Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter

Topics: The Scarlet Letter, John Winthrop, Symbol Pages: 2 (585 words) Published: April 8, 2005
Symbolism works to tie the story's action to the story's theme. It began in the 19th century as a literary and artistic movement that sought to evoke, rather than describe, ideas or feelings through the use of symbolic images. It is also defined as using objects, characters, figures, or colors to represent abstract ideas or concepts. A better understanding of the symbols will greatly help the reader understand the story as a whole. Hawthorne used it in many ways in The Scarlet Letter. First there was the scarlet letter itself. Second, in his use of light and color. The third symbol was Pearl. Finally, there was the meteor.

The scarlet letter is meant to represent shame, as it is a punishment for adultery. It becomes, however, a vital part of Hester's identity. Throughout time, the meaning of the letter shifts, and, in my opinion, comes to stand for "Able." Finally, the letter loses its value and meaning altogether. And, ironically the Native Americans that come to watch the Election Day pageant think it marks her as important and dignified.

The scarlet letter also functions as a physical reminder of Hester's affair with Dimmesdale. However, there is no comparison between it, and the other physical reminder, Pearl. Ultimately, the letter points out both the meaninglessness and stupidity of the community's system of judgment and punishment. God has sent Pearl while the letter is merely a human symbol.

Colors–such as red, grey, and black–play a role in the symbolic nature of the scenery. In chapter 16, Hester and Dimmesdale meet------------------ in the forest with a "grey expanse of cloud." The lovers' feelings, which are weighed down by guilt, are reflected in the darkness of the nature. On occasions, the sunshine flickers, but Pearl reminds Hester that the sun will never shine on her sinful mother. The sun is a symbol of untroubled, guilt-free happiness, and quite possibly the approval of God. Or at the very least, His forgiveness.

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