Essay on Symbols in The Scarlet Letter

Essay on Symbols in The Scarlet Letter

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     Symbols unlock the secrets of a story. Hawthorne, in The Scarlet Letter, uses many symbols to represent different things. Some symbols represent the same thing. The letter “A” has many meanings, each character has their own meanings, and even the different parts of nature are symbols. Also, apart from providing structure for the novel, each scaffold scene conveys something different. One could say, arguably, that nearly everything in The Scarlet Letter is a symbol for something else.

     In the novel, there are four different versions of the letter “A”. The first is presented at the beginning of the book, where Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” upon her breast. The second occurrence is during the second scaffold scene, when the pastor Arthur Dimmesdale is on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, and a meteor causes a letter “A” to appear in the sky. The third version of the letter “A” appears when Pearl makes the letter “A” out of seaweed and puts it on her own breast. The fourth and final letter “A” is shown at the end of the book, on Dimmesdale’s breast when he confesses. The letter “A”, in all its forms, represents many things in the novel. At the beginning, the letter is supposed to represent Hester’s guilt or shame for committing adultery, though Hester wears it proudly. Later on in the book, however, it represents something completely different. That same letter “A” on her breast represents her able or angelic nature, instead of her sin in the past. The second letter “A”, seen in the sky, represents not only Dimmesdale’s cowardice and shame, but the fact that the townspeople make up meanings for occurrences to mean what the townspeople want them to mean. According to Nina Baym, “Dimmesdale knows that if his deed is discovered, he will be thrown out of what is, to him, Heaven...” (215). The third letter “A” represents Pearl’s intelligence, for she sees then that Dimmesdale’s hand upon his heart and Hester’s letter on her heart are for the same reason. Also, it shows how Hester is still guilty, for she lies about what her own letter means. The last letter “A”, on Dimmesdale’s heart, is a symbol for the pastor’s sin, and his repentance for that sin. When he reveals it, he is forgiven by God and ascends into heaven.

     Hester is a symbol of nature, and its resistance to civilization, which is symbolized by the townspeople. She thin...


... middle of paper ...


...ll at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest...” (Hawthorne 186). Pearl has no such constraints on her, so the sunlight plays with her while she revels within it.

     Hawthorne is a master of symbolism. Without careful analysis, most people would not notice the intricacy of the novel. For that matter, one cannot grasp the full complexity of The Scarlet Letter no matter how many times he or she reads it. Hawthorne’s use of interwoven symbolism is the essence of all his stories.



Works Cited

Baym, Nina “Passion and Authority in The Scarlet Letter” The New England Quarterly 43.2 (June 1970): 209-230

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, The Scarlet Letter. Bantam Books, New York, New York 1850
     
Levy, Leo B. “The Landscape Modes of The Scarlet Letter.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 23.4 (March 1969): 377-392.

Whelan, Robert Emmet Jr. “Hester Prynne’s Little Pearl: Sacred and Profane Love” American Literature 39.4 (January 1968): 488-505.


Intenret
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Hanover: Dartmouth College, 1864. iBook. https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=395541288

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