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Excerpt from Melissa McFarland Pennell's Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne

Excerpt from Melissa McFarland Pennell's Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne (courtesy of Greenwood Press)

In this passage, Melissa Pennell shows how Hawthorne makes use of names in The Scarlet Letter to indicate the moral status of his characters.

 

"The names of the characters have symbolic qualities as well. Hester recalls Hestia, the Greek goddess of the hearth and home, and Esther of the Old Testament, a woman who intercedes for her people and is often considered and image of inner strength coupled with beauty. Dimmesdale's given name Arthur is associated with the legends of Camelot, a kingdom ultimately compromised by adultery. His surname, Dimmesdale, suggests a valley of darkness, a clue to his inner state. Because he has chosen the name by which he will be identified in the community, Roger Chillingworth's is also revealing of his nature. The reader discovers he is a cold man, who behaves like a rogue in his secretive manipulations of Dimmesdale. Hester consciously gives Pearl a name that has symbolic value. Even Master Brackett, the jailer, supposedly a historical personage, has a name that reflects his occupational role as one who encloses others" (83).




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