The Scarlet Letter

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Scarlet Letter: Mood 1 key example

Definition of Mood
The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes in the reader. Every aspect of a piece of writing... read full definition
The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes in the reader. Every aspect... read full definition
The mood of a piece of writing is its general atmosphere or emotional complexion—in short, the array of feelings the work evokes... read full definition
Chapter 11
Explanation and Analysis—Tortured Suspense:

The predominant mood of the novel is tortured suspense, as the reader waits to find out whether Dimmesdale will come forward as Pearl's father before he loses his mind or his life to Chillingworth. In Chapter 11, for example, the narrator describes how Dimmesdale's continued existence depends on his anguish: 

The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth, was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to smile, and wear a face of gayety, there would have been no such man!

It is difficult to imagine that smiling could kill Dimmesdale. What the narrator seems to be getting at is that Dimmesdale is entirely consumed by his anguish. Were he to smile, the Dimmesdale of the novel would cease to exist because he would be an entirely different person. This dramatic description of Dimmesdale's internal psychology draws intensely on the reader's sympathy for Dimmesdale. It also heightens the suspense by raising the question of what will happen to Dimmesdale. He is enduring so much anguish that it seems unlikely he will escape the novel alive without releasing the secret he is holding onto. On the other hand, it seems too late for him to experience absolution. The reader and Dimmesdale alike feel Dimmesdale's life hurdling toward a disastrous conclusion.

Pearl contributes to the suspenseful mood of the novel. In Chapter 12, Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl are standing together on the scaffold in the dark when Chillingworth approaches them. Dimmesdale demands whether Hester knows who he is, and Pearl claims that she does:

“I tell thee, my soul shivers at him!” muttered the minister again. “Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing for me? I have a nameless horror of the man!”

“Minister,” said little Pearl, “I can tell thee who he is!”

“Quickly, then, child!” said the minister, bending his ear close to her lips. “Quickly!—and as low as thou canst whisper.”

Pearl mumbled something into his ear, that sounded, indeed, like human language, but was only such gibberish as children may be heard amusing themselves with, by the hour together.

The narrator states that Pearl speaks "gibberish" because she is a child, but he also calls her language "human-like." This moment is one of many in which Pearl appears to be almost human, but not quite. She knows more than a typical child might about the plot of the novel, and she teases but refuses to disclose everything she knows. The modern trope of the uncanny child in the horror genre was not exactly around in the 19th century, but there were literary examples of children who knew secrets about life and death that were difficult for adults to grasp. By depicting Pearl as one of these children, the narrator keeps the reader speculating about what Pearl's youth and position in society allow her to see that adults cannot yet, ultimately creating an eerie mood of mystery and anticipation.

Chapter 12
Explanation and Analysis—Tortured Suspense:

The predominant mood of the novel is tortured suspense, as the reader waits to find out whether Dimmesdale will come forward as Pearl's father before he loses his mind or his life to Chillingworth. In Chapter 11, for example, the narrator describes how Dimmesdale's continued existence depends on his anguish: 

The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth, was the anguish in his inmost soul, and the undissembled expression of it in his aspect. Had he once found power to smile, and wear a face of gayety, there would have been no such man!

It is difficult to imagine that smiling could kill Dimmesdale. What the narrator seems to be getting at is that Dimmesdale is entirely consumed by his anguish. Were he to smile, the Dimmesdale of the novel would cease to exist because he would be an entirely different person. This dramatic description of Dimmesdale's internal psychology draws intensely on the reader's sympathy for Dimmesdale. It also heightens the suspense by raising the question of what will happen to Dimmesdale. He is enduring so much anguish that it seems unlikely he will escape the novel alive without releasing the secret he is holding onto. On the other hand, it seems too late for him to experience absolution. The reader and Dimmesdale alike feel Dimmesdale's life hurdling toward a disastrous conclusion.

Pearl contributes to the suspenseful mood of the novel. In Chapter 12, Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl are standing together on the scaffold in the dark when Chillingworth approaches them. Dimmesdale demands whether Hester knows who he is, and Pearl claims that she does:

“I tell thee, my soul shivers at him!” muttered the minister again. “Who is he? Who is he? Canst thou do nothing for me? I have a nameless horror of the man!”

“Minister,” said little Pearl, “I can tell thee who he is!”

“Quickly, then, child!” said the minister, bending his ear close to her lips. “Quickly!—and as low as thou canst whisper.”

Pearl mumbled something into his ear, that sounded, indeed, like human language, but was only such gibberish as children may be heard amusing themselves with, by the hour together.

The narrator states that Pearl speaks "gibberish" because she is a child, but he also calls her language "human-like." This moment is one of many in which Pearl appears to be almost human, but not quite. She knows more than a typical child might about the plot of the novel, and she teases but refuses to disclose everything she knows. The modern trope of the uncanny child in the horror genre was not exactly around in the 19th century, but there were literary examples of children who knew secrets about life and death that were difficult for adults to grasp. By depicting Pearl as one of these children, the narrator keeps the reader speculating about what Pearl's youth and position in society allow her to see that adults cannot yet, ultimately creating an eerie mood of mystery and anticipation.

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