Analysis of Important Quotations From The Scarlet Letter: Themes in the Novel

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Quotation: Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister’s miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence–Be true! Be true! Be true!…" (224).

Analysis: I know it gets annoying when people always tell you to just “be yourself.” Hawthorne shows us why this is so important: eventually our true self comes forth. Those who think they can hide their innermost desires and feelings are involved in a grand self deception. Dimmesdale’s sin would have been made known whether he confessed it or not. Teachers know when you’ve cheated. They know when you haven’t read. They know what page you’re on in the book you’re supposed to be reading. Your inner guilt manifests itself outwardly and becomes noticeable to the discerning eye. Luckily for you, your teacher is too busy grading essays from 3 months ago to make a fuss.

Quotation: “I fear! I fear! It may be, that, when we forgot our God,–when we violated our reverence each for the other’s soul,–it was vain to hope that we could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion (222).

Analysis: Dimmesdale, more so than Hester, understands the damage they have done to each other through willfully violating covenants. The violation, however, is open to interpretation. It could be the act of adultery, the cowardice of Dimmesdale in letting Hester suffer alone, the withholding of Chillingworth’s identity by Hester, or all three. Regardless, it is apparent that Dimmesdale’s suffering brings him to a greater understanding of the truth, a truth he cannot handle.

Quote: And here by a sudden impulse, she turned to the young clergyman, Mr. Dimmesdale…–“Speak thou for me!” cried she. “Thou wast my pastor, and hadst charge of my soul, and knowest me better than these man can. I will not lose the child! Speak for me! Thou knowest–for thou hast sympathies which these men lack…Look thou to it! I will not lose the child! Look to it!” (100).

Analysis: This threat is full of dramatic irony. The pastor does know Hester’s soul and her heart, much better than his associates realize. Dimmesdale better look to it or his sin will be pronounced in public. Way to go Hester!

Quote: The walls were hung round with tapestry…representing the scriptural story of David and Bathsheeba, and Nathan the Prophet (111).

Analysis: Dimmesdale’s study has scenes from the Biblical account of King David, who commits adultery with Bathsheeba, whose husband David sends to the war front to be killed. Nathan is the prophet who acknowledges that he knows the truth about David. The Biblical allusion has symbolic overtones–Dimmesdale is David, Hester is Bathsheeba, and Chillingworth is an evil Nathan the Prophet.

Quote: That old man’s revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart (170).

Analysis: According to American Romantics, Chillingworth’s sin is among the worst crimes that a man could commit. Dimmesdale and Hester agree.

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  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin. 1986.

This post is part of the series: The Scarlet Letter Study Guide

Avoid a scarlet ‘F’ with this Scarlet Letter study guide.

  1. Characters from The Scarlet Letter
  2. Chapter Summaries of The Scarlet Letter
  3. Understanding the Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter
  4. Important Quotations from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  5. The Scarlet Letter Study Guide: Practice Questions and Answers