The Scarlet Letter: The Brook FRanny Anunobi

Introduction: The Brook

In Chapters 13-19 of the Scarlet Letter, we observe the use of water images, specifically, the brook in the forest neighboring the town, as Hawthorne reestablishes imagery of this sort as a constant representation of mystery and evil. By noting several instances of this image's appearance in the listed chapter, the complexity of the scarlet letter and its innate corruption is conveyed.

Instance 1: Page 252

"Here and there she came to a full stop, and peeped curiously into a pool, left by the retiring tide as a mirror for Pearl to see her face in. Forth peeped at her, out of the pool, with dark, glistening curls around her head, and an elf-smile in her eyes, the image of a little maid whom Pearl, having no other playmate, invited to take her hand and run a race with her. But the visionary little maid on her part, beckoned likewise, as if to say— ‘This is a better place; come thou into the pool.’"

This except marks the first instance in which Pearl and Hester encounter the creak. The shimmering waters pose and inviting lure to Pearl, attracting the young mind with its simple fluidity and mystery.

Instance 2: Page 278-9

"It was a little dell where they had seated themselves, with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side, and a brook flowing through the midst, over a bed of The fallen and drowned leaves."

Here Hester and Pearl return to the forest and are seated on the moss rocks that line the brook. Pearl is prompted to ask her mother about the "Black Man", as her mother proceeds in whispering the dark, evil secrets with the brook eavesdropping not to far off and absorbing them.

Instance 3: Page 279-80

"All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the streamlet kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue. ‘Oh, brook! Oh, foolish and tiresome little brook!’ cried Pearl, after listening awhile to its talk, ‘Why art thou The so sad? Pluck up a spirit, and do not be all the time sighing and murmuring!'"

The depiction of the river in this segment is so interesting. The brooks seems to intimidate and torment the trees and boulders surrounding its path. Looking at this scene through a lens of personification and imagination, we can almost see the forest flinching away from this seemingly infectious water. In this way, the river acts as a parallel to Hester in a sense. Her "evil" - specifically, the scarlet letter, causes her to be avoided in this same manner by the people in her town. Pearls attraction to this representation of the scarlet letter is very telling, and this comes into play in the subsequent chapters.

Instance 4: Page 280

"But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the forest trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom. But, unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course."

While I can practically cite this entire page, I wanted to highlight this specific paragraph because here, the narrator makes a direct comparison between the brook and Pearl. The narrator earlier (in the first few chapters), refers to Pearl as "the scarlet letter incarnate". This title is paralleled openly here by the brook, more so in the previous quote. The opening sentence of this segment describes the experiences the brook endured, and its inclination to "talk"about them. In this same way, we witness Pearl's eagerness to talk about her experiences, and those of her mother. However, the end of this quote shows a contrast between the brook and Pearl, noting that "she danced and sparkled" still, while the brook, perhaps knowing more than she, whipped and thrashed around the frame of the creak.

Instance 5: Page 320

"Hereupon, Pearl broke away from her mother, and, running to the brook, stooped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcome kiss was quite washed off and diffused through a long lapse of the gliding water. She then remained apart, silently watching Hester and the clergyman".

In the previous pages, Hester had cast off her scarlet letter into the nearby bushes, thus freeing herself (temporarily) of the bounds in which she had been enclosed. The narrator notes here that with a little more force, it would have landed in the brook! Consequently, she never allowed for the scarlet letter to fully be removed from her being and perhaps, subconsciously, was hesitant to thrust it into the waters (the waters that represented well in which the scarlet letter sprung forth from). Pearl is unable to recognized and accept her mother with the absence of this stamp, and, with the brook in between them, refuses to return to her mother. After her mother takes up the letter, Pearl proceeds in returning, anointing herself in the waters of the creak and then placing a kiss upon the scarlet letter. In this image, the trinitarian embodiment of the scarlet letter (the literal, the incarnate, and the figurative) are united.


I think that the brook was used in various ways to enhance these chapters. Water can take on so many different forms and its versatile nature allows for it to be utilized in many ways. Hawthorne used the brook and constructed expertly an image of the scarlet letter.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Boston: Ticknor, Reed & Fields, 1850;, 1999.

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