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The Symbolic Use of Nature in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Symbolic Use of Nature in The Scarlet Letter

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic The Scarlet Letter, nature plays a very important and symbolic role. Hawthorne uses nature to convey the mood of a scene, to describe characters, and to link the natural elements with human nature. Many of the passages that have to do with nature accomplish more than one of these ideas. All throughout the book, nature is incorporated into the story line. The deep symbolism conveyed by certain aspects of nature helps the reader gain a deeper understanding of the plight and inner emotions of the characters in the novel.

Hawthorne's moods or prevailing feelings during certain scenes are revealed to the reader through nature. For example, one of the first scenes in the book demonstrates this unique writing talent that Hawthorne uses to enrich his writing. He describes Hester Prynne and her child being released from the local prison into the light of day;

She bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its experience, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon, or other darksome apartment of the prison (49).

The sunlight gives the reader a feeling of exposure and scrutiny. This feeling is later reveled to the reader by Hawthorne,

Her prison-door was thrown open, and she came forth into the sunshine, which, falling on all alike, seemed, to her sick and morbid heart, as if meant for no other purpose than to revel the scarlet letter on her breast (71).

It is also gives the feeling of a release into a harsh environment, which Hest...

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Griswold, Rufus Wilmot. "The Scarlet Letter." The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors. Ed. Charles Wells Moulton. Gloucester, Massachusetts: Peter Smith Publishing, 1959. 341-371.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1996.

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