The Mysterious Forest
In Nathaniel Hawthorne s The Scarlet Letter, life is centered around a rigid Puritan society. In this society, people are not allowed to express their true thoughts and feelings. Every human being needs the opportunity to express how they truly feel; otherwise the emotions become bottled up until they begin to hurt the person. Unfortunately, the puritans were not allowed this type of expression. Luckily, at least for the four main characters, Hawthorne has created a forest to give them shelter. The forest offers a sanctuary from the harshness of Puritan life, symbolizes the character of Pearl and represents evil.
The forest offers a sanctuary from the harshness of everyday Puritan life. In the forest, many pivotal characters can bring forth hidden emotions and thoughts. The forest trail leads characters away from the Puritan settlement, and out into the dense and dark forest. This seems to be the only escape for the Puritans in the novel. This is the only place where the people can be free from Puritan law and code. It is here, in the forest that Dimmesdale can express his deep love for Hester and where she can do the same for him.
The forest is a place where freedom can be established. Here, nobody watches to report misbehavior, as they do in the settlement. Here, people may do as they wish. The forest seems to beg Hester, Throw off the shackles of law and religion, come to me and be matterless (Hawthorne 176). She takes advantage of the forest s offer when she meets up with Dimmesdale. She openly talks with Dimmesdale about subjects that would never be mentioned in any other place but the forest. As they sit on a moss bed, Hester tells Dimmesdale What we did Hester reminds him, Had a consecration of its own. We felt it so, we said that to each other (Hawthorne 186)! Shocked, Dimmesdale quickly hushes her, for this is the first time they have mentioned this issue. He eventually realizes that he is in a safe environment. Here in the forest they can throw away all of the laws and be themselves. The forest provides an umbrella of security for the main characters.
Throughout The Scarlet Letter, the forest symbolizes Pearl. Pearl and the forest go hand in hand. One of Pearls favorite activities is playing with the flowers and trees. The puritans believe that anything associated with the forest is evil, so Pearl must have has a little spark in her. Hawthorne says, And she was gentler here than in the grassy-margined streets of the settlement, or in her mothers cottage. The flowers appeared to know it (194). Pearl obviously fit in with natural things. Like the forest, Pearl is mysterious and wild.
The forest, being the mysterious place that it is, represents Pearl in the novel because she is not fully understood. It is difficult to tell why she does certain things, and what she is thinking when she does them. When strangers in the town spoke to Pearl, she would not answer them. Instead She gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance (Hawthorne 96).
Often times, Puritan children would gather around her, they were curious and wanted to interact with her. Instead of speaking to them, she would shout at them, She snatched up stones and flung them at the innocent children (Hawthorne 95). Hawthorne describes Pearl as almost witch-like, With shrill, incoherent exclamations that made her mother tremble because they had so much the sound of a witches anathema s in some unknown tongue (96). Nobody understood her or why she did such awful things.
Pearl was also wild like the forest, The child could not be made amenable to the rules (Hawthorne 93). She often threw flowers at her mothers A . In the forest, Pearl would run wild, she would swing in-between trees and lay in the tall grass. She had vigor and natural dexterity (Hawthorne 92). The Puritan society was not the place for pearl. They were not ready for such a radical at this time, and she was a radical! Pearl and the forest go together hand in hand because they are both mysterious and wild.
The forest itself also represents evil. The Puritans believe that the forest and anything associated with it are evil. This would mean that the Black man, Mistress Hibbins and the witches all evil in Puritan eyes.
Throughout the novel, there is a constant reference to the Black man, who is better known to us as the devil. While in the forest, Pearl asks Hester, Tell me a story a story about the black man (Hawthorne 177). Pearl goes on to inquire about the black man. Hester tells her that he is evil, that he lives in the forest, and that she has signed his book. She is again admitting to her sin. So, Pearl of all people, is in the forest, inquiring about the Black man, what a combination, evil, evil, evil! Mistress Hibbins can also be seen in the forest during her witches meetings. Mistress Hibbins asks Hester, will thou go with us tonight I well neigh promised the Black man (Hawthorne 116). Hester Prynne does not want to have anything to do with the evil, and tells her no. The forest is a deep dark place where evil and lawless people run wild. The Puritans reject Pearl, who is like the forest. They also reject the Black man who lives there and the witches, who meet there.
Puritan society can be harsh and can deteriorate one s inner self. Hawthorne created the forest to give characters a place to escape and express their true emotions and beliefs. The forest was a place where ideas and feeling could flow as endlessly as the babbling brook. The emotions expressed, as well as Pearl, were as wild as the forest. The forest played the most important role in the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It provided an umbrella of security for the characters, symbolized Pearl and was a symbol of evil in itself.
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