The Effective Use of Symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

The Effective Use of Symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Effective Use of Symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter


Webster defined "symbol" with these words: "Something concrete that represents or suggests another thing that cannot in itself be pictured." This concept has been particularly applied to literature and used by writers throughout history. Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter uses multitudes of symbols in such a manner. One of the most prominent, and most complicated, of such symbols is the scarlet letter "A". The scarlet letter "A" is a symbol of a daughter's connection to her mother, isolation, and the devil and its associations.

The scarlet letter represents Pearl's emotional attachment to Hester. For instance, Pearl is as deeply affectionate to the letter as she is to her mother. In chapter ten, Pearl takes "a handful of [burrs], [and she arranged] them along the lines of the scarlet letter." In this instance, Pearl is showing her fondness for her mother by decorating her letter - as if the letter itself were a medium between the two. Additionally, Pearl views the letter and her mother as equals. During chapter fourteen, Hester decides to remove her letter while in the forest. Thus, Pearl is reluctant to approach her. Hester, realizing what is wrong, says, "Pearl misses that which she has always seen me wear." After she returns the letter her bosom, "Pearl kissed [Hester's] brow and both cheeks ... but ... Pearl put up her mouth, and kissed the scarlet letter too. (Hawthorne)" Because of the fact that Pearl equates the letter to her mother, the letter is as deep a symbol of motherly connection as Hester is herself.

In addition to emotional attachment, the scarlet letter represents isolation. Whoever wears the letter will be feared by so...


... middle of paper ...


...references to the devil and Hell make it clear that the letter is indeed infernal.


The scarlet letter "A", the most intricate symbol in the novel, is extremely diverse as its meanings strongly contrast. Often times, these meanings of the symbol are directly stated, but they are frequently indirect as well. The symbol's meaning can also be expressed through a variety of methods such as character dialogue, narrative, or allusions through imagery. Despite the differences between maternal love, estrangement, and avernal entities, the letter is still able to encompass these concepts into its symbolism.


Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Langenscheidt's Pocket Merriam-Webster Dictionary. New York: Langenscheidt
Publishers, Inc, 1999. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1997.

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