Hawthorne's Symbolism Is Scarlet Letter

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorHigh School, 11th grade February 2008

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Symbolism was a literary movement during the nineteenth century that influenced many poets. Symbolism is anything that stands for or represents something else. "The Scarlet Letter", by Nathaniel Hawthorne is filled with symbolism which he uses to unify the novel and add a deeper level of meaning to the story. In the novel, the three most important symbolisms were the forest, the scaffold, and the scarlet letter "A" on Hester's bosom. But the symbolism of the scarlet letter "A" outweighs every other symbolism.

The forest is symbolic of Nature, both in its darker and lighter aspects. The rays of sunshine fall on Pearl but do not reach Hester, which symbolize her inability to find happiness or warmth. The darkness in forest is suggestive of the dull gloom in her life. "All at once, as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest, gladdening each green leaf, transmuting the yellow fallen ones to gold, and gleaming objects that had made a shadow hitherto embodied the brightness now.

The course of the little brook might be traced by its merry gleam a far into the wood's heart of mystery, which had become a mystery of joy"(199). As a symbol of her freedom, she throws away the scarlet letter and undoes her hair. Appropriately, a flood of sunshine illuminates the forest, dispelling the darkness. The rays of sunshine finally reach her because she finds warmth and happiness from Dimmesdale and from herself.

The scaffold is a symbol of penitence and God's platform on the Day of Judgment. It is a reflection of appearing before the Almighty in one's weakness. Dimmesdale has great difficulty in standing on the platform and confessing his sins. He first does it under the cover of darkness for no one to see, as if he was trying to hide from God himself. In the end, however, he bravely stands on the scaffold and confesses his sin in the light of day and before a crowd of people. The confession finally gives him a sense of peace. He dies on the scaffold because he finishes all his responsibilities and dies peacefully. The scaffold was the symbolism which represents God's platform on the Day of Judgment.

The chief symbol in the novel is the scarlet letter "A", which openly symbolizes Hester's adultery. The whole novel is around the adultery, which was done by Hester and a mysterious man. For Dimmesdale and Hester, the scarlet letter stands for agony, which Hester displays in her isolated life and which Dimmesdale displays in his deteriorating health. The symbolism of scarlet letter outweighs all other symbolism because it has more than one symbolic meaning. "The scarlet letter had not done its office"(163). By the end of the novel, the townspeople think that Hester's scarlet "A" stands for ability, for she has become a generous helper for the poor and downtrodden and a wise counselor for their problems. The scarlet letter was suppose to bring shame. But the letter made her a independent thinker, not like a puritan, and made her a saint.

"The Scarlet Letter" is filled with symbolism that gives a deeper meaning to the story. An object doesn't stand for only one kind of symbolism. Symbolic meanings of things change as time goes on or the way people see a symbol. Scarlet letter has more than one symbolic meaning. It was a symbolism of adultery, which was done by Hester and Dimmesdale in the sight of Puritan. But later, scarlet letter "A" was the symbol of Hester's ability to help people. There is more than one symbolic meaning in a good symbolism.