The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter is a novel written in the 1840s by the famous author Nathaniel Hawthorne, and is considered one of the most symbolic pieces of work in American Literature. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, a young woman living in mid-seventeenth century Boston, who gives birth to a girl after committing adultery and struggles to create a new life of penitence and pride. As a result of the sin she commits, she is forced to wear a scarlet letter on her bosom perpetually. The scarlet letter is a complex symbol, since it incorporates various meanings. In fact, much of Hawthorne’s symbolism is very difficult to notice, but several symbols are also clear. The prison, on the contrary, is a clear symbol, since it obviously represents the crime and punishment that was integrated in the Puritan Boston of the mid-seventeenth century. Pearl, Hester’s elfish-child, can also be considered a clear symbol seeing that she symbolizes everything Hester gave up when she committed adultery.

In the very first pages of The Scarlet Letter, the prison is presented as a symbol of both isolation and alienation. To Hester, it foreshadows the life she will have to face even after she gets out of its confines. While Hester lives in the prison of isolation, her anonymous lover, Dimmesdale, lives in the prison of his unconfessed guilt, and her husband, Chillingworth, is imprisoned by his own vengeance and anger. The prison also clearly represents crime and punishment, which was frequently incorporated in the early Puritan life, “A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowed hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered...

... middle of paper ... work. It provides a novel of different levels of interpretation, keeping its whole secret to the happy few, the ones who have the courage and capability to descend to its deepest layers, leaving mere concepts, as time and space, behind. Nathaniel Hawthorne was so successful in the art of symbolism that his masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, became known as American Literature’s most famous symbolic novel of all time.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Brian Harding, and Cindy Weinstein. The Scarlet Letter. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Sauder, Diane. " MonkeyNotes for Macbeth by William Shakespeare." 1997.

1 August 2004

Shmoop Editorial Team. "The Scarlet Letter Symbolism, Imagery & Allegory" Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 12 Aug. 2011.
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