Symbols and Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

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Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is generally considered to

be the first American symbolic novel. A symbol is something which is used

to represent something broader in meaning.

The most obvious symbol in the novel is the actual scarlet "A" which

both the criticism and I agree upon. This "A" is the literal symbol of the

sin of adultery. The letter A then appears in many different forms

throughout the novel. The gold-embroidered A on Hester Prynne's fascinates

Pearl Prynne. It is magnified in the armor breast plate at Governor

Bellingham's mansion which is so extreme that it seems to hide and cover

Hester. On the night of Arthur Dimmesdale vigil, he sees a red A in the

sky. And finally, the letter is revealed on Dimmsdale's chest in front of

the whole village.

The A also takes on many meanings. It has the original meaning as

well as different meanings to various characters. To Hester, the A means

humiliation. The A to Dimmesdale is a reminder of his own contrition. To

Pearl, the A is peculiarity and Roger Chillingworth sees the A as a journey

for retaliation. Other then adultery, the A can also stand for "Angel" and

"Able". Angel, for it appears in the sky after Governor Winthrop's death.

Able, for Hester has won the respect of the Puritans even if she has sinned


Hawthorne uses the prison building to describe crime and punishment in

contrast with the tombstone at the end of ...

... middle of paper ...

...t price is Hester's reputation

and her standing in the community. Pearl is also a self-contained symbol.

The result of her parent's sin is shown in her often imprudent comments and

unbridled behavior.

Each character in the novel suffers from a sin which they try to

crush and bemoan with goodness from their own heart.

The Scarlet Letter is a book filled with symbolism. I feel the

symbolism helps to relate a situation to a position the reader knows about.

The critic which I based this on feels that there is voluminous accounts

of symbolism, even too much. I must disagree with this. Hawthorne's The

Scarlet Letter is an amazingly written book for its time with just the

right amount of powerful symbolism.
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