?In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, life iscentered around a rigid Puritan society in which one isunable to divulge his or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Every human being needs the opportunity to express how he orshe truly feels, otherwise the emotions are bottled up untilthey become volatile. Unfortunately, Puritan society did notpermit this kind of expression, thus characters had to seekalternate means to relieve their personal anguishes anddesires. Luckily, at least for the four main characters,Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of themysterious forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide akind of “shelter” for members of society in need of a refugefrom daily Puritan life.
In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of thepivotal characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest track leads away from the settlement out into thewilderness where all signs of civilization vanish. This isprecisely the escape route from strict mandates of law andreligion, to a refuge where men, as well as women, can openup and be themselves. It is here that Dimmesdale openly acknowledges Hester and his undying love for her. It is alsohere that Hester can do the same for Dimmesdale. Finally, itis here that the two of them can openly engage inconversation without being preoccupied with the constraintsthat Puritan society places on them.
To independent spiritssuch as Hester Prynne’s, the wilderness beckons her: Throwoff the shackles of law and religion. What good have theydone you anyway? Look at you, a young and vibrant woman,grown old before your time. And no wonder, hemmed in, as youare, on every side by prohibitions. Why, you can hardly walkwithout tripping over one commandment or another. Come tome, and be masterless. (p.
186) Truly, Hester takes advantage of this, when ArthurDimmesdale appears. She openly talks with him about subjectswhich would never be mentioned in the town. “What we did. .
. “she reminds him, “had a consecration of its own. We felt itso! We said to each other!” This statement shocks Dimmesdaleand he tells Hester to hush. Had they been in the town andoverheard, the minister would be put to death. Realizingthat, in the open environment of the forest, he can expresshis true emotions. Dimmesdale can say and do things heotherwise might not be able to.
The thought of Hester andDimmesdale having an intimate conversation in the confinesof the society in which they live is incomprehensible. Yethere, in the forest, they can throw away all reluctance andfinally be themselves under the umbrella of security whichexists. In Puritan society, self reliance is stressed amongmany other things. However, self reliance is more thanstressed- it is assumed.
It is assumed that you need onlyyourself, and therefore should have no emotional necessityfor a “shoulder to cry on”. Once again, for people in thestations of life which Hester and Dimmesdale hold, it would be unthinkable for them to comfort each other. Yet, inthe forest, these cares are tossed away. “Be thou strong forme,” Dimmesdale pleads. “Advise me what to do. ” (p.
187)This is a cry for help from Dimmesdale, finally admitting hecannot go through this ordeal by himself. With this pleacomes an interesting sort of role-reversal. When Dimmesdaleasks for help, he is no longer sustaining the belief that heis above Hester. He is finally admitting that she is anequal, or even that she is above him. This is possibly oneof 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 beoveremphasized, and a more powerful statement had yet to bemade in the book. Hester’s speech turns out to bear aremarkable resemblance to one of Dimmesdale’s sermons. “Begin all anew! . . . Preach! Write! Act!”(p.
188) Thequestions she asks are also like the articulate questionswhich Dimmesdale would pose during his sermons. The answeris obvious, yet upon closer examination they seem to giveunexpected 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 looksat the title of this chapter, the meaning becomes muchclearer. “The Pastor and His Parishioner” reveals