The Scarlet Letter

Hester, Dimmesdale, and Puritan Society: the Id, Ego, and Superego 11th Grade

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is led to have an affair by her repressed unconscious desires, what Freud calls the id. Similarly, Arthur Dimmesdale struggles with his internal guilt and refuses to confess his sin; he attempts to think rationally and therefore embodies the ego. Finally, Salem itself represents the superego, which confines one’s behavior to societal norms; the author expresses his contempt for this Puritan society directly. Hawthorne uses these story elements in an ironic fashion, portraying the society’s moral limitations as misguided and praising Hester for transcending these boundaries; using sarcastic diction, he therefore utilizes Freud’s id, ego, and superego in a critical manner. Specifically, an analysis of each character’s actions—Hester’s climb back into society, and Dimmesdale’s cowardly self-loathing—reveals a markedly different personality in both, tying back to Hawthorne’s belief of the society’s hypocrisy.

Hester’s affair, spurred by her subconscious desire to celebrate her mark of shame rather than let it cast a shadow on her reputation, leads her to be banished to the fringes of society; the heroic language used to describe her later reintegration suggests that...

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