Symbolism in The Scarlett Letter

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The Scarlet Letter The Scarlet Letter was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and is a very classic novel. He uses symbolism numerous times throughout the novel. The novel is about a woman named Hester living in a Puritan society, who commits adultery with her minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. She becomes pregnant and has a daughter named Pearl. Since the daughter was conceived during a time while her husband, Roger Chillingworth, had been away for three years, she was forced to wear a scarlet letter for the rest of her life as punishment. The characters that are in the novel that have symbolic meaning are Pearl, a kind woman and Roger Chillingworth. Nathaniel Hawthorne also uses things other than people as symbols such as sunshine and the forest.

Pearl is the symbol of sin and adultery. Her existence makes Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale remember the sin that they committed. She is a wild and uncontrollable little girl, which is similar to the passion that caused the sin to happen in the first place.

Pearl feels she fits in with the wild things in the forest and that they seem to accept her better than anyone else. She remains this way throughout most of the book until Arthur Dimmesdale finally admits that he is her father. After he does this, he kisses her and she suddenly becomes calm, happy, and emotional, which she has never experienced before. Pearl is the symbol for Hester's scarlet letter. During the novel, Pearl forces Hester to face up to her sin and accept it. She also pushes Arthur Dimmesdale to face up to his sin, the love he has for Pearl and Hester, and to bring out to the open. She waits until he acts like a father to her before she will accept him into her life under any circumstances (The Symbol of Pearl).

Roger, who is Hester's husband, is another symbol Nathaniel Hawthorne uses. He is the symbol of life taken over by revenge. When he first hears that Hester had committed adultery he is determined to take revenge on the man who sinned with her. His life had become consumed with plotting the revenge when he finds out that the other sinner was in fact Minister Arthur Dimmesdale. He takes the revenge so far that he starts comparing himself to the devil, with living to destroy. Even Hester felt sorry for him and the way he had chose to live his life (The Scarlet Letter).

The woman that stands up for Hester also plays a symbolic role of hope in the Scarlet Letter. While many of the other town's people talk really badly about Hester, this woman stands up for her. Like when the people say they should take Pearl away from Hester, the woman convinces them that they should leave Pearl with her, since it reminds her of the sins that she has committed. She is the only person in the novel that stands up for Hester. When this woman dies, Hester feels that all of her hope of being happy again dies too (Hawthorne, Nathaniel).

Nathaniel Hawthorne also uses non-human symbols throughout the novel. He uses the forest a symbol of freedom. Many of the people from the town go to the forest to do as they please since the Puritan society does not allow people to show their real feelings. That is where Hester seeks retreat since there she can explore her inner, deepest thoughts. She finds many hidden emotions while in the forest, such as her love for Arthur Dimmesdale. The forest is also the one place where she and Dimmesdale can have open conversations, without the constraints of the Puritan society in which they reside. While Hester is in the forest, the reader is able to see the "real" side of her, not what the townspeople make her out to be.

Sunshine portrays a great symbol also. It symbolizes purity and hope frequently throughout the book. In one scene of the book, Pearl requests that Hester grab some sunshine and give it to her to play with. Hester then replies, "No my little Pearl! Thou must gather thine own sunshine. I have none to give thee." Hester has no sunshine to give Pearl because she has committed adultery and is not pure anymore. Another example is when Hester and Pearl are taking a walk through the forest when a dark cloud came over the sky and Pearl said, "Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom." When Pearl said that she was just playing around and did not have a clue of how right she really was (Characterization in The Scarlet Letter). She said the sun fears the "A" and avoids the impurity of it at all costs and even disappears into the sky. In the chapter of the novel, "A Flood of Sunshine", Hawthorne shows the symbol of sunshine the clearest. During this chapter, Dimmesdale and Hester are discussing what Dimmesdale will do about their current situation of their relationship. Hester ends up getting mad at him and throws the letter down onto the ground. As soon as the letter hits the ground the sunshine peaks out from behind the clouds very brightly.

Each of the different symbolism techniques that Nathaniel Hawthorne used play important parts in The Scarlet Letter. Each adds a deeper meaning to the book and allows for many different themes to be interpreted from the novel.