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The Themes of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter

The Themes of The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter is a romantic novel, mainly because it is a long, fictitious tale of heroes and extraordinary events. Unfolding over a seven year period, we are treated to the heroism of Hester Prynne and her adulterous beloved, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and the mysterious actions and behavior of their love child, Pearl, and the witch, Mistress Hibbins. The story is set against the background of Puritan, New England, a stern, authoritarian, colony founded by a group of religious reformers. Before the novel begins, Hester is guilty of an affair which produced Pearl while her husband was abroad. Her husband, Roger Chillingworth, comes to America just as Hester is being pilloried. He determines to remain in Boston in disguise in order to discover the man with whom she had the affair. Chillingworth soon uncovers the identity of Pearl’s father, the young and emotionally captivating pastor. He proceeds to torment Dimmesdale’s soul, eventually foiling the escape of the pastor, Hester, and Pearl. At the end of the novel, Hester and Dimmesdale mount the pillory with Pearl together, where he reveals that he, too, has a scarlet “A” etched on his chest from remorse. However, this act of public repentance allows him to be free of the Satanic clutches of Chillingworth. Pearl, too, a child that barely seems human to others in the novel, reclaims her humanity by giving her real father a kiss and crying for the first time in the story. There are two main themes at work in the novel. The first is the conflict between romanticism and religion. The second is the nature of sin, which the novel suggests is a guilty secret of all people. The novel also portrays the sin of Chillingworth …

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…in the novel come off less sympathetically than those who sin because they are human in the face of oppression.

In conclusion, we see that for Hawthorne there is sympathy and some kind of identification with imperfect beings oppressed by some arbitrary religious interpretation to be perfect. While Hester and Dimmesdale do, indeed, sin, it is only a sin in the eyes of others but an act of human love to them. In a world where no philosopher has ever absolutely defined the will of God, i.e. the divine truth, it is amusing to view this Puritan community so sure of its divine right to judge that it tramples the human heart to shreds in the process.


Gross, S., Bradley, S., Beatty, R. C., and Long, E. H. (eds.). The Scarlet Letter: An Authoritative Test, Essays in Criticism, and Scholarship. New York, W. W. Norton

Reality versus Illusion in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Reality versus Illusion in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

In his play, The American Dream, Edward Albee unveils a tortured family that is symbolic of the reality beneath the illusion of the American dream. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Albee takes a more traditional approach than the theater of the absurd, and his language is more natural, but he returns to this theme with a vengeance. For in all of drama there are few plays about domestic relationships that are as caustic, violent and as poisoned with the milk of human bitterness, cynicism and pessimism as is Woolf. The story regards George and Martha, a married couple (he a history professor and she the University President’s daughter). Verbally and emotionally George and Martha are as skilled at cutting each other without going for the final kill as much as a professional torturer trained to prolong his victim’s agony. Into this volley of abuse come Nick and Honey, a young couple who also share a vision of the “American dream,” but Albee portrays Nick as the victor in his battles with George because George is of the old school and Nick has already been indoctrinated into the new American culture of capitalism for its own sake.

The theme of the play, other than touching on the disillusionment of the American dream for the younger generation, and a robotic-like acceptance of the evolved “capitalized” version by the older generation, is that each of the characters in the play, like each of us in real life, are destined to struggle through our own personal hell, a struggle that we face alone “It becomes clear that each character is engaged in an isolated struggle through a personal hell” (Murphy 1113). The plot centers around George and Martha’s p…

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…e his themes in the play. Truth versus illusion, reality versus perception, and union versus inability to come together are the main themes the author chooses to highlight throughout the work. In the end, once all illusions have been stripped or peeled away, Martha and George have a chance to come together in an effort to save their marriage. As Martha says to end the play in response to George’s singing “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”; “I…am…George…I…am…” (Albee 242). Only from this point of truth can George and Martha hope to save their troubled marriage.


Albee, E. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. New York: Signet, 1962.

Carter, S. Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” The Explicator. Vol. 56. June 22, 1998, 215-218.

Murphy, B, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.

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