chapter  7
52 Pages

The Return of Hester Prynne

The contrary tendency toward oppositionalism is the dark side of Hawthorne's chiaroscuro portrait of Hester. Hawthorne's fusion of process and telos transmutes opposition into complementarity.The Scarlet Letter gathers its extraordinary aesthetic power-its imaginative richness, complexity, and depth-from its relation to the culture. This symbolic polarity, in which the Old World figures as social, moral, and spiritual antagonist to progress, pervades Jacksonian writing. It applies as such directly to what Hawthorne recalled in 1852 as the era of 'The Compromise'. The Northern rhetoric of the Civil War represents negation as affirmation-the destined Union made manifest in violence. Hawthorne's rhetoric builds on affirmation by negation-manifest inaction justified by national destiny. That liberal ideology fills the silence between Hester's cold defiance at the election-day ceremony and her final consolation for dissidents. The return of the Mayflower is a parable of social conflict following upon cultural myth.