The Symbolic Nature of the Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter introduces themes within the story that recur in several settings and serve as metaphors for the underlying conflicts. The trouble in interpreting The Scarlet Letter is the fact that the story is packed full of symbolism that can be either overlooked, or misinterpreted. From the actual letter A', down to the use of colors, Hawthorne wrote his story with the intention of making the reader work harder and read deeper into the characters and actual meaning of the story. As the book opens, the first scene the readers are introduced to is the bleak image of a throng of people surrounding a prison door. To create the mood of gloom and sadness Hawthorne uses words such as "sad colored" and "gray, steeple crowned hats," to describe the clothing of the towns people. The prison stands for sin and an authority that does not condone the deviance from the Puritanical severity of law, and next to the prison door grows a wild rose bush. The single red rose that grows from it serves as a symbol of passion and the two combined, indicate that the prisoner has been incarcerated as a result of the sin from passion. Also, Ann Hutchinson, who disagreed with the severity of Puritanical teachings and was imprisoned, plays a small part when Hawthorne references her name by mentioning it was possible the beautiful rosebush sprang from her steps. This is an implication of the rigidness of Puritanical authoritarianism and ties the beliefs of the prisoner to those of Ann Hutchinson. The rosebush is also link to the forest and it is mentioned that the rosebush could be a remnant of the former wilderness which once covered the area. The forest surrounding the town is the only place in which Puritanical laws are not abided, and the fact that the wild rose bush and the forest are connected gives the audience the idea that the two were somehow combined. The rosebush symbolizes Hester Prynne and the fact that it is a remnant of the wilderness foreshadows much of Hester's character and behavior. Last, the rose bush is in full bloom which indicates that Hester is in the prime of passion. The result of this passion is the birth of a child. The child can also be compared to the blossoms and serve as a "moral blossom", making her a key player in the actual moral of the story. Next, Hester Prynne steps out of the prison and is introduced as an adulterer. On her chest is the letter A' which is placed strategically for all to see and serves solely in the purpose of humiliation. In the beginning of the story it was superficially meant to stand for Adulterer', but as the story goes on, the scarlet letter evolves into a great many things. After Hester was released from prison, the scarlet letter set her physically and morally apart, yet there were those that sympathized. "But sometimes, once in many days, or perchance in many months, she felt an eye-a human eye-upon the ignominious brand, that seemed to give a momentary relief, as if half her agony were shared"(Hawthorne,1433). The letter starts to represent the hidden shame of the entire community and only Hester is witness to this. She feels their sympathy, and not only carries her shame, but everyone else's as well. The scarlet letter then takes on a new meaning as Hester dedicates herself to those who are poverty stricken in her community. "Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one. She was a self-ordained Sister of Mercy
the letter was a symbol of her calling" (Hawthorne, 1472). The grateful people she helped turned their back on the letter's original meaning and viewed it as Able', meaning, Hester's strength as a woman. From there, Hawthorne went as far to compare Hester to a nun, which could have easily been considered blasphemous. "The scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun's bosom" (Hawthorne, 1473). A woman who was clearly caught in...
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