Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

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Symbolism can be defined as a figure, character, or object that is used to represent complex or abstract ideas. By expressing an idea in the form of an image, the reader can visualize the concept more concretely. The old expression, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” applies to symbolism as the author creates a visual representation of ideas. The use of symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter helps to illuminate the overall meaning of the work.

At the beginning of the book, the reader is introduced to a dark and gloomy town that had first built a prison and a cemetery. Amidst the depressing landscape, is a beautiful rosebush. “But on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rose-hush, covered, in this month of June, with its delicate gems, which might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him.” (Hawthorne 10) This rosebush represents a change, beauty, and hope for the prisoners awaiting their freedom. Being bright and beautiful, the rosebush is shockingly different from the depressing gloom of the rest of society. “In the contrast of the wild rose bush, with its flowers turned into gems, and the prison, turned metaphorically into an unnatural flower - the black flower of civilization -Hawthorne sets his conflict between prisoner and prison (or prisoner and crowd) into a much larger context. The rose bush is beautiful, also wild and natural; the black flower is ugly, also civilized and unnatural. Nature has a heart to pity and be kind; civilization, apparently, does not.” (Baym 6)

This rosebush was a symbol of...

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...ath of the governor. So one topic of gossip and conversation, Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s adultery, has evolved into another more recent one, the governor’s death.

Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter enables the reader to understand complex ideas more clearly. Beginning with the title of the book itself, Nathaniel Hawthorne weaves various symbols throughout the novel. The same symbol can mean different things to different people because symbols are subject to the interpretation of the reader. Nathaniel Hawthorne used symbolism to clarify the overall meaning of The Scarlet Letter.

Works Cited

Baym, Nina. The Scarlet Letter: a Reading. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Print.

Bloom, Harold. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. New York: Chelsea House, 1996. Print.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Herbert Spencer. Robinson. The Scarlet Letter;. New York: Globe Book, 1969. Print.