Characterization, Symbolism, and Irony in The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a novel about a young woman who commits adultery and is forced to wear the letter A, which symbolizes adultery, on her chest. In this novel, Hawthorne includes many symbols to display hidden meanings, including character symbols to wake up the reader. Irony is an important element as well, used to reveal the hypocrisy of humankind. The Scarlet Letter is a unique blend of characters, irony and symbolism.

Hester Prynne is first described in the scaffold scene as, “tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes” (Hawthorne 37). She wears the letter “A” upon her breast because she committed adultery. “Her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped” (Hawthorne 37). Hester was a strong-willed and impetuous young woman—she remembers her parents as loving guides who frequently had to restrain her incautious behavior (SparkNotes). When the people of the town first saw her, they looked down upon her and criticized her. On the outside, it seemed that these gestures did not hurt her, however, on the inside, she feels like an outcast. She is sad, lonely, and feels like nobody cares about her. After seven years of punishment, Hester wears a cap and her face becomes dark, and she is hidden by the burden of her sin. Once she removed her scarlet letter, and it seemed as if her beauty came back to life. Yet when Pearl, Hester’s daughter, sees her, she becomes angry and forces her ...

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...be taken away from her, she asks Dimmesdale to help her. This is an example of irony because the audience knows that Dimmesdale and Hester are partners in sin, but the characters do not. The last example of irony is when Hester implies that Dimmesdale knows her best since he is her pastor, while one later understands that Dimmesdale knows her well because they committed adultery together.

Hawthorne not only displays excellent characterization, symbolism, and irony, but he also exhibits a good message for all. The characters (not including the antagonist) all learned valuable lessons. Hawthorne’s symbolism proved that there are deeper meanings to things than one might expect. The irony of the story pulls it all together. Hawthorne’s creative uses of all three of these elements, characterization, symbolism, and irony, make The Scarlet Letter, a must-read novel.
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