Raised upon a platform for all to see, the eyes of strangers and friends alike all boring holes into the one upon the scaffold, the deep feeling of shame not only at one’s sin but at the knowledge that everyone else knows as well. This was the fate of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. It was their fate to have their sin revealed to all through the standing on the scaffold. Three times the scaffold is seen in The Scarlet Letter. These scenes were vital to Hawthorne’s story; these scenes tied the entire book together. The book started with the scaffold, the scaffold was beheld in the middle, and the book ended with the scaffold. The scaffold gave the book a place to revolve around. Hawthorne included these three scenes on the scaffold to not only reveal characters inner most thoughts but to also unite characters under a common belief and to expose the true nature of sinners.
Th e scaffold seems to have power all its own, the power to force anyone and everyone to reveal their innermost secrets. Hester did not wish for her most egregious sin to the entire town but it was, and the medium for this to take place was through the scaffold. This is obvious from what Hawthorne wrote about what Hester was thinking at the beginning of the book when Hester is on the scaffold:
Had a roar of laughter burst from the multitude – each man, each woman, each little shrill-voiced child, contributing their individual parts – Hester Prynne might have repaid them all with a bitter and disdainful smile. But under the leaden infliction which it was her doom to endure she felt, at moments, as if she must needs shriek out with the full power of her lungs and cast herself from the scaffold down upon the ground, or else go mad at once. (55)
This quote shows, quite clearly, the anguish that Hester went through, the ridicule of her fellow townspeople and the shame as to what she did. Her innermost thoughts displayed for all to see. In addition, Pearl also reveals her thoughts while upon the scaffold. During the second scene on the scaffold when Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl are on the scaffold at night Pearl reveals her inner thoughts to Dimmesdale and Hester, she reveals that she wishes to have a father. She reveals that she wants Dimmesdale to stand with her and Hester on the scaffold the following day. This shows not only Pearl’s thoughts but also Dimmesdale’s through his refusal to Pearl’s request. This shows Pearl’s desires and Dimmesdale’s true intentions. Also during the second scene on the scaffold while Dimmesdale is standing all alone on the scaffold his true feelings of shame and guilt are revealed not only to the readers but the true extent of his feelings are revealed to Dimmesdale himself. The scaffold gives the reader and the characters enormous insight into not only other people’s thoughts but to their own thoughts as well.
Furthermore, no object in the entire novel seems to have the same capability to unite a group of people as does the scaffold. In the second scene on the scaffold when Hester and Dimmesdale meet it draws them closer together as friends, as family and as lovers. It is here when the first seeds of their plan to run away together are planted. Hawthorne brought the two of them together in this scene he brought the lovers back together finally:
‘ Come up hither, Hester, thou and Little Pearl’, said the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. ‘Ye have both been here before, but I was not with you. Come up hither once again, and we will stand all three together.’
She silently ascended the steps, and stood on the platform, holding little Pearl by the hand. The minister felt for the child’s other hand, and took it. The moment that he did so, there came what seemed a tumultuous rush of new life, other life than his own pouring like a torrent into his heart, and hurrying through all his veins, as if the mother and the child were communicating their vital warmth to his half-torpid system. The three formed an electric chain. (149)
This quote is the true embodiment of family, when the three separated family member finally get to be reunited at last. It is here where they are first seen as a true family. During the first scaffold scene when Hester’s sin is revealed the relationship between Hester and Dimmesdale is cemented, with the revelation of her sin there is no way Dimmesdale can leave the one he loves to the mercy of the town. The revealing Hester’s sin meant that she and Dimmesdale would always be together, the scaffold united them for the rest of their lives. Also when Hester’s sin is revealed to the entire town it gives the town a common enemy, it unites the town against Hester and her sin. The scaffold seems to be one of Hawthorne’s characters all by itself.
In addition, the true nature of sinners is revealed on the scaffold. This is especially true for Hester, her sin and her true nature were both revealed on the scaffold in the beginning of the book when she stands before the entire town. Also Dimmesdale when he is alone on the scaffold in the second scene, this is the first time that he truly realizes the true nature of his sin, the utter severity of his sin, his guilt, and his shame. In the third scene, however, the true nature of Dimmesdale’s sin is revealed to the entire town while he is on the scaffold. Hawthorne reveals the nature of Dimmesdale’s sin to everyone just before he dies in this quote:
‘It was on him!’ he continued, with a kind of fierceness; so determined was he to speak out tile whole. ‘God’s eye beheld it! The angels were forever pointing at it! (The Devil knew it well, and fretted it continually with the touch of his burning finger!) But he hid it cunningly from men, and walked among you with the mien of a spirit, mournful, because so pure in a sinful world! –and sad, because he missed his heavenly kindred! Now, at the death-hour, he stands up before you! He bids you look again at Hester’s scarlet letter! He tells you, that, with all its mysterious horror, it is but the shadow of what he bears on his own breast, and that even this, his own red stigma, is no more than the type of what has seared his inmost heart! Stand any here that question God’s judgment on a sinner! Behold! Behold, a dreadful witness of it!’ With a convulsive motion, he tore away the ministerial band from before his breast. It was revealed! But it were irreverent to describe that revelation. For an instant, the gaze of the horror-stricken multitude was concentrated on the ghastly miracle; while the minister stood, with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory. (250)
This is how Dimmesdale’s sin was revealed to the town, on the scaffold all things are revealed, for better or for worse.
The scaffold has great power vested in by Hawthorne; these powers were used in many ways. It reveals things that one might not even know about one’s self. It has the power to bring people together even if they themselves do not wish it. The scaffold has the ability and has changed people’s lives for the better or for the worse. The scaffold improved the story beyond measure, without it the story would have no place to bring people together, no place to reveal secrets, and no place to reveal sin.