast to redemption is loyalty. Loyalty plays a big role in the story. Dimmesdale is loyal to himself and his new love. He wants to reveal himself, but under the authority of Hester he does not causing him to become physically and emotionally ill with guilt. He is loyal to his new family by never revealing his identity to the community in fear of condemning himself and the ones he love.


In the novel, Hawthorne also expertly uses many symbols to develop the story. One example of a symbol used include the scarlet ‘A’ that Hester is forced to wear on her breast for eternity as punishment for committing adultery. Another symbol that the author used is the town scaffold. The scaffold represents a meeting place for the family, a place where they can finally all be together even if, in private, serves as the place where Dimmesdale dies. It also the place where they saw another symbol; the comet. While the family was atop the scaffold, a comet with a red tail creates red ‘A’ in the sky, symbolizing and duplicating the scarlet ‘A’ on the breast of her clothes.


There are many other themes in the novel, but the above mentioned are among those that prove most important: good vs. evil, loyalty and redemption, and the symbols: the scaffold the ‘A’ and the comet.