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Transcending America: The Cultural Relevance of “The Scarlet Letter” Essay Sample

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Transcending America: The Cultural Relevance of “The Scarlet Letter” Essay Sample

            In most cases the custom house chapter of the Scarlet letter is paid no or little attention while analyzing multilevel symbolism enclosed into the story describing a conflict with the society values.  However, it sets the basis for further events and allows readers to experience different dimensions of the story interpretation. The Scarlet Letter can be paralleled with transcendental ideas expressed in the works of different American philosophers, such as R. Emerson. Emerson’s Self-Reliance contains different ideas of the appropriateness of the society’s norms, values, and prejudices in relation to the universal existence.  

Emerson’s essay Self-Reliance manifests the concept of human mind’s evolution, emergence of thought, and recognizing created ideas and thoughts in accordance to the society, as well as in the process of self-realization. This is an actual issue for people, as they often fail to recognize themselves as capable to create the ideas that are true not only for individual, but also for the universe. According to Emerson, the recognition is successful when a person disregards traditions and existing experience, as norms and values, which serve as limitations to the journey of the inner thought, and focuses on the ideas that are really true for him/her. The real source of truth should be searched for inside of every man; therefore, there is no point in imitation. Realization of a constant work of this inner source will reverse the vision of a person’s own ability. Often, a person hears interpretation of the idea that already visited him/her, but was disregarded because of self-disbelief. Self-disbelief occurs when people attempt to find the source of truth outside their mind, thus separating themselves from the universe. Emerson describes this state – ignorance of self-identity and imitation – as a suicide.

            Emerson’s approach of self-reliance could be applied to Hawthorne as an author of the book Scarlet Letter, and one of the main characters Hester. Hawthorne begins the story from the custom house chapter, where he tells how he “found” the manuscript and just retold the story. Here a parallel can be drawn between “editing” the Scarlet Letter and Emerson’s concept of recreating of an already existing art. The custom house chapter represents a piece of autobiography of Hawthorne, who really worked in that custom house. The house itself represented a conservative government building of two floors with the first floor occupied by the customs workers. Hawthorne describes each one of his coworkers, who were typical representatives of the American society at the time. The overall impression about those people was intellectual rational type of mind, having no interest in artistic world; however, each had some kind of obsession, which was primarily concerned with their past experience in the material world (one guy liked to talk about all kinds of dishes he had). Basically, their minds never went further concerns of the material world. These people were not even familiar with Hawthorne’s works, which was a different experience for him.

The second floor of the custom house was unoccupied. That is where Hawthorne “found” his art. In my opinion, the structure of the CH could represent different levels of human mind, different perspectives of perceiving the reality. Never anybody except Hawthorne went up on the second floor. Thus, it could imply that getting up to the second floor meant shifting one’s mind into a different dimension, which allowed a man to create art, be a true poet. Achieving this inspiration could be done through realizing the priority of the power of the soul and awakening the initial beauty, which underlies in everything. The other custom house inhabitants always existed on the physical plane of the universe.

Emerson distinguishes the determinants of self-realization regarding individual as self-trust and initial virginity of mind. Self-trust and acceptance of the reality provided by the Providence sets one’s mind free of any limitations appeared after one’s entering the world, and reveals the true godlike creative nature of a human.  The jail for the mind created by rational consciousness is an acquired effect, not native, of human experience of existing in the world and interacting with each other. Observations of babies, who do not yet possess judicial and rational consciousness, whose perception is not yet a projection of their past because of its absence, reveals the true human nature able to create their own reality instead of imitating others.

            In terms of the society self-reliance is retained in solitude. The society is the system of “conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.” It limits the operation of the human mind and exercise of its full freedom, requiring the fulfillment of certain expectation and rejecting any “nonconformists.” Preserving the integrity of individual’s mind in surroundings of the society is of greatest value for maintaining self reliance. The primary concern of the individual within society is his/her mission – evolution of mind – but not the mission of the society. Attempts to cope with society’s expectations result in imitation, loss of uniqueness, and degradation of the mind. The struggle of maintaining self-reliance occurs because there always will be people who think they know better the truth of some individual, which, however, should no be the reason for hesitation of doing one’s own work in order to reinforce oneself.

Most people, who have a veil over their eyes, and who identified themselves as of “these communities of opinion” represent the false identity regarding all lively aspects, living the lie, but not the true. Identifying themselves with society’s labels, and wearing particular face or outfit makes the existence within the society falsely easier, but truly it goes against man’s nature. “For non-conformity the world whips you with displeasure,” however this pain is temporarily and instant experience of physical existence in contrast to the eternal spiritual rewards received under self-reliance. Another opposing attribute for exercising self-trust is people’s consistency, constant identification with past experience and memories. However, wisdom never relies on memories alone; rather it prefers living ever in a new day. The emotion and intuition are of the true nature and serve as guidance in opposition to rational consciousness. No man can violate his nature.

            A very important detail in analyzing Scarlet Letter was understanding the kind of society at the time. It was primarily composed of puritans, and some portion of people, who were not respected and recognized, were Quakers. Puritan predetermination explains the reaction and the actions of people after the event that changed her life. She was found guilty of adultery, which was a sin for puritans. Women were hung up for adultery, or given a letter A. That was a second appearance of the letter A in the story. The first one was in the CH chapter and it made an impression of standing for an Angel because of its rare beauty. It could also symbolize forgotten Art. However, the first emphasis on the letter A implies Adultery. Further, the author attempts to create a specific environment to destroy the Adultery layer of the heroine – description and contrast of a prison as a black rose of the society and halo on Hester. At the public confession, Hester takes all the blame for herself. She is not denying her art – daughter Pearl – although it has been rejected by the society. A true poet is often rejected for telling the truth, because the truth may bring down all the illusions, which support people’s reality and bring many to misery by showing misery of materialism. Hester in this sense is a true artist, who gave birth to the beautiful work of art – Pearl. Hester loves and defends her creation.

            Dimmsdale was the father of pearl, however, he rejected it. He perceived his act as a permanent sin, because it was rejected by the contemporary society. He did not realize the eternity of the true art, and considered it a sin, continuously replaying in his memory that event, which caused severe pain and fear of disclosing his secret. He wanted to suffer for his sin. Hester is presented here as liberating artist, the art of which helped Dimmsdale to receive forgiveness. Dimmsdale was replaying the past event, which was devastating him; but he became Able to see the present and thus received forgiveness. At the culmination of the story Dimmsdale makes a public confession at the right time in the right place, accepting his “art” – pearl, and revealing the Scarlet Letter on his chest.

            Hester and Edna are similar in the sense of being rejected by the society, while still not giving up their state of mind that differed from the society’s viewpoints. They both switched their perception from physical plane to the spiritual beginning, which was the initial source for life, creation, beauty, and love. They were guided by their intuition, passion, and feelings of heart, rather than following rational thought in decision making.

            I consider revelation of the letter A is revealing one’s heart or soul. I completely agree with Emerson’s statement that “men seem to have lost the perception of the instant dependence from upon soul.” However, I believe that people live in illusions and false stereotypes and beliefs not only because of their initial blindness and inability to realize the existence of the spiritual dimension. Some people, in my opinion choose to be blind for unknown for me reasons – whether it is easier for them to adapt to the contemporary stereotype and do whatever others expect them to do, or they like it, or realizing the misery of their reality would devastate them as it takes up such an important role in their life. Some people simply don’t realize that second floor is actually livable, and, moreover, is the place to be.


Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Sully and Kleinteich. 1883. Available on the web at http://questia.com.

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