Theme of Alienation in The Scarlet Letter
We remember most of the characters of The Scarlet Letter in their loneliness. Hester, with Pearl (who does not seem to be human) in her daily rounds to the village and back the minister with his hand over his heart and his secret tortures and suffering the physician stooping and collecting herbs, or at the fires in his laboratory. Loneliness seems to be the curse blighting these lives. The curse of isolation is the direct consequence of the sin of the main characters.
Hester and Dimmesdale are isolated by their Original Sin, Chillingworth by his hatred and his sin, which violated “the sanctity of the human heart”. Hawthorne’s own terror of loneliness and his desire for the “magnetic chain of humanity” or human company seem to have been transferred to these characters.
In Hester’s case, her isolation is a mark of her social caste. Her, “badge of shame, i.e. the scarlet letter gains her distance from people, but it also assures her intellectual and moral growth. She “transcends her separation from society by good deeds and the companionship of miserable people”.
In the minister’s case, his sensitivity to his sin leads to suffering and private torture. His sin makes him conscious of his unworthiness, but it also makes him more acceptable to his admiring congregation. He feels suffocated in this atmosphere of repression.
Chillingworth’s isolation is essentially the isolation of a man who has willfully cut his name off from the book of humanity, his willful defiance of God in violation of “the sanctity of the human heart” against advice causes his spiritual isolation and death.
Even Pearl is isolated from the society of the Puritan children by her mother’s sin. She is a lonely child who plays with inanimate objects or with animals and brooks and flowers-a victim of the sin of her parents and the repressiveness of the Puritan society.
Chapter XXII shows Hester, Pearl, Dimmesdale and Chillingworth isolated from each other by the crowd. The Scarlet Letter is, thus, an exercise in the theme of alienation or isolation.