The Scarlet Letter


Story Symbols and Themes

Symbols are those things in a novel that stand for something else. Hawthorne was known to be a very symbolic writer; thus, his stories contain an unusual amount of symbolic elements. Moreover, the meanings of the symbols sometimes change throughout the novel, especially as he uses people symbolically in his writing.

Hester Prynne – At the beginning of the novel, Hester appears to symbolize the sinner as she stands on a scaffold and accepts society’s judgment. However, as her character is developed throughout the novel, it becomes clear that Hester symbolizes the outsider, and the benefit that comes with living a life true to oneself. She also symbolizes the power of love, as her love eventually provides Dimmesdale with the courage to become his own man and stand by what he has done.

Arthur Dimmesdale – Dimmesdale has multiple symbolic meanings in the story. He symbolizes man’s interpretation of God’s law. However, he also symbolizes weakness and the danger to the individual of living a life dictated by the rules and norms of others.

Pearl – Pearl symbolizes nature, wildness, and passion. She is the product of a presumably passionate affair, which makes her association with wildness seem appropriate. However, it is also important to understand that she signifies the less positive aspects of wildness, as well; until her father’s confession at the conclusion of the novel, Pearl’s behavior makes it clear that she cannot conform herself to societal norms.

Chillingworth – Chillingworth symbolizes the evil power of vengeance. Revenge literally wrecks his body and changes him from a peaceful scholar into a man who is in league with the Black Man in order to achieve vengeance upon another.

The Scarlet “A” – As a basic letter, the scarlet “A” stands for adultery, and that is its superficial meaning in the novel. However, on a deeper level, the badge stands for societal...

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Essays About The Scarlet Letter