The Scarlet Letter
Pearl, too, is alienated from the company of the rest of the children in the community on account of her mother’s offense. Roger Chilllingworth is an outsider in the community. And Arthur Dimmesdale is strange even to himself for the pangs of conscience constantly trouble and torture him. He is divided between his priestly duties and desire for revealing his true nature to the people who worship him. Each one of the principal characters in the novel suffers from isolation or alienation from society. In the end, Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester Prynne and Pearl stand on the scaffold, isolated from others, thus, underlining the theme that runs like a strand through the novel.
The Scarlet Letter presents thus a highly complex variation on Hawthorne’s general theme of human isolation and human community. In the drama of society and solitude which is enacted here, there is no doubt about the side on which the novel aligns our sympathies. Hester Prynne’s isolation is inflicted upon her rather than willfully sought by her; and if it does not warp her moral personality, the reason is that she seeks throughout her life to re-establish a relationship with other human beings on a new and more honest basis- in other words, she is isolated from society but not alienated from humanity. The blame for the tragic predicament falls heavily on the Puritan arbiters of her destiny.
Hester, with the scarlet letter emblazoned on her bosom, is shunned by the Puritan society. She takes up residence in an isolated cottage on the outskirts of the town. She is alone in her daily rounds to the village and back in her attempt to bring up Pearl, who hardly seems to be human. Dimmesdale, with his hand over his heart, secretly tortured himself mentally as well as physically to denote his suffering. Roger Chillingworth is alone in her pursuit of revenge. He is generally seen stooping and collecting herbs in the forest, or at the fires in his laboratory. Loneliness seems to be the curse blighting the principal characters in The Scarlet Letter. Isolation or alienation from the mainstream seems to be their lot.
Hester and Dimmesdale are isolated because of the original sin, Chillingworth by the burning hatred and desire for revenge in his heart, and Pearl because her elfin-like nature and her constant hostility toward the village children who mock at and ridicule her mother. Each one of them is a social outcast, living in a world of his or her own with the barest communication with the outside world.
But this isolation is not without its attendant advantages In Hester’s case, her Isolation is her “badge of shame". The Scarlet letter distances her from others. But it contributes to her moral and mental growth. She “transcends her separation from society by good deeds and the companionship of miserable people". In Dimmesdale’s case, his sensitivity to his sin makes him conscious of his unworthiness to lead his clock. It leads to private suffering and torture. He feels suffocated in this repressive environment, but is too weak to make an effort to get out of it. Death is his only deliverance. Chillingworth’s isolation is essentially the isolation of a person who has been wronged by his wife and his pursuit of revenge. He has "violated the sanctity of the human heart” - both in the case of Hester and Dimmesdale. This leads to his spiritual isolation and death. People see the Devil incarnate in the hunchbacked physician.
Pearl is a free spirit, too flighty to be tied down to anything. This is her isolation. She is a lonely child who plays with inanimate objects or with animals, brooks and flowers-a victim of the sin of her parents and, the repressiveness of the Puritan society. Eventually she symbolizes only ray of hope and leaves the settlement for greener pastures where she settles down. This is the theme of isolation or alienation that binds all the principal characters in the novel and makes it a unified whole.