The Scarlet Letter: The Message in the Meteor

CaseyG

The Scarlet Letter is a classic book whose lessons have endured through many generations. It is considered by most to be the masterpiece of Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was a culmination of everything he experienced in his life. He grew up in a household that held fast to Puritan ideals. This affected him in ways he himself may not have even realized. His dislike for the Puritans can be easily observed in this novel. He created this book after struggling for several years to obtain some measure of success as a writer. This book brought exactly that to him. The observant reader can discover the many undercurrents of meaning Nathaniel Hawthorne cleverly placed in this novel. At the climax of the story, a meteor flashes through the night sky. The appearance of this meteor at this particular moment in time contributes to the plot in many ways.


First, Reverend Dimsdale thinks the meteor is a message from God specifically for him. "Nothing was more common in those days than to interpret all meteoric appearances, and other natural phenomena that occurred with less regularity than the rise and set of the sun and moon, as so many revelations from a supernatural source"(149). Any person of that day would have assumed that something of that nature applied to some portion of his or her life. "Then, and there, before the judgment seat, thy mother, and thou, and I, must stand together. But the daylight of this world shall not see our meeting"(149)! Just after those words leave Reverend Dimsdale's mouth, the meteor lights up the sky as bright as day. It's as if God is proving Reverend Dimsdale's words to be false. The light of the meteor resembles the letter "A" to Reverend Dimsdale because his conscience is pricking at him. Subconsciencely he wants to punish himself for his sin since the townspeople can't punish him for a sin of which they were unaware. Therefore, his guilty feelings twist a natural part of creation into a punishment of sorts. He believed the meteor resembled the letter "A" to convict him further of his sinfulness. "?a great red letter in the sky-the letter 'A' which we interpret to stand for 'Angel.' For, as our good Governor Winthrop was made an angel this past night, it was doubtless held fit that there should be some notice thereof"(153). The fact that a member of his congregation also believes that the meteor resembles the letter "A" is ironic because of his belief that it stands for "Angel" in honor of the departed governor rather than something with a negative connotation. The mind can make one event appear as something to one person while another person observing the same event will consider it the complete opposite of the first. It all depends on your point of view.


Second, the light flashes through the night sky while Reverend Dimsdale is standing on the scaffold with Hester Prynne and Pearl. "And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two. They stood in the noon of that strange and solemn splendor as if it were the light that is to reveal all secrets?"(149-150). The meteor is so bright that the town looks much as it does during the day. Consequently, it looked as it did the day Hester stood with Pearl on the scaffold without Reverend Dimsdale standing by her side to share her shame. He stands 'with his hand over his heart' (149) as if to hide his own scarlet letter from the sleeping town. He feels as if his hidden sin is exposed to the entire world, when none of the townspeople sees him upon the scaffold.


The meteor serves one other purpose. It shows the true character of Mr. Chillingworth to Reverend Dimsdale. He sees for the first time how conniving and infinitely evil Mr. Chillingworth really is. "Certainly, if the meteor kindled up the sky and disclosed the earth with an awfulness that admonished Hester Prynne and the clergyman of the day of judgment, then might Roger Chillingworth have passed with them for the archfiend, standing there with a smile and a scowl, to claim his own"(151). Mr. Chillingworth's desire for revenge changed him from the man he was at