The Scarlet Letter

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Themes and Colors
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
The Occult Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Scarlet Letter, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Nature Theme Icon

In The Scarlet Letter, nature stands in contrast to Puritanism. Where Puritanism is merciless and rigid, nature is forgiving and flexible. This contrast is made clear from the very first page, when the narrator contrasts the "black flower" of the prison that punishes sin with the red rose bush that he imagines forgives those sentenced to die. The theme of nature continues with the forest outside Boston, which is described as an "unchristianized, lawless region." In the dark forest, wild, passionate, and persecuted people like Hester, Pearl, Mistress Hibbins, and the Indians can escape from the strict, repressive morality of Puritan society. The forest, which provides a measure of comfort and protection that exists nowhere in society, is also the only place where Hester can reunite with Dimmesdale. When Hester moves to the outskirts of Boston, the narrator says she would have fit in better in the forest. Hester's choice to live on the border of society and nature represents her internal conflict: she can't thrive entirely within the constraints of Puritanism, but because of her attachment to society and to Dimmesdale, she also can't flee.

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Nature Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

Below you will find the important quotes in The Scarlet Letter related to the theme of Nature.
Chapter 1 Quotes
On one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-bush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:
The Scarlet Letter opens with a crowd at the prison door of a New England Puritan colony. We are immediately introduced to this society, in which characters are expected to conform to all social rules and norms. It is a drab society, made up of men with "sad-colored garments" and gray hats and hoods. These people follow the regulations of Puritanism, a religious sect of Protestantism distinguished by its strict punishments and unambiguous interpretations of what is sinful (which encompasses many of the pleasurable activities of life such as drinking and dancing). These New England townspeople must obey the laws of earlier generations -- those of authority and precedent, which are manifested by the aged appearance of the prison house itself. Yet, at the brink, the entrance and exit, of the prison, there is a rosebush. It is "wild" and "delicate" and "fragile"; it boldly contradicts the much sturdier rules and laws of society (with its wildness), but it is also weak. It represents the individuality and natural spirit which will strain for recognition throughout the novel, within characters such as Hester and Dimmesdale.

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Chapter 7 Quotes
Little Pearl—who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house—spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.

"Mother," cried she, "I see you here. Look! Look!"

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw that, 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 of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. 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 mould itself into Pearl's shape.

"Come along, Pearl!" said she, drawing her away, "Come and look into this fair garden. It may be, we shall see flowers there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods."
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter, Pearl
Page Number: 98-99
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester and Pearl walk in Governor Bellingham's mansion, their adventures proceed as expected; Pearl acts like an "imp," who refuses to behave properly out of strange delight with her surroundings. She also becomes preoccupied with the way that the decorations (in this case, the reflection in a convex mirror) in this site of Puritan authority visually and metaphorically exaggerate the scarlet letter on Hester's chest, as well as Pearl's own otherworldliness. In response to Pearl, Hester suggests that they go to the governor's garden, to see flowers "more beautiful" than flowers in the woods -- flowers which are superior to the ones Hester and Pearl can view from their dwelling at the margin of the town, close to the wilderness of the forest. Even when Hester and Pearl physically travel to the society of the town, their separation is apparent.

Chapter 8 Quotes
After putting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson's questions, the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door.
Related Characters: Pearl, John Wilson
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

At Governor Bellingham's mansion, the Governor, Mr. Wilson, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth speak to Hester and her daughter Pearl. Bellingham questions whether Hester is morally fit to teach Pearl how to become a virtuous, Christian child. To test Pearl, the "good Mr. Wilson" asks Pearl who made her (expecting that a Puritan child would answer that God made her). Pearl, however, answers as she acts; she claims that she was "not ... made" but "plucked" off a rose bush, just as she refused to sit in Bellingham's lap and instead went through a window, "looking like a wild tropical bird of rich plumage." Pearl knows how she should present herself because Hester has taught her how to be a conventionally good Puritan child, but Pearl chooses not to follow these teachings. Her words and deeds emphasize her wildness -- her affinities to nature, individual choice, and disrespect for authority. The idea that she isn't born or made at all also furthers the idea of Pearl as an otherworldly figure, a kind of angel or sprite that the repressive society surrounding her cannot comprehend or accept.

