An Analysis of Symbolism in "The Scarlet Letter" by Hawthorne

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA+, February 1997

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is generally considered to be the first American symbolic novel. A symbol is something which is used to represent something broader in meaning.

The most obvious symbol in the novel is the actual scarlet 'A' which both the criticism and I agree upon. This 'A' is the literal symbol of the sin of adultery. The letter A then appears in many different forms throughout the novel. The gold-embroidered A on Hester Prynne's fascinates Pearl Prynne. It is magnified in the armor breast plate at Governor Bellingham's mansion which is so extreme that it seems to hide and cover Hester. On the night of Arthur Dimmesdale vigil, he sees a red A in the sky. And finally, the letter is revealed on Dimmsdale's chest in front of the whole village.

The A also takes on many meanings. It has the original meaning as well as different meanings to various characters.

To Hester, the A means humiliation. The A to Dimmesdale is a reminder of his own contrition. To Pearl, the A is peculiarity and Roger Chillingworth sees the A as a journey for retaliation. Other then adultery, the A can also stand for 'Angel' and 'Able'. Angel, for it appears in the sky after Governor Winthrop's death. Able, for Hester has won the respect of the Puritans even if she has sinned terribly.

Hawthorne uses the prison building to describe crime and punishment in contrast with the tombstone at the end of the novel. This statement suggests the crime and punishment will eventually lead to the death of the malefactor.

One positive symbol is the rosebush outside the prison. I feel it represents a sweet person hidden in the encasements of a dark prison, a true diamond in the rough.

The symbol for...