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Symbols and Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

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Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter


     Symbolism in literature is the deepness and hidden meaning in a piece of

work.  It is often used to represent a moral or religious belief or value.

Without symbolism literature is just a bunch of meaningless words on paper.  The

most symbolic piece of work in American Literature is Nathaniel Hawthorne's The

Scarlet Letter.  Hawthorne's use of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter is one of

the most significant contributions to the rise of American Literature.



     Much of Hawthorne's symbolism is very hard to find but several symbols are

also obvious.  In the first chapter Hawthorne describes the prison as "the black

flower of civilized society".  The prison represents the crime and punishment

that was incorporated in the early Puritan life.  He also contrasts the prison

with the tombstone at the end of the novel by suggesting that crime and

punishment bring about the end of civilized life.  In the same chapter he

describes the overgrown vegetation of weeds around the prison.  The weeds

symbolize how corrupt civilization really is.  He also points out a positive

symbol, the wild rose bush.  This represents the blossoming of good out of the

darkness of all civilized life.



     The most important symbol which is carried throughout the novel is

undoubtedly the scarlet letter A.  It initially symbolizes the immoral act of

adultery but by the end of the novel the "A" has hidden much more meaning than

that.  The "A" appears in many other places than on the chest of Hester Prynne.

It is seen on the armor breastplate at Governor Bellingham's mansion.  At night

while Dimmesdale is standing on the scaffold he sees a bright red letter A in

the sky.  While Pearl is playing near the bay shore she arranges some grass in

the form of an A on her own breast.  But one of the most important A's is one

the spectators see burnt on Dimmesdale's chest.



     The letter A also has a variety of meanings.  Originally standing for the

sin of adultery it has a different meaning for each character.  The Puritan

community considers the letter a mark of just punishment.  Hester sees the

letter as a symbol of unjust humiliation.  Dimmesdale sees the A as a reminder

of his own guilt.  Chillingworth sees the A as a quest for revenge to find the

adulterer.  Pearl is very curious of the letter and sees it as a great mystery.

The A also stands for "Angel" when it is seen in the sky on the night of

Governor Winthrop's death.



     Symbolism shows the greatness of an author's ability to supply meaning to

his work.  It also shows the pride an author takes in his work.  Nathaniel

Hawthorne's use of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter shows his greatness to

produce a novel of the highest possible caliber.  These are the reasons why

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is American Literature's most famous

symbolic novel ever to be written.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Symbols and Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter." 05 Dec 2016

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