Free Essay on Plant Imagery in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
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The Scarlet Letter: Plant Imagery
Throughout the novel, Hawthorne uses plant imagery to symbolize both the negative and positive character traits and to set the mood of the novel. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne takes place during the age of Puritanism in Boston where a young and attractive Puritan woman, Hester, commits adultery with the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, who had been captured by Indians, comes to town, but only Hester knows his true identity. Chillingworth vows to figure out who Hester’s lover is and he succeeds.
Ultimately, this novel contains deception and guilt which is in the form of plant imagery. Hawthorne uses many different negative variations of plant imagery to illustrate his ideas. First of all, living plant life, portraying the torturing of Dimmesdale by Chillingworth, remains evident throughout the novel. For example, when Chillingworth went to the forest to gather herbs he “dug up roots and plucked off twigs from the forest trees” (111) which symbolizes how Chillingworth was “plucking” the life out of Dimmesdale limb by limb. Also, Hawthorne describes grass as pure and without weeds to kill the grass; however, “when poor Mr. Dimmesdale was thinking of his grave, he questioned with himself whether the grass would ever grow on it, because an accursed thing must there be buried” (131). In addition, weeds symbolize secrecy and the impurity of society. During Chillingworth and Dimmesdale’s covert discussion about “the powers of nature call[ing] so earnestly for the confession of sin,[and discussing] that these black weeds have sprung up out of a buried heart, to make manifest an unspoken crime” (120) illustrates the idea of weeds filling the heart with sin and guilt. Moreover, “the black flower of civilized society” (45-46) refers to the Puritans’ harsh attitude towards sinners as they view Hester’s punishment.
Most importantly, the imagery used with leaves allows for different interpretations. “Thou shalt forgive me! cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him [Dimmesdale]” (178) illustrates that Hester begs nature’s forgiveness for her sin by falling on the leaves. Similarly, Hester “threw it [the scarlet letter] to a distance among the withered leaves,” (185) for that instant, her guilty conscience was dying along with the withering leaves. Although Hawthorne uses a great deal of negative plant imagery, the positive plant imagery balances the two. Initially, moss symbolizes the hardships that Hester and Dimmesdale have endured.