“Wilt thou go with us tonight? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.”
Related Characters: Mistress Hibbins (speaker), Hester Prynne
Related Symbols: Red and Black
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester and Pearl leave Governor Bellingham's mansion, the witch Mistress Hibbins briefly appears. She is the "bitter-tempered" sister of Governor Bellingham, one of the most authoritative and proper individuals in the colony; her appearance reminds us that authority and dissent are closely associated with each other. Here, they are two sides of the same coin. 

In this scene, Mistress Hibbins is also linked to Pearl; immediately before Hester departs, Dimmesdale comments that Pearl "hath witchcraft in her" and is similar to such a witch. Yet, this "little baggage," that so reminded Dimmesdale of a witch, is the reason that Hester refuses Mistress Hibbins' offer to go to the forest and serve the devil (the "Black Man"). Despite her character similarities to characters who engage in witchcraft, Pearl fosters virtuous behavior in her mother -- as Dimmesdale earlier suggested. This illustrates one of the many ways in which the novel plays with binaries such as good and evil. 

Chapter 17 Quotes
"Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder town, which only a little time ago was but a leaf-strewn desert, as lonely as this around us? Whither leads yonder forest track? Backwards to the settlement, thou sayest! Yes; but onward too! Deeper it goes, and deeper, into the wilderness, less plainly to be seen at every step! until, some few miles hence, the yellow leaves will show no vestige of the white man’s tread. There thou art free! So brief a journey would bring thee from a world where thou hast been most wretched, to one where thou mayest still be happy! Is there not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth?"
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dimmesdale faintly asks Hester to "Be .. strong for me" and "Advise me what to do," Hester gives an exhortation reminiscent of Dimmesdale's passionate sermons. She reminds him that the same path which leads back to the town stretches "onward too"; it goes "deeper ... into the wilderness" as well. Hester stresses that Dimmesdale is "free" in woods, in nature; Dimmesdale is not as fundamentally confined in his sin (and in Chillingworth's reaction to his sin) as he believes he is. Dimmesdale need not just be virtuous in life—he also could be "happy," if he left his position in society behind him and journeyed to more natural, less judgmental places. Here, Hester is not merely rousing Dimmesdale to leave the town; she is advocating that he could leave his Puritanism and his sin behind as well. Such a journey would take Dimmesdale out of the social infrastructure which has framed the novel. 

Chapter 19 Quotes
"Doth he love us?" said Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence into her mother's face. "Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?"

"Not now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?"

"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired Pearl.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

After Hester directly tells Pearl that Dimmesdale loves both of them, Pearl questions this sentiment, asking if he will prove his love by entering the town while holding their hands. Pearl echoes the question she asked on the scaffold (if Dimmesdale would stand there in the day's sunlight as well), and here the narrator characterizes and directly describes the "acute intelligence" that these probing queries reveal in Pearl. Again, Pearl is told that Dimmesdale will display this connection before the townspeople on another day ("in days to come"), as the final revelation is delayed even further, intensifying Dimmesdale's hypocrisy and the narrative's tension. Yet after the freeing moments in the woods, Hester can more clearly envision such a future with Dimmesdale -- comfortable times with a "home" and a "fireside." This suggests that the splendid moments she and Dimmesdale had in the forest together are dimmed but not eradicated. Their vision of escaping their town has proved quixotic and impossible, but Hester is more willing to ponder a possible future with Dimmesdale than she has ever been before. 

Chapter 23 Quotes
Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dimmesdale finally admits his specific sin in front of the townspeople, and reveals that he shares the burden of the scarlet letter with Hester, as the father her child, he asks Pearl for a kiss. Instead of refusing the individuals around herself, and acting according to her personal impulses like a wild creature, Pearl actually complies with Dimmesdale's request. She kisses his lips, and she suddenly appears to transform from supernatural to human. Pearl becomes a woman, wholly ceasing to be the chimerical, precocious child whose unnaturalness reminds Hester of her flawed conception and intimate association with sin. Once Pearl's human father is revealed, Pearl becomes human as well; Dimmesdale saves her as he saves himself.