Analysis of Allusions in The Scarlet letter
When an author refers to other events, people, and great works, it usually isn’t accidental. Simply defined, an allusion is a literary style involving references to well-known people, places, or events. They are commonly used through symbolism, similes, and metaphors.
In A Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne makes several allusions. Ranging from historical figures and other writers to religious text, Hawthorne effectively applies these allusions in his novel.
1. Historical Allusions
The Governor and King James
Hawthorne connects the Governor and King James in one of his passages. He describes the elaborate ruff and grey beard of the Governor in relation to the fashion prevalent during King James’ reign.
The Governor is shown as living in an extravagantly elaborate house that displays his affinity towards the good life. By alluding to King James, Hawthorne illustrates how both of these men are vain and shallow.
More particularly, the Governor’s lifestyle is in sharp contrast to the puritan society he presides over. Although he preaches for a pure and simple life, his actions are the exact opposite of his words.
Sir Thomas Overbury
In Chapter IX, Hawthorne alludes to Sir Thomas Overbury. A grand historical figure and writer, Sir Thomas was murdered in 1613, leading to a highly scandalous trial. His poem, A Wife, claimed that men had to demand certain virtues from women. It is said that this poem was the reason behind his murder.
In the passage, Hawthorne makes a historic reference to a scandal that was notoriously adulterous at the time.
2. Biblical Allusions
Satan and Chillingworth
In A Scarlet Letter, Roger Chillingworth is referred to as a Black Man – an allusion to Satan’s character in the Bible. Satan led a wide scale revolution against God. Christians today believe that he rules over Hades and tempts human beings to sin and join him in his infinite hell.
When Hester converses with Chillingworth, she asks him whether he is trying to lead her to sin so she can go to hell – much in the same way that Satan did according to the Puritans in the novel.
Similarly, Chillingworth is extraordinarily overjoyed when he finds out that his wife has taken Reverend Dimmesdale for a lover. Like Satan, he is excited that a priest risked his salvation by committing this egregious sin.
Adam and Eve
Last but not least, Hawthorne makes a number of allusions to Adam and Eve from the Bible. More specifically, Hester Prynne is compared to Eve – a reminder of the origin of sin and a reminder of feminine frailty. Her innate femininity causes her to shed her veil of innocence for a sinful one.
When Hester gives birth to Pearl, she does so painfully – much like Even did. Further, Hester and Dimmesdale are referred to as the world’s first parents, a direct allusion to Eve and Adam.
Over and above everything else, the use of allusion as a literary style in A Scarlet Letter is widespread throughout the chapters. By so doing, Hawthorne effectively renders a stamp of genius in his writing, using his knowledge of history and religion to further boost the popularity of his novel.