The Scarlet Allegory: The Symbolism of the Scarlet Letter

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Throughout history, imagery has been used in literature to provide an emotional depth and prevalence to literary works that would otherwise be lost in time. The Scarlet Letter is an emotional, Puritan-era novel that focuses on the harsh and controversial topics of adultery, sin, hypocrisy, and judgment. The Scarlet Letter tells the sentimental story of Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman who has been condemned to wear a scarlet A after she commits adultery and creates an illegitimate child, Pearl, with the holy Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, employs a unique and nonpareil style that incorporates antiquated words, thought-provoking symbolism, and rich irony. Hawthorne’s writing style provides a deep meaning to many everyday objects such as a rosebush and a prison door. One of the most important objects, the scarlet letter, experiences many transformations in its symbolism. Throughout The Scarlet Letter, the eponymous scarlet letter assumes the role as a beautiful symbol of sin and adultery, a material representation of Pearl, and a manifestation of holiness and strength.
At the beginning of The Scarlet Letter, the scarlet A represents a more obvious and linear concept: adultery. In the Puritan era, committing the sinful act of adultery is illegal and punishable by a variety of condemnations. When Hester Prynne commits adultery, she is forced to wear the scarlet letter on her bosom because she refuses to confess who her partner is. The presence of the scarlet letter changes the Puritan society’s view of Hester. The scarlet letter’s initial role as an allegory of sin is projected onto Hester as a whole. The young people are taught to “look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the ...

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...its evolution as a symbol through time. The scarlet A takes on many different forms; by the end of The Scarlet Letter, the scarlet A is an antipode of itself. It transforms from a representation of sin to a symbol of holiness, two completely opposite concepts. The previously explored concepts are not restrictions, for the scarlet letter can take on many other meanings. Symbolism is a complicated matter; every individual reader’s interpretation is different – John Green, a modern American author, claims that “books belong to their readers.” If this is to be true, then all interpretations of the scarlet A’s symbolism must be viewed as acceptable, whether or not Hawthorne intended them. Once the manuscript leaves the writer’s hands and the novel is released to the public, the author’s work of literary art becomes a puzzle that the reader puts together in their own way.
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