The Symbolism of Red in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne uses the color red to represent passion, the need for beauty, and individuality in The Scarlet Letter. In the story, Hester Prynne, a young woman living in a Puritan community during the mid-17th century, is convicted of adultery and forced to live her life in a state of exile, branded by the Puritans through the embroidery of a scarlet A on her chest. Her and her child Pearl live in the outlying forest and are constantly ridiculed and shunned by the people of her town. Hester’s punishment, the scarlet letter, is representative of passion. The rosebush in front of the prison Hester was held in is a symbol of a need for beauty in the suppressed Puritan society. Pearl’s red dress is used to show her individuality as an uncorrupted child of nature. Thus the author uses the color red as a metaphor for vital aspects of human nature that the Romantics idealize, but the Puritans view as a mark of shame.
Hester’s scarlet letter is a mark of shame amongst the Puritans that signifies her act of adultery: “Children, too young to comprehend. . . Discerning the scarlet letter on her breast, would scamper off, with a strange, contagious fear.” Because the Puritans have such a large stigma against Hester, their close-minded fear of her is embodied in the repressed nature of Puritan society which is the antithesis of Romantic thought. Through her act of adultery, Hester gives birth to Pearl, the pinnacle of nature: “The mother's impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life.” Hester’s passion and actions are also tied in to her scarlet letter. Pearl, who represents nature, free-thought and Romantic ideals is the symbol of Hester’s struggle and punishment. By representing Pearl, the scarlet letter also represents the passion that Pearl embodies.
The rosebush in front of the prison door is a motif that appears early on...
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