The novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an intriguing account of a Puritan community that experiences a breakdown in beliefs. The story deals with a woman, Hester, who commits adultery with a Calvinistic minister resulting in the birth of a child (Martin 110). As compensation for her crime of passion and her refusal to name her lover, Hester is sentenced to wear an embroidered scarlet letter on her bosom. It is this letter, or secret sin, that becomes the emphasis of the novel and assumes many different roles (Martin 111). Hawthorne starts the novel by portraying the literary reality associated with the different aspects of the letter (Martin 110). From the start, "Hawthorne seems to say, this is a scarlet letter; because of that, it is capable of further meaning. The letter will have to carry the burden of the tale" (Martin 111). Hawthorne's use of symbolism is fully developed in the multi-meanings hidden in the scarlet letter through a variety of characters.
The scarlet letter represents different ideals to different people and should be given the proper consideration (Martin 114). In the Puritan community, the letter is viewed as a moral obligation to inform others of Hester's sin, one that they feel should be "dragged out into the sunshine" (Hawthorne 43). They believe the letter symbolizes psychological and religious truth. The Puritans are " a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that her mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful" (Hawthorne 40). It is said that "meager, indeed, and cold, was t...
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...n is not what the Puritans had intended, the letter has served a purpose. The novel opens with the introduction of the letter and when it draws to a close this symbol is still the most important factor. The individual meanings of the letter and the events surrounding and resulting from the letter signify once again and emphasis the importance of the symbolism of the scarlet letter to the overall effect of the novel.
Baym, Nina. The Shape of Hawthorne's Career. New York: Cornell University Press,
Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Stein and Day
Publishers, 1966, pp. 217-58.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: W.W. Norton and Company,
Martin, Terence. Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1965.
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