Scarlet Letter Character Anaylsis

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade August 2001

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People can communicate with body language while they speak to convey what they really mean but in books there is no physical body language to interpret. That is why it is essential for an author to choose every word carefully, so the reader can see the body language through his words. Nathaniel Hawthorne does this in The Scarlet Letter through his diction, images, details, language, and sentence structure.

The diction used in the selection of The Scarlet Letter changes for each character to evoke different emotions from the reader. Hawthorne uses positive diction whenever he describes Pearl and her actions. When Hawthorne describes Pearl as, "wild", "spontaneously", and "airily", the reader can clearly see her naivety and that she has no worries about societies' expectations. Then Hawthorne uses "softly" and "caress" to show that Pearl has a soft side and is not a demon child the reader might have thought.

Hawthorne then switches to the opposite side of the spectrum when speaking of Dimmesdale. Hawthorne uses words like "withdrawn" and "vehemence" to show Dimmesdale's feeling of being an outcast. It also reveals to the reader, Dimmesdale hatred toward himself for his sinful nature. Dimmesdale then "hesitated" while around Pearl, and the reader can see that he is worried about his public image. Hawthorne's use of diction clearly demonstrates some of Pearl and Dimmesdale's character traits to the reader but does not show them all.

Hawthorne's use of imagery gets the reader to actually see what is going on in the story and to understand the characters better. Dimmesdale is seen with darker imagery, his "face partially concealed; while the shadow of his figure which the sunlight cast upon the floor". This informs the reader that Dimmesdale is not a honorable person, and only putting on a facade to the community of being respectable. However, Pearl is always seen in the light because she is not corrupted by societies' standards. "Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf", provokes images in the reader of a young child at play without a care in the world. It also reiterates to the reader that Pearl is only a child and still does not have social stigmas. Hawthorne uses this cheerful image of Pearl to contrast with Dimmesdale to show his flaws and Pearl's purity.

Details are used to tell directly about a character and can be a window to his or her personality. The details about Dimmesdale are a representation of his character; he "had withdrawn a few steps from the group", shows the reader that Dimmesdale wants to be secluded from everyone and hints at his sinful side. Then the reader sees how he "kissed [Pearl's] brow", this contrasts with the readers first perception of him. It shows the reader that Dimmesdale has a gentle side and is not just another hypocrite. Details about Pearl show her natural affinity to Dimmesdale and no one else. She, "taking his hand" and "caress [it] so tender", shows she knows that he is her father and wants to be with him but she cannot. It also reveals that Pearl is intelligent and aware of many things the reader may have thought she did not really understand. Hawthorne uses details to make sure the reader recognizes major character traits, like Dimmesdale's compassion and Pearl's intelligence.

Hawthorne's language changes little through the book, so it is usually important when it does. The language for Dimmesdale is always long, well thought out words and is more scholarly. This stresses his high social status and being seen as an intellectual of the town. Pearl is a contrast to Dimmesdale, and it helps demonstrate how each other differ in societies' eyes. Hawthorne constantly uses shorter words to describe Pearl and her action, this emphasizes her not being formally educated and her relaxed attitude toward life. Pearl and Dimmesdale are complete opposite characters in social traits and Hawthorne stresses it in his writing.

Hawthorne's sentence structure is another way to tell about each character; therefore, there is a major difference between the sentence structures of each character. Hawthorne uses long and thought out sentences for Dimmesdale to show his extensive education and social upbringing. While sentences about Pearl are choppier to show the reader that she is different from everyone and people's fascination with her. She lacks the religious background and social morals that Dimmesdale has instilled in him so the author must show they are opposites in every way.

These literary elements help the reader to understand the tone, which he must get to comprehend the true meaning of the author's words. Hawthorne sees Dimmesdale as an evil person that he despises, but wants the reader to feel a little pity for him. The reader may feel pity for Dimmesdale but can see Hawthorne has an ominous tone because of his constant use of a gloomy mood around him. Hawthorne sees Pearl as the light in the story and always has an angelic tone toward her.