A Summary of the Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter

Topics: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hester Prynne Pages: 13 (5397 words) Published: May 11, 2008
Chapter 1
1.The definition of symbolism
The slightest survey of different epochs of civilization discloses great differences in their attitude towards symbolism. For example, duri g the medieval period in Europe symbolism seemed to dominate men's imaginations. Architecture was symbolical, ceremonial was symbolical, heraldry was symbolical. With the Reformation a reaction set in. Men tried to dispense with symbols as 'fond things, vainly invented,' and concentrated on their direct apprehension of the ultimate facts. But such symbolism is on the fringe of life. It has an unessential element in its constitution. The very fact that it can be acquired in one epoch and discarded in another epoch testifies to its superficial nature.

2. Different meanings of the scarlet letter “A”
2.1 The Changes of the Symbolic Meaning of the Scarlet Letter "A".   In this novel, the scarlet letter "A" changes its meaning many different times. This change is significant. It shows growth in the characters, and the community in which they live. The letter "A" begins as a symbol of sin. It then becomes a symbol of alone and alienation, and finally it becomes a symbol of able, angel and admirable.  2.1.1 Adultery

  The letter "A", worn on Hester's bosom, is a symbol of her adultery against Roger Chillingworth. This is the puritan way of treating her as a criminal, for the crime of adultery. The puritan treatment continues, because as Hester walks through the streets, she will be looked down upon as if she is some sort of demon from hell that commits a terrible crime. This letter is meant to be worn in shame, and to make Hester feel unwanted. "Here, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishment…(P74)" Hester is ashamed of her sin, but she chooses not to show it. She commits this sin in the heat of passion, and fully admits it because, though she is ashamed, she also receives her greatest treasure, Pearl, out of it. She is a very strong woman to be able to hold up so well against what she must face. Many will have fled Boston, and seek a place where no one knows of her great sin. Hester chooses to stay though, which shows a lot of strength and integrity. Any woman with enough nerve to hold up against a town, which despises her very existence, and to stay in a place where her daughter is referred to as a "devil child," either has some sort of psychological problem, or is a very tough woman.   2.1.2 Alone and Alienation

  The scarlet letter "A" also stands for Hester's lonely life in New England. After she is released, Hester lives in a cottage near the outskirts of the city. " It had been built by an earlier settler, and abandoned, because the soil about it was too sterile for cultivation, while its comparative remoteness put it out of the sphere of that social activity which already marked the habits of the emigrants." (P75) Hester's social life is virtually eliminated as a result of her shameful history. Hester comes to have a part to perform in the world with her native energy of character and rare capacity." However, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came to contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind. She stood apart from moral interests… seemed to be the sole portion that she retained in the universal heart."(P78) Hester has no friends in the world, and little Pearl is the only companion of her lonely life, so the scarlet letter "A" also is a symbol of the words "alone" and "alienate". 2.1.3 Able, Admirable and Angel

  Later, the scarlet letter "A" changes its meaning into being able, angel and admirable. The townspeople who condemned her now believe the scarlet letter to stand for her ability to her beautiful...
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