"The Scarlet Letter" - Symbolism

Essay by BAMBIXHigh School, 12th gradeC-, March 2006

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Symbolism is traditionally a sign or token of something. In the matter of literature, the definition of the literary device, symbolism, is more complicated. Symbols of literature are usually metaphysical. The main symbol of "The Scarlet Letter" is the red "A" that Hester Prynne was sentenced to wear on her chest. Nathaniel Hawthorne's intention was to make the meaning of the crimson token worn on the bosom of HesterPrynne is highly ambiguous. In this he was successful. Although the "A" means "adulteress" to the people of Boston, to reader the "A" may have other meanings such as "American" or "able". To the townspeople, author, and reader clearly the original intention of the "A" was to stand for "adulteress". When Hester Prynne became pregnant during the absence of her husband she was accused and convicted of adultery. Her sentence was to wear a scarlet letter "A" on her bosom to let everyone know that she was an adulteress, forevermore.

Because of her unique sentence everyone knew that she was, in fact, an adulteress and people treated her that way. Society condemned her for her sin, without knowing anything else. Hester was forced to live alone on the outskirts of the city. She was a seamstress, but got very little business. When she used her skills to decorate the "A", things only got worse. People felt that she was trying to show off the fact that she was an adulteress, or that she was proud to be.

Hester's daughter, Pearl, was constantly ridiculed by other children for being an "evil devil" child. Clearly it was the first intention of the symbol to reveal that Hester Prynne was an adulteress. Although the first intention of the "A" was to mark Hester Prynne as an adulteress, it also has other, more...