Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter

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Symbolism in "The Scarlet Letter"

"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne is full of many different themes, symbols, ironies, and conflicts. All of these aspects are crucial to the construction and dramatization of the plot. In literature, symbolism is the deepness and hidden meaning behind the story. Symbolism plays a major role in developing the themes of Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"; symbols such as the rosebush at the prison, Hester's daughter Pearl, and the Scarlet Letter itself, among many others.

The rosebush outside of the prison that Hester stayed in symbolizes many things. This is one of the first symbols that Hawthorne introduced in the story. In the way that it is wild and beautiful, yet restrained and strong, it is a representative of Hester's personality. In front of the prison, on the weed-infested plot of grass, grew the bush of roses, as described in this quote "Before this ugly edifice, and between it and the wheel-track of the street, was a grass-plot, much overgrown with burdock, pig-weed, apple-pern, and such unsightly vegetation, . . . was a wild rose-bush"(Hawthorne 31). The bush's victory over this little bit of ground symbolizes the novel's theme of strength and courage in difficult situations. The red roses blooming on its branches are symbolic and foreshadowing of the scarlet letter that Hester is to wear, as well as to Pearl's personality. In the chapter titled "The Elf-Child and the Minister", Pearl is asked who her creator is to which she responds by telling the Minister "that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door." (Hawthorne 75).

Pearl's signature part throughout the novel is to be a symbol. She is a symbol of truth and of deceit, of divinity and unfaithfulness; Pearl is the scarlet letter; the scarlet letter in human form. Her character is symbolic right down to her very name, Pearl. Its significance is its relationship to Hester's feelings about her. The name is emblematic of the value of her life and her great cost to her mother; "she named the infant ‘Pearl,' as being of great price, --purchased with all she had, --her mother's only treasure!"(Hawthorne 59). She is symbolic, as well, of her mother's sin and dishonor as displayed by Hawthorne in these lines: Man had marked this woman's sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself. God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonoured bosom (Hawthorne 59). He also addresses the style and appearance of Pearl's garb in respect to the scarlet letter because "Hester dresses the child in scarlet, presenting her as a little scarlet letter" (Pearl Understanding 6). Aside from being the token of negativity, Pearl is a very positive figure. She "represents the best values out of which American culture might be built, the very elements missing in second-generation Puritans" (Pearl Readings 112). Because she has such a connection with nature and she can "catch" the sunlight, little Pearl symbolizes the light in the world which neither Hester nor Dimmesdale can seem to acquire. She is truth and honesty because it is she who recognizes Chillingworth as "The Black Man" and she who continuously questions her mother about her scarlet letter. Perhaps the most important symbol in the novel is the famous letter "A" itself. This vital emblem represents not only Hester's disgrace, but also her accomplishments. "The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame, but instead it becomes a powerful symbol of identity to Hester" (Symbolism 314). Her master embroidery shines through in gold and red thread on her bosom, accentuating her success as a seamstress for the colony. After not too long, the letter took on a whole new meaning. Instead of being "A" for "Adultery", it became "A"...
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