The Scarlet Letter’s Scaffold

Mrs. Shirk

American Literature: The Scarlet Letter Final Essay

            Nathaniel Hawthorne has the central characters of The Scarlet Letter revisit the town’s scaffold at three critical points of the story. Each of the scaffold scenes are vividly painted by Hawthorne. One is in chapters two through three, where Hester’s sin is made public, the next is in chapter twelve, where Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale stand upon the scaffold at midnight, and the last is in chapter twenty-three, where Dimmesdale stands upon the scaffold with Hester and Pearl at mid-day and confesses his sin and dies. Each scaffold scene is symbolic of something different, portray different interactions between characters, and has different purposes and outcomes.

            In the first scaffold scene of chapters two through three, Hester’s forced confession upon the scaffold symbolizes performance-based church discipline, conveys the first interactions between Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and Hester, and it’s purpose and outcome is to present the three main character’s initial reactions of guilt, pride, and acceptance of this sin. Hester’s forced confession symbolizes performance-based church discipline, because no grace is allowed for the repentant Hester, and her sin is forced to be revealed as punishment for her sin. Concerning interactions, Hester sees Chillingworth in the crowd and he sees her upon the scaffold; their initial interaction is full of wonder and shame, also Dimmesdale is tender with Hester, revealing his feelings of sympathy for her. Hester accepts her own sin without guilt because it is confessed to the people, so she has nothing to hide. Dimmesdale’s guilt begins to rise from this point on, as he knows he should confess his sin, but cannot bring himself to it. Chillingworth’s pride begins to consume himself from this first scaffold scene onwards, because he thinks himself better than Dimmesdale and his unfaithful Hester.

            In the second scaffold scene, painted in chapter twelve, Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold at midnight with Hester and Pearl. This scene symbolizes guilty people’s desire to confess, conveys Dimmesdale and Hester’s feelings about each other, closely introducing Pearl to the minister, and it’s purpose and outcome is to reveal each character’s desire about what should be done with this sin. This scene symbolizes the desire of the guilty to confess, as shown by Dimmesdale’s want for being on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl not to be done not at twelve AM, but rather at twelve PM, so that he can be freed of his guilt, but he cannot bring himself to it, for he is afraid of hurting his reputation. This is one of the first scenes that displays Dimmesdale’s remaining feelings of affection for Hester and Pearl. Dimmesdale tells Hester that he wants to confess during the light of the day, and tells Pearl they will be together at some point in the future, but at this point in the story he still cannot quite bring himself to do it.

            The final scaffold scene, revealed in chapter twenty-three, holds Dimmesdale’s final confession upon the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, which symbolizes righteousness, portrays a releasing interaction between Dimmesdale, Hester, Pearl, Chillingworth, and the townspeople, and it’s purpose and outcome is to free a person bound by guilt, bring respect to Hester, free Pearl from oddity, and boil Chillingworth in his pride. Dimmesdale’s confession to the people symbolizes true righteousness, which is opposed with the facade of righteousness put on by many pastors who do not confess their guilty sins. This interaction between Dimmesdale and everyone else releases himself from his pride, releases Hester from being looked down on by the townspeople, and releases Pearl to be a normal child. As for Chillingworth, Dimmesdale’s confession in the third scene upon the scaffold ruins him, as he no longer has anyone to take revenge on (which was born out of his pride).

            The first scaffold scene portrayed the onset of guilt, judgment, and pride. The second scaffold scene revealed the desires of Hester to be rid of judgment and of Dimmesdale to be rid of his guilt. The final scaffold scene releases key characters from these feelings, as Dimmesdale confesses and is finally freed of guilt, Hester gains respect of the townspeople through Dimmesdale’s confession and death, and Pearl from being odd and isolated. However, Dimmesdale’s confession did nothing to release Chillingworth from his pride, rather, Chillingworth shriveled away and died in response. In The Scarlet Letter, the beginning, middle, and end contain scenes portrayed upon the scaffold, each scene has symbolism, portrays interactions between the characters, and has various purposes and outcomes.