The Scarlet Letter

Leitmotif of Public Self Versus Private Self in "The Scarlet Letter" 11th Grade

One of the major themes in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” is the idea of the public self as distinguished from the private self. This leitmotif encompasses much more than the idea of an individual versus society; it also contains the themes of hidden thoughts versus candid speech, staying true to self versus meeting social expectations, and freedom through self-actualization versus restriction through self-denial. The story develops three characters that represent different schools of thought regarding the contrast between the public and private self. Understanding the mindset and the approaches of each of these characters, as well as how they reconcile their two personas, is paramount in discerning Hawthorne’s message.

The first character, Hester Prynne, has the most consistency between her public and private persona. From the opening of the book to the closing, her public image mirrors her private thoughts and actions. Having already failed society’s expectations, she is altruistic, reserved, and free to think about life in unorthodox ways. In the public setting, she does not retaliate against the masses’ derogatory opinions of her nor try to change their feelings; she instead...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 892 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 7013 literature essays, 1927 sample college application essays, 289 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in