Scarlet Letter Assignment Topic: Gray Part I- Cite six times in the book where your topic appears and analyze how those instances relate to the meaning of the work as a whole. 1. “A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray” (33). The color gray adds to the atmosphere of the day, the day of judgment for Hester. The people of this Puritan town are close-minded and dull, all represented by the color grey. 2. She bore in her arms a child, a baby if some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the two vivid light of day; because its existence, therefore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of dungeon, or other darksome apartment if the prison” (36) When in the dungeon Hester spoke to no one and would not admit to anything, because she concealed her secrets. The color gray connotes secrets and hiding. Once Hester and Pearl depart from the prison for the first time the gray of the dungeon disappears and the secrets can now be found out—this admission being a major plot in the novel.
This is the moment when the secrets break free and begin to unfold. 3. “Standing on that miserable eminence, she saw again her native village, in Old England, and her paternal home: a decayed house of grey stone, with a poverty-stricken aspect, but retaining a half obliterated shield of arms over the portal, in token of antique gentility” (40). When leaving the jail, Hester gazed at her hometown. However, she was not filled with nostalgia or wistfulness. Rather, she looked out and saw her family’s poverty stricken house, though it was noticeable that it was once of high nobility.
Those who were once elite and considered noble people are now in poverty and being trialed for murder. Grey connotes this transition. It is dull, boring, and is not red, blue, and purple, which are the colors that aristocrats wore at that time. When leaving the jail Hester realizes that everything has turned to grey—life will not be as luxurious and she will be repudiated by society because of her sins. 4. “The wide circumference of an elaborate ruff, beneath his grey beard, in the antiquated fashion of King James’s reign, caused his head to look not a little like that of John the Baptist in a charger” (74)
This description of Governor Bellingham is to show how he is esteemed and of high class in Puritan society. Puritans desire to live like their ancestors; no room for change at all. Governor Bellingham is illustrated in the novel and is compared to those living in King James’ time. To the Puritans this is positive, this dullness and inability to change their ways: it is the way of life. But to others, like Hester it is a negative aspect of the society. The color gray is therefore used in this context to highlight this. The Puritan society is gray, devoid of color and excitement.
In today’s day, a black-and-white movie suggests that it is old and outdated. So too here, adding the fact that Governor Bellingham’s beard is gray is to elucidate Hester’s opinion that the society is and should be obsolete. 5. “An unwearied pall of cloud muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon. If the same multitude which had stood as eye-witnesses while Hester Prynne sustained her punishment could now have been summoned forth, they would have discerned no face above the platform nor hardly the outline of a human shape, in the dark grey of the midnight” (101).
The use of grey in this instance defines the mood Nathaniel Hawthorne is attempting to portray. Dimmesdale mounts the scaffold and screams out, confessing his sin. It is in the depths of the night and is dark, somber reflecting Dimmesdale’s desire of penitence for his sin. He wishes to be found out and for his guilt to be palliated. 6. “Mr. Dimmesdale throughout the long hereafter. But as he came down the pulpit steps, the grey-bearded sexton met him, holding up a black glove, which the minister recognized as his own” (108).
The day after Dimmesdale’s profession of his sin in the midst of the night, the church sexton comes over to Dimmesdale and hands him his black glove that was found on the scaffold. The sexton decides that it was Satan’s doing and not that of Dimmesdale. Everything around Dimmesdale suddenly begins to turn gray. He sees everything as gray—full of sin and darkness void of life and purity. Part II- Explain how your topic sheds light on at least one character’s development in the novel Grey symbolizes many different ideas in the novel, The Scarlet Letter. However, a main theme of the color gray is that of darkness and the presence of sin.
Throughout the novel, Dimmesdale’s status and health slowly deteriorate and the color gray helps track this decline. At first the society is looked at as gray, boring, and dull in the eyes of Hester. Dimmesdale was a prize pastor giving the best sermons. However, once Hester is reestablished in society, Dimmesdale’s guilt begins to take over. Especially after he and Hester talk about leaving the town by ship, his shame gets the best of him. He ascends the scaffold hoping someone will hear him confess his sins, but everyone thinks it is a witch. Everyone and everything around him appears gray, all reminding him of his sin.
Dimmesdale even gives a sermon in which he reveals that he too has sinned, so as to alleviate some of his guilty conscience, but it makes the people like and revere him even more. At last he cannot take it and he mounts the scaffold, Hester and Pearl in hand, confessing his sins to all and dying there as Pearl kisses him. The guilt was too much for him and finally the pain is gone for Dimmesdale. Part III- Choose three biographical facts about Nathaniel Hawthorne and/or historical facts about the time period, and explain how the facts add to your understanding of the overall book 1.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestor, John Hathorne, originated in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and was a judge in the Salem witch trials. Hawthorne was fascinated by his kinship to John Hathorne and inspired several of his novels. This was a great inspiration for The Scarlet Letter, as witchcraft, sin, and Puritan society are all main themes of this novel. 2. Nathaniel’s father died when he was at an early age. This was therefore the inspiration for Hester being a single mother in the novel. He felt the same way that Pearl did and at the same time empathized with Hester because he watched his mother go through the same thing. . One important influence on The Scarlet Letter is money. Hawthorne never made much money as an author and the birth of his first daughter just added to the financial burden. He received a job at the Salem Custom House, but lost it three years later and was forced to return to writing to support his family. Consequently, The Scarlet Letter was published a year after being fired by his job in the Salem Custom House. At first, the work was only intended to be a long short story, but the extra money a novel would bring in was needed to support his growing family.