Symbolism in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

753 Words4 Pages
Symbolism and The Scarlet Letter Symbolism is traditionally a sign or token of something. In the matter of literature, the definition of the literary device, symbolism, is more complicated. Symbols of literature are usually metaphysical. The main symbol of The Scarlet Letter is the red "A" that Hester Prynne was sentenced to wear on her chest. Nathaniel Hawthorne's intention was to make the meaning of the crimson token worn on the bosom of Hester Prynne is highly ambiguous. In this he was successful. Although the "A" means "adulteress" to the people of Boston, to reader the "A" may have other meanings such as "American" or "able". To the townspeople, author, and reader clearly the original intention of the "A" was to stand for "adulteress". When Hester Prynne became pregnant during the absence of her husband she was accused and convicted of adultery. Her sentence was to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her bosom to let everyone know that she was an adulteress, forevermore. Because of her unique sentence everyone knew that she was, in fact, an adulteress and people treated her that way. Society condemned her for her sin, without knowing anything else. Hester was forced to live alone on the outskirts of the city. She was a seamstress, but got very little business. When she used her skills to decorate the "A", things only got worse. People felt that she was trying to show off the fact that she was an adulteress, or that she was proud to be. Hester's daughter, Pearl, was constantly ridiculed by other children for being an "evil", "devil" child. Clearly it was the first intention of the symbol to reve! al that Hester Prynne was an adulteress. Although the first intention of the "A" was to mark Hester Prynne as an adulteress, it also has other, more abstract meanings. The letter has a relation to the word, "American". Hester Prynne's "A" reflects an "American" meaning in various ways. For one, America is a melting pot of many peoples and ideas, as was Hester's "A". She earned that "A" under certain situations. She was in a loveless marriage. She had been separated from her husband for 2 years. She thought he might be at the bottom of the sea. She was in love with another man. She was perceived and punished under a strict Puritan eye. Like the development of America, the were many conditions that led to the developed of Hester's "A". Another way that Hester Prynne's "A" symbolizes America, is that they were both shaped by past actions. No matter how Hester had changed, since her act of adultery, at any point
Open Document