The Scarlet Letter Close Reading

“Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that is sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real. Yes!–these were her realities,–all else had vanished.” (483)

In this section, Hester Prynne is affronted with the sharp reality of her situation and the significance of her betrayal and defiance of Puritan values. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s text is most enhanced by his choice of words and the way he portrays reality. His choice of words enhances his text through the contradiction of Prynne’s fierceness versus the gentleness of her newborn child. His choice to use “fierceness” is also an interesting choice of words because her fierceness is not a representation of anger, but a representation of her struggle to grasp reality. Hawthorne continues the theme of contradiction in his description of Prynne’s dueling realities: the joy of motherhood versus the public humiliation of wearing a scarlet letter. Later in the book, Hawthorne describes Prynne as being emotionally absent and confused but this passage provides insight as to why she seems that way. Prynne is overwhelmed by the attention and shame that she is suddenly faced with, further clouding her perception of reality that becomes a continuous theme throughout the text.