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Uncovering Plots: Secret Agents in The Scarlet Letter
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Gerald Doherty  

Gerald Doherty teaches literature and literary theory at the University of Turku, Turku, Finland. He has published many articles on modernist writers in such journals as Style, Criticism, and South Central Review. He is presently writing on the influence of modern theories of rhetoric on narrative forms.


1. This list, of course, is not meant to be exhaustive. It offers at best a sample of representative opinion over a span of four decades.

2. Eakin is one of the few commentators who have attempted to justify the introductory sketch in its own right. In establishing a consonance between structure and theme, he shows that the design of the sketch represents Hawthorne's "most complete dramatization of his experience of the creative process" (346-58).

3. I use the term "knot" in the sense of a point of convergence or condensation, the node at which a complex of narratives is caught up and tied together.

4. For Derrida, usury/usure signifies at once the erosion of the sensuous image that permits the metaphysical concept to come into existence and the linguistic "surplus value" or interest that accrues from this process. In The Scarlet Letter, the wearing away of the letter through usage generates an unexpected kind of return—the interest and profit derived from the narrative the eroded letter engenders (Margins 209-11).

5. The perception of an isomorphic relationship between tropological and narrative structures goes back to the Russian Formalists, notably Shklovsky. It receives its most daring contemporary elaboration in Hayden White's Metahistory, which extrapolates both a theory of history and of historical narratives from a basic Viconian tetradic tropology.

6. A diagrammatic exposition of the "doubling and coupling" processes, using Black's metaphor, "Man is a wolf," as a model, would appear as follows: through the doubling effect, associated senses are split off, released from the predicate "wolf"—fierce, carnivorous, treacherous—none of which is synonymous with the term "wolf": they refract or distort the original meaning. These "doublings" of meaning in turn couple with the subject term "man," reorganizing our view of man, transforming the implications both of "man" and of "wolf" in the process. See Black 39-41.

7. I have analyzed one such moment of misrecognition in the encounters between Sarah and Charles on Ware Commons in John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. See Doherty 49-68.

8. Classically, metaphor is perceived as "a grace or ornament or added power of language, not its constitutive form" (Richards 90): it dresses up a "tired literal expression in attractive new garb" (Soskice 24).

9. For Dumarsais, the conception of a "borrowed dwelling" is not merely one metaphor among others, but rather "a metaphor of metaphor," signifying the status of the figure itself (Margins 253).

10. Governor Bellingham's ornamental garden has similar implications: it too is disfigured, infiltrated by an uncontrollable "wildness," that makes the reproduction of the original model—the ideal English garden—impossible (78-79).

11. As Scheffler puts it, for the investigator of a metaphor "a certain general crossing of categories may turn out to be significant." The suspicion that such a crossing takes place serves as an "invitation" or spur: it poses "a new challenge to interpretative ingenuity" (87, 128-29).

12. "Negativity" implies that in the metaphorical process, all the terms are caught up in analogical relays, in networks of relation that frustrate the return to a source.

13. Todorov draws an interesting distinction between plots of causality which are metonymic in type and depend on surprise and suspense, and plots of predestination and prophecy (65-66). These latter, which turn on the fulfillment of foretold events, are the product of those correspondences and symmetries that metaphor generates.

14. The "death" of metaphor entails the destruction of the literal/figurative opposition in which the concept of metaphor has its ground (Margins 270).

Works Cited

Bell, Michael Davitt. "Arts of Deception: "Romance and The Scarlet Letter." In Colacurcio.
Bensick, Carol. "His Folly, Her Weakness: Demystified Adultery in The Scarlet Letter." In Colacurcio.
Black, Max. Models and Metaphors. New York: Cornell University Press, 1962.
Colacurcio, Michael J., ed. New Essays on The Scarlet Letter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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