“Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used by the author to represent abstract ideas or concepts.” Symbolism in literature is the depth and hidden meaning in any piece of work. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a powerful and evocative novel laced with symbolism. The most obvious is the symbol of the scarlet letter itself, representing Hester’s sin of adultery. Hawthorne’s other symbols are less obvious and are very often obscured in the novel.
Clothing is an important but often forgotten symbol in The Scarlet Letter. Clothing is defined as “garments collectively, clothes, raiment, apparel… a covering” (dictionary.com). The second part of the definition, which describes clothing as “a covering” is the most relevant to its symbolism in the novel (dictionary.com). Hester is a seamstress and uses it as her source of income to support herself and her daughter Pearl. Hester uses clothing as a covering or escape from her sentence of having to wear the scarlet letter on her bosom all the time. The connotation of the word throughout the novel is a form of rebellion. Her work supplies an outlet for Hester’s artistic sensibilities, which she exercises in the work she does for others and in the clothes she embroiders for Pearl. With Pearl’s attire, Hester can give “the gorgeous tendencies of her imagination their full play” (Scarlet). Hester dresses Pearl in bright colors rather than the dark, drab colors that were so prevalently worn in Puritan society.
In Chapter 1, the beginning scene of the novel, Hawthorne describes a group of Puritans in front of the prison. They were wearing “sad-colored garments and gray…hats.” Some were wearing hoods (Scarlet 42). Already Hawthorne is sh...
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...l anyone of his crime. Moreover, clothing has vague significance because the reverend is wearing a black veil, like Chillingworth who wears black all the time, and that gives insight to his evil nature.
In conclusion, clothing is used for multiple reasons in the novel. Hester uses it as a form of rebellion, it is her way to express her feelings through garments. In addition, it is her way of rebelling against Puritan society, by dressing Pearl in colors much not the norm to the society. In addition, clothing is also used to reflect character and situation in the novel. The clothes worn by Chillingworth and by the witch foreshadow their character. Colors of clothing are also important. The use of bright colors, such as crimson, and gold conveys how dissimilar Hester and Pearl are viewed by the Puritan society, which generally dresses in plain, emotionless colors.
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