The Road of a Religion Throughout The Scarlet Letter, author Nathaniel Hawthorne continuously uses the image of a road or path as a metaphor for the limited individual freedom within the Puritan religion. The road, an entity that demands adherence to a dictated direction, is similar to the structure of Puritanism, which defines a set of strict moral laws that must be followed. On pages 159-160, the passage that begins with The road and ends with... find them bright, is an ideal example of Hawthornes use of the road as a metaphor. Hawthornes diction in this passage also suggests that the physical and therefore metaphoric Puritan road is constructed in such a way that makes deviancy almost inevitable.
In this passage Hester and Pearl walk on a physical road whose qualities make it difficult to follow. In the same way, Puritans must traverse a religion that is inherently flawed and often leads the individual astray from its path. Hawthorne employs the symbolic connotations of a road or path in order to demonstrate the strict religious beliefs of the Puritan life. Roads are traditionally used to symbolize something that is planed out, easy to follow, or hard to stray off from. In this passage, Hawthorne wisely uses a road to portray the Puritan lifestyle that both Hester and Pearl are a part of. The idea of uniformity was practiced throughout the Puritan community.
Puritans were required to follow a strict set of religious laws and ideals to stay pure. To deviate from these laws and ideals broke the uniformity, and therefore was sinful and was punished to a great extent. The idea of uniformity is identical to the connotations of a road or path. A road, just like the Puritan society, is uniform; its distinguishable, planed out, paved, easy to follow, and it doesnt change Another main idea within the Puritan community was the disallowance of toleration. They did not tolerate any behavior outside their ideals and laws because it broke the uniformity of the religion. Again, Hawthorne uses the metaphor of a road to portray this idea within the Puritan society.
He suggests the idea that everything outside the path is evil and should not be tolerated. For a road is meant to be followed, and whatever lies outside the established boundaries of a road is irrelevant to ones destination. This road that Hawthorne creates effectively demonstrates the idea of a strict Puritan society. The passage on page 159-160 demonstrates not only the path the Puritans are made to follow, but also what is forbidden to them while they are restricted to the path. Traditionally, a forest or woods are used to symbolize the wild and untamed, and the inhabitants are usually depicted as savages or outlaws. Hawthorne uses the forest to depict the things that Puritans are meant to avoid and that are forbidden; things that will make them sinful or turn them into savages or outlaws.
In the beginning of the passage, Hawthorne describes the mystery of the primeval forest. (159) He states that the forest is a mystery, which contradicts what the Puritans want in their society - uniformity. The forest symbolizes what they dont want, a change from the path that everyone must follow. Change is not tolerated in their religion, it is evil. The forest represents this change; it is wild, and untamed - not uniform.
To become curious and want to explore, and stray off the path and venture into the mysterious forest, would be the ultimate sin. The strict laws and rules within the Puritan religion cause the Puritans to want an alternative to the path. The untamed mysterious forest represents their alternative because it deviates from the norm. Hawthorne creates the metaphor of the forest to help us understand and clarify why the path is so difficult to follow.
Hawthorne not only suggests that the road is a metaphor for the limited individual freedom within the Puritan society, but that the construction of the road makes deviancy almost inevitable. In this passage he describes the road as being straggled and hemmed so narrowly. (159) The word straggled suggests that there are irregular twists and turns in the path. A path that winds irregularly and is cut so narrowly is difficult to follow; there is no set pattern, and it is hard to maneuver.
If the path were predictable and easy to traverse then the Puritans could clearly decipher each step necessary to stay on the path that leads to a pure life, and not worry about committing immoral conduct. Hawthorne craftily uses the words straggled and narrow to metaphorically suggest the difficulty one experiences trying to stay on the path. The difficulty in staying on the path increases with other factors and it makes deviancy within the Puritan community almost inevitable. Hawthorne uses sunlight as a symbol to show how the path is inherently difficult to stay on.
He states that the forest disclosed such imperfect glimpses of the sky above. (159) Hawthorne describes how the forest shields Hester and Pearls view of the sky, and its foliage allows only a small amount of light to reach the path. To find direction from a very brief view of light would be challenging. Thus the level of difficulty in staying on the path increases. The word glimpse implies that Hester and Pearl are allowed only momentary peaks at the sunlight.
Hawthornes use of imperfect shows that the sunlight is weak. Thus he has not only made the view of the sky, that is, the presence of light, momentary, he has further diminished its usefulness by saying that the momentary light is of poor quality, thus making the path even harder to follow. Hawthorne proceeds to describe the sportive sunlight pervading the path. (160) Through the use of the word sportive, he suggests that the light is playful, and that the movement of the sunlight is unpredictable. For optimum clarity on the path, Hester and Pearl need the light to shine directly in front of them, to illuminate each step, and guide them through the sharp turns that the straggled path may take. Unfortunately, the light is playful and, thus, unpredictable and unreliable.
To stay on this path of moral conduct is a commitment that all Puritans make when choosing their religion. To stray off the path would be a moral sin and cause ones soul to become impure. Hawthornes use of the lack of sufficient sunlight as an obstacle on the path of a successful Puritan life shows how Puritans have a difficult time following this path without light to guide them. In the passage in pages 159-160 Hawthorne uses a road or path as a metaphor to represent the strict religious ideals of Puritanism and the limited individual freedom one has within that religion. Although a road connotes images of being straight, easy to follow, paved, planed out, and hard to stray from, Hawthorne uses words such as straggled and narrow to describe the path and explain how Puritanism is not as easy to follow as it seems. He creates another metaphor using the idea of the forest, which is what lies outside the path, to describe the tempting alternative to following this difficult path.
Hawthornes purpose in this passage is to illuminate the flaws in the Puritan path that make deviancy, like the act committed by Hester Prynne, almost unavoidable. He stresses the difficulties in the actual construction of the path, as well as the temptations that lie just outside its narrow boundaries, in order to make his statement on the flaws of the Puritan religion.