Irony in the Scarlet Letter
What if irony didn’t exist? If it didn’t, even at a minimal level, The Scarlet Letter wouldn’t be able to function in its complete and published form. Its frame and substructure of distinctly morose themes scrutinizing sin, knowledge, and the human condition would not exist without irony blistering beneath the surface. The symbolism and evocativeness of character names, for instance, the words “chill” and “worthless” can be derived from Roger Chillingworth, the “Black Man” in human disguise wouldn’t have the same clever power without the literary technique.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter suggests that to find the true expression of each character, irony is essential, and must be employed and needled into the plot for the pages to turn with a weightier significance. “She’s the embodiment of deep contradictions: bad and beautiful, holy and sinful, conventional and radical,” described Andrea Seabrook of NPR (National Public Radio).
In order to see the veracity of this statement, the reader must note Hawthorne’s use in three major types of irony. The first type is situational irony, which is when the opposite of what is expected to happen, happens, and this is introduced in the first few chapters. For example, in Chapter II, the townspeople have perpetrated against Hester Prynne, exclaiming that she should feel ashamed as she stands on the scaffold bearing the scarlet letter “A” on her bosom.
Yet, she stands there with “a marked dignity and force of character” and clasping her newborn child Pearl “with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and glance that would not be abashed…” (Hawthorne 46) The intrinsic nature and indispensable quality of Hester’s character is perpetually fevered with strength, but it is most formidable and determined harbored by a backbone of obstinacy when she is standing on the scaffold.
The townspeople have expected her to feel contrite, but if Hester stood revealing her remorse and penitence, she would be acknowledging society’s power and control over her, and that essentially, is not what Hester wants. Another example is from Chapter XI, Dimmesdale is held in reverence by the townspeople as an immaculate role model “[deeming] the young clergyman a miracle of holiness” (124) when in fact; he has committed an immoral act, being Hester’s paramour and Pearl’s secret father. Situational irony has served to be a steppingstone to the actual identity of Hester Prynne, Dimmesdale, and other major characters.
It helps in showing the real thoughts and internal conflicts of a character in contrast with what is discerned by the society. The next type of irony Hawthorne used in The Scarlet Letter is dramatic irony, which is when the reader knows what the characters do not. According to Mark Flanagan of About. com, “Dramatic irony is when the words and actions of the characters of a work of literature have a different meaning for the reader than they do for the characters. This is the result of the reader having a greater knowledge than the characters themselves. For instance, in Chapter VIII, Reverend John Wilson, Boston’s senior clergyman, sat on an arm-chair and surveyed Pearl’s weirdly ethereal qualities, then proceeded to ask Pearl if she knew who her parents were, as stated in this quote, ““Pearl,” said he, with great solemnity, “thou must take heed to instruction, that so, in due season, thou mayest wear in thy bosom the pearl of great price. Canst thou tell me, my child, who made thee? ” (96) This event developed subsequent to Hester’s visit in Governor Bellingham’s garden.
There, she privately requested Reverend Dimmesdale’s aid in supporting that the governor does not take Pearl away. This is an example of dramatic irony because the reader knows that Dimmesdale and Hester are partners in sin, but the characters do not. Dramatic irony benefits the reader in that it satisfies their anticipation because of what they already know and they possess a greater idea of what is to happen next. Hawthorne’s use of this type of irony really generated a thrust of motivation to keep the reader more interested. The concluding stamp of irony Hawthorne enchanted into the novel is verbal irony.
This literary device is manipulated to communicate differently, and principally the irreconcilable contrast of the literal meaning of the words, to emphasize, or make light of a circumstance or subject. A time that this occurs is from Chapter IV, when Chillingworth visited Hester at her prison cell, disguised as a doctor, and advised her to, “Think not that I shall interfere with Heaven’s own method of retribution. ” (66) Here, Chillingworth insinuated that he would grant the right to God and Heaven to handle all retribution, yet he still sets out to njure and damage Dimmesdale himself. This is an example of verbal irony in that Chillingworth lied that he won’t accomplish any harm or take vengeance on the adulterer, but in due course, it is shown that Chillingworth is steadily destroying Dimmesdale as both he and especially Dimmesdale is growing weaker and more dismal. Verbal irony might be the more common of this literary technique, as it is used in today’s daily language. In the novel, is it used to give more support to the reader’s thoughts on what is already happening, and it helps to formulate finer insightful ideas.
The novel is brimmed with well-constructed ideas of sin, hypocrisy, and love’s sweet disposition to sacrifice for another’s wellness, but behind the curtains of collectivism and Puritan’s unsmiling society is a personality that stands brighter than portrayed, and Hawthorne’s use of irony has carried that eager light out. His wonderful use of irony in the novel formulated a stronger, more meaningful substance to the story, clearly revealing each character’s internal and external conflicts.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is the master of irony, splendidly using it to intensify the meaning of his marvelous literature. His substantial use of irony in The Scarlet Letter has become such a necessity that the pages could not turn seamlessly as it does without a real genius such as the virtuosic author. After learning the three types of irony Hawthorne utilized, the reader will be able to absorb the hearts and minds of the characters, the greater essence, and soul of the story, and will read on with increased and newer fervent thoughts and keener insight.