The Scarlet Letter: Reference to Mirrors

Darci Ford
Mrs. Horton
English III-AP
Monday, January 18, 1999
Nathaniel Hawthorne has a sufficient reason for repeatedly making reference to mirrors
throughout his refined novel, The Scarlet Letter. The use of mirrors in the story serve a beneficial
purpose of giving the reader a window to the characters soul. The truth is always portrayed in
the authors mirrors; thus, his introspective devices will continuously point out the flaws to whom
gazes in it. Hesters A has now become the most noticeable part of not only her physical
features, but her spiritual being. The reflection of Pearl Prynne uncovers her hard shell and brings
out the loneliness, the innocent recklessness, and the wild beauty within her. Reverend
Dimesdales image only radiates the dark, gloomy truth of his impurities. The looking glass
Nathaniel Hawthorne places in front of his characters, therefore, focuses on the realms that each
beholder attempts to hide from the world around them.
In chapter two while Hester is standing on the scaffold, she tries to run from reality by
reminiscing of her youth. At that moment, she saw her own face, glowing with girlish beauty,
and illuminating all the interior of the dusky mirror in which she had been wont to gaze at it.
Sadly, the mirror will never again give Hester that immaculate reflection. Instead, the image will
always resemble that of the breastplate at the governors mansion in chapter seven, owing to the
peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and
gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature to her appearance.
Ironically, the two symbols of her sin and suffering, the scarlet letter and Pearl, are now the most
significant elements of her life. Hester is no longer looked at as a woman in society, and in the
mirror, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it (the scarlet letter). As for her child, that look
of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of
effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an
imp who was seeking to mold itself into Pearls shape. Pearls mischievous looks are magnified
in the mirroring surface to remind Hester that her child is in fact a part of the punishment of her
sin. Once this freakish, elvish cast came into the childs eyes while Hester was looking at her
own image in them. . . . she fancied that she beheld, not her own miniature portrait, but another
face, in the small black mirror of Pearls eye. It was a face, fiendlike, full of smiling malice, yet
bearing the resemblance of features that she had known full well, through seldom with a smile,
and never with malice in them. This is another indicator in chapter six that Pearls presence
does in fact haunt Hester. It also speaks the truth that Roger Chillingworth is not the same man
he once was, and Hester will continue to be haunted by him also.
Nathaniel Hawthornes use of mirrors plays a crucial part in portraying the hidden side of
Pearl Prynne. Though Pearl has a reputation to be of witchcraft and gives the reader an
impression of being a brat, the child has a very fragile and endearing soul that wanders on the
other side of the mirroring surface. In chapter fourteen by the ocean, Pearl came to a full stop,
and peeped curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in.
Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark glistening curls around her head and an elf-smile
in her eyes, the image of a little maid, whom Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take her
hand and run a race with her. The reflecting pool portrays Pearl as an innocent and beautiful
child who is very lonely. That is very understandable, for Pearl is not like the other children; her
only two friends are nature and her mother, Hester. In chapter fifteen, Pearl flirted fancifully
with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom forth, and–as it declined
venture–seeking a passage for herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky.
Soon finding however, that either she or the image was unreal, she turned elsewhere for better
Pearls reflection is very real, and chapter sixteen smoothly continues this concept through
another body of water–the brook in the forest. Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the
current of her life gushed from. . . . like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy
without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of
somber hue. As interpreted through the description of the brook, Pearl lacked many simple
encumbrances growing up, and therefore, lacks sympathy and emotions that numerous individuals
take for granted. In chapter nineteen, Pearls alliance to nature is clearly shown as the brook
chanced to form a pool, so smooth and quiet that it reflected a perfect image of her little figure,
with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers and wreathed
foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality. Nathaniel Hawthorne was wise to
use the forest brook in relation to Pearl, for she is untamed like the forest. Branching from that
wild gift within Pearl, the wrath she is compelled to carry is also lustered through the brook that
flows beneath her. Seen in the brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath of Pearls image,
crowned and girdled with flowers, but stamping its foot, wildly gesticulating, and, in the midst of
it all, still pointing its small forefinger at Hesters bosom! The speculum reveals the hard truth
that Pearl is a part of the scarlet letter, and that she feels emotionally nonexistent when she
realizes her mother had abandoned the emblem on the ground.
The weak mortality of Reverend Dimesdale is also depicted by Nathaniel Hawthornes
exercise of mirrors throughout the novel. In chapter eleven, Arthur is desperate to flush away his
sins and absorb righteousness back into his soul. He kept vigils, likewise, night after night. . . .

sometimes, viewing his own face in a looking glass, by the most powerful light which he could
throw upon it. Unfortunately, Nathaniel Hawthornes mirrors show no mercy. He thus
typified the constant introspection wherewith he tortured, but could not purify, himself. Little
does Arthur know that the looking glass is only functions as a tool to represent truth, and in
actuality, the reverend is not acquitted of his sins. The very limited light that shines onto the
looking glass is used to burn deep into the ministers soul, grasp the shameful secret he hides
within his heart, and shine the consequences back in his face over and over again. In these
lengthened vigils, his brain often reeled and visions seemed to flit before him perhaps seen
doubtfully, and by a faint light of their own, in the remote dimness of the chamber, or more
vividly, and close beside him, within the looking glass. Reverend Dimesdale tried to overcome
these ghastly images, but he couldnt fight the fact that they were, in one sense, the truest and
most substantial things which the poor minister now dealt with. The looking glass frankly
reveals that Reverend Dimesdales existence now relies on the anguish in his inmost soul.

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Within The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne analyzes his main characters distinctions
through his use of mirrors. By using this device of imagery, the reader of the novel can easily
grasp Nathaniel Hawthornes dark opinions of the world, man, society and their relationships to
each other. Most importantly, the author wants to exhibit to the reader the close relationship
between good and evil, and the importance in telling the truth under all circumstances. Nathaniel
Hawthorne has done a wonderful job in this piece of literature by referring to mirrors as a tool to
dig into the truth of the human heart.