In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, life is centered
around a rigid Puritan society in which one is unable to divulge his
or her innermost thoughts and secrets. Every human being needs the
opportunity to express how he or she truly feels, otherwise the
emotions are bottled up until they become volatile. Unfortunately,
Puritan society did not permit this kind of expression, thus
characters had to seek alternate means to relieve their personal
anguishes and desires. Luckily, at least for the four main characters,
Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious
forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a kind of “shelter” for
members of society in need of a refuge from daily Puritan life.
In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the pivotal
characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest track
leads away from the settlement out into the wilderness where all signs
of civilization vanish. This is precisely the escape route from strict
mandates of law and religion, to a refuge where men, as well as women,
can open up and be themselves. It is here that Dimmesdale openly
acknowledges Hester and his eternal love for her. It is also here that
Hester can do the same for Dimmesdale. Finally, it is here that the
two of them can openly engage in conversation without being
preoccupied with the constraints that Puritan society places on them.
The forest itself is the very embodiment of freedom. Nobody
watches in the woods to report misbehavior, but it is here that
people may do as they wish. To independent spirits such as Hester
Prynne’s, the wilderness gesture her, ‘‘Throw off the shackles of law
and religion. What good have they done you anyway? Look at you, a
young and vibrant woman, grown old before your time. And no wonder,
hemmed in, as you are, on every side by prohibitions. Why, you