This essay describes the symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" on many different levels.

Essay by BionbyrHigh School, 10th gradeA+, February 2004

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Symbolism In the Scarlet Letter

There is an abundance of symbolism in the scarlet letter, the author uses the symbolism to unify the novel and put in a deeper level of meaning to the story.

The main symbol in the book is the letter "A", which symbolizes Hester's adultery. For Hester and Dimmesdale, the scarlet letter stands for agony, which Hester shows in her secluded life and which Dimmesdale shows in his diminishing health. Towards the end of the story, the townspeople think that Hester's scarlet "A" stands for Ability, she has become a helper for the poor and demoralized and a sensible counselor for their problems.

Dimmesdale placing his hand over his heart is also symbolic. This is the minister's attempt to cover his mark of sinfulness and prevent his exposure. It also suggests his nervous condition and reflects his grieved state.

The scaffold is a symbol of penitence and God's platform on the Day of Judgment.

It is a likeness of appearing before the Almighty in one's imperfection. This comparison makes it difficult for Dimmesdale to stand on the platform and confess his sins. He first does it under the cover of the night for no one to see him, as if he were trying to hide from God himself. In the end, he bravely stands on the scaffold and confesses his sin in the light of day, before a crowd of people. This declaration of his sin gives him a sense of peace.

The prison, showed in the opening chapter of the book, is a symbol of isolation and alienation; foreshadowing the life that Hester will live even after she breaks through its boundaries. While Hester lives in the prison of isolation, Dimmesdale lives in the prison of his un-confessed guilt, and Chillingworth is caged up...