Scarlet Letter

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade September 2001

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Scarlett Letter ? In the Scarlet Letter, the author uses many different types of symbols to show what he has experienced as a young man, and what he has to say about the society during his time. The different settings of the story are ways in which he describes his environment and how it has treated him as a child. One symbol he uses a lot was the scarlet letter. The scarlet letter takes on different meanings as the course of the story progresses. It also takes on various appearances and symbolism.The letter changes from meaning 3adultery2 into meaning 3able.2 Not only does the letter symbolize Hester1s punishment, but it also serves as different personal meanings to the various characters in the story such as Chillingworth, Dimmesdale, and Pearl to name a few. In the Scarlet Letter, there are many different forms of the letter A , not only that, but the letter A also acquires a variety of meanings.

Hawthorne describes the prison as 3the black flower of civilized society2 (p.48) Here he uses the buildings to describe the crime and punishment of his early life. And by using the symbol of a tombstone at the end of the story, he1s probably trying to say that crime and cruel punishment could lead to your death. He also uses the grass plot, saying that it is 3much overgrown with burdock,....and such unsightly vegetation2 (p.48) which symbolizes the things that make people corrupt and why these lead to them being in prison. He also uses the wild rosebush to symbolize 3....sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.2 (p.48). The author also gives somewhat of a dim, chill, social, unkind atmosphere to Puritanism. In Chapter 2 he describes by saying 3like a black shadow...grim and grisly...with a sword by his side, and his staff of office in his hand.2 (p.52). The letter A appears in a variety of forms and appearances. It is the elaborately gold-embroidered A on Hester1s heart, at which Pearl throws wildflowers. Later, the A on her breast is decorated by Pearl with a border of 3prickly burrs from a tall burdock which grew beside the tomb.2 (p.138). On the night of his vigil, Dimmesdale sees a shooting star shaped like the letter A. In chapter 15, Pearl puts some type of seaweed on the letter A to look like a green A on her own chest. Later on the scaffold, Dimmesdale declares that on his breast he bears the sign of his sin, which is shaped like the letter A, and confesses that he is Pearl1s father. And at the end of the story, there is a reference to the scarlet A against the black background on Hester and Dimmesdale1s grave. As the story progresses, the letter A acquires a variety of meanings. The scarlet letter has different personal meanings for the characters. For the Puritan community, it is a mark of just punishment. For Hester, it symbolizes humility. For Dimmesdale, it is a reminder of his sin, that he is the guilty one. For Chillingworth, it is some sort of motivation for revenge. For Pearl, it is already a part of her life. She was the scarlet letter endowed with life. The letter A also symbolizes 3angel2 when it passes through the sky. It also means 3able.2 Hester was able to overcome the humiliation and earn some respect from the Puritans. She appropriated the letter so that it could mean able instead of adulterous. The settings, too, serve as important symbols. The scaffold, serves as a punishment for people who sin and it also serves as a strict Puritan code. The scaffold was the only place where Dimmesdale knew he had to go to have his sin be forgiven and to escape the vengeance of Chillingworth. The night symbolizes some sort of protection, and the day symbolizes exposure. Dimmesdale knows that standing on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl won1t do. He knows that in order to show that he is the guilty one, he must stand there in the daylight for everyone to see. The sun symbolizes the watchful eye of God. The sun shines on Pearl, even though she1s covered by trees in the forest. The forest is another big symbol. Witches gather there. This is where Dimmesdale escapes to to forget about the sin has committed. The forest is place of darkness and evil. The forest also symbolizes a place where Pearl could play freely, especially with the animals. Hester herself feels like a free woman again, because she could throw her scarlet letter away, let down her hair, and no one would know about it. The forest is place where the Puritan laws don1t even matter. The forest is freedom for both Pearl and Hester. The forest also symbolizes a place where darkness and gloom rule and where one can only find his way out by following a narrow, twisty path. The brook in the forest also serves as a symbol in several ways. It is suggestive of Pearl- because of its unknown source and because it travels through gloom. Because of its dim babble, it becomes a kind of history of sorrow. And when Pearl refuses to cross the brook to meet with Hester and Dimmesdale, the brook ends up as a boundary between two worlds. Symbolism is clearly displayed through the use of Hawthorne1s characters. His minor characters are almost totally symbolic. With Mr. Wilson, Mistress Hibbins, and Governor Bellingham, Hawthorne portrays the Church, Witchcraft, and the State. Puritanism is symbolized by the self-righteous Puritans in the marketplace. It is through the 4 main characters- Pearl, Hester Prynne, Reverend Dimmesdale, Roger Chillingworth- in which Hawthorne1s power as a symbolist are really shown. Each of them symbolizes a certain view of sin and how it affected them. Pearl is almost a self-contained symbol even though she was the result of the sin committed by Hester and Dimmesdale. As you can see from this book report that the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, uses symbols in many different ways. Through the scarlet letter, settings, the different situations, things that fly across the sky, characters, nearly anything he could use to symbolize his environment when he was young and how he lived his life when he was a young man. Hawthorne clearly shows his brilliance in the story by portraying different meanings for the scarlet letter as the story progresses. He clearly is one of the most brilliant writers that ever lived.