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Foreshadowing in The Scarlet Letter

Examples of foreshadowing can be found in the names of several characters. Pearl is Hester’s ultimate treasure, for whom much has been sacrificed, while Reverend Dimmesdale can often appear dim when failing to recognizing Chillingworth’s nefarious intentions. Chillingworth himself is a chilling character, who becomes progressively more malevolent throughout the novel.

Foreshadowing Examples in The Scarlet Letter:

The Custom-House

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"capital letter A...."   (The Custom-House)

Notice how much attention is given to the discovery of this relic. The wealth of attention given to the discovery of the relic is important because it contains major symbolic significance in the story the narrator will write.

"except it were human nature..."   (The Custom-House)

In literature, it is important to pay attention to anything that makes generalizations about human nature. Often, when an author says something about human nature, it can be inferred to foreshadow how the thematic events of a story will involve something inherently good or bad in humans.

"a tale of human frailty and sorrow..."   (Chapter I)

Hawthorne directly addresses the readers to give them guidance as to how the story is meant to be read. He tells the readers the story is about humanity’s sinful nature. Hawthorne states that despite the content of the story, readers will be able to understand the good that can come from the bad, which is his intended purpose with sharing this story.

"to hide his face for shame..."   (Chapter II)

Although this statement is spoken as a generality, it is interesting to note that the author uses the pronoun “his” instead of “her” since the person currently being punished is Hester. This choice of words likely foreshadows events to come.

"And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine..."   (Chapter III)

Notice how she looks into the “deep and troubled eyes” of Reverend Dimmesdale when she says this, rather than Mr. Wilson, the person speaking to her. We don’t know why so much attention is being drawn to Reverend Dimmesdale, but it is important to note because it likely foreshadows later events in the story.

"reluctant part..."   (Chapter VIII)

This is an interesting adjective for Hawthorne to use. Recall during the scaffold scene when Mr. Wilson asks Reverend Dimmesdale three times to address Hester before he finally speaks to Hester and the crowd. Perhaps his reluctance foreshadows something more complex than simple hesitancy to condemn Hester’s sin.

"Satan comports himself, when a precious human soul is lost to heaven, and won into his kingdom...."   (Chapter X)

Creating a superb amount of suspense, but lacking in significant detail, Chillingworth finally observes something on Dimmesdale that will soon be revealed. This description completes Chillingworth's satanic transformation. The "trait of wonder" is the only distinguishing feature between Chillingworth and Satan.

"made a plaything of the sound, and were bandying it to and fro...."   (Chapter XII)

Note what happens to Dimmesdale here when he stands on the symbol of Puritan oppression, the scaffold. He is so affected that he actually shrieks aloud. Dimmesdale, even under the greatest pangs of guilt and under his own scourge, has never actually shrieked until now. This can be seen as foreshadowing that Dimmesdale cannot survive under that same oppression that Hester endures. In truth, he is not as strong of a person as Hester.

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