Scarlet Letter Symbolism Symbolism of The Scarlet Letter A symbol is a literary device which is employed to portray another object or individual. In the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, it is most often a tangible object he uses to represent an undefined idea, complex in scope and significance. More times than not, it represents reverent, profound, or virtuous concepts of merit. From the substitution of one idea or object for another, to creations as massive, complex, and perplexing as the veil in the Minister’s Black veil, are the domain symbols may encompass. Hawthorne’s notable and unique use of the inanimate letter A, the scenery of the rose bush, and the settings of forest to make the characters -Hester, Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and Pearl- into symbols in the novel in order to portray his moral and theme of: Be true. Be true. Be true! The red letter A is presented but whose meaning has to be deciphered. What does the letter mean? It is a question every character in the novel repeats who confronts the blatant red token and who has to deal with it.
The letter A manifests in a variety of forms and places. Not only does the A manifest in various forms, but it also acquires a variety of meanings. It represents more than just the sin of adultery. Even as the original mark of adultery, the scarlet letter has a different individual meaning to the various characters. To Hester, the A is a symbol of unjust humiliation. The A magnifies in an armor breastplate at the Governor’s mansion to exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be acutely the most prominent feature of [Hester’s] semblance.
In truth, she emerges absolutely hidden behind it. The A grows to be larger than Hester signifying the town’s view of her sin. They do not see the human being behind the scarlet letter, they only see a sinner. For Hester, the A is not only a symbol of adultery, but also a symbol of alienation. She is an outcast from society and the women treat her differently by constantly sneering at her in public. The scarlet letter is a symbol of what society wants to see and the decision to create a relativity.
The townspeople soon began to accept her and believe that letter had supernatural powers. They decide that it meant able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman’s strength, that they were allowing her to remove it. Their opinion and vision of the scarlet letter changes into its complete opposite within a short period of under ten year’s time. This opinion conforms according to their worldly view of convenience. To the Puritan community, it is a mark of just punishment.
In the beginning of the story the letter struck fear into the society’s hearts. It symbolizes the unfair humiliation she endures, such as humiliation standing on the scaffold at noon in public view. The ornately gold-embroidered A on Hester’s heart, at which Pearl throws wildflowers and decorates with a border of prickly burrs. To Pearl, the A is a bright and mysterious curiosity which symbolizes her existence and the meaning behind it. In mockery, Pearl creates an A on her chest made of green seaweed which represents purity and innocence, but also signifies Pearl’s future as the daughter of sinner.
For Chillingworth, the A represents the need for revenge and is the spur to this quest. To Dimmesdale, the A is a piercing reminder of his the guilt engulfing his concealed sin. It drives him to punish himself and endure Chillingworth’s torture. In addition, the A also symbolizes attributes other than adultery. On the night of his vigil on the scaffold, Dimmesdale sees an immense red A in the sky.
It symbolizes Angel when a great red letter in the sky, -the letter A, which [the townspeople] interpret to stand for angel, as it manifests in the sky on the night of Governor Winthrop’s death. One of the most dramatic of the several A’s the book hints at is the A so frequently seen earlier and which Dimmesdale finally reveals to be an A on his chest by most of the spectators who witness his confession and death. At the end of the novel, as a summary symbol, the scarlet A refers against the black background on Hester and Dimmesdale’s tombstone. The forest represents a free world and a dark world. For the latter, it is a place where no Puritan law subsists.
Luckily, at least for the four main characters, Hawthorne provides such a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious forest. Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a shelter for members of society in need of a refuge from daily Puritan life. In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the pivotal characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. Mistress Hibbins invites Hester to attend one of their rendezvous in the forest. Wilt though go with tonight? There will be a merry company in the forest, and I will nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one. The forest track leads away from the settlement out into the wilderness where all signs of civilization vanish.
This is precisely the escape route from strict mandates of law and religion, to a refuge where men, as well as women, can open up and be themselves. For Pearl, it is a place where she can run and play freely picking flowers and make friends with the animals who live there. It also represents a dark world where witches gather, individuals sell their souls to the devil, and where Dimmesdale can acknowledge his sin to Hester, but not to the rest of the world. The trees surrounding it allow for only minimal sunlight to penetrate making the forest a place of gloom and darkness that looks to be trapped in the symbol of evil and sin. It is a place where one can find their way by following narrow paths.
It is here that Dimmesdale openly acknowledges Hester and his undying love for her. It is also here that Hester can do the same for Dimmesdale. The forest itself is the embodiment of freedom. Nobody watches in the woods to report misbehavior, thus it is here that individuals may do as they wish. When Arthur Dimmesdale emerges into the sunlight, she openly talks with Dimmesdale about subjects which he would never be mention in any place other than the forest. What we did, she reminds him, had a consecration of its own.
We felt it so! We said to each other! This statement shocks Dimmesdale and he tells Hester to hush, but he eventually realizes that he is in an environment where he can openly express his emotions. The thought of Hester and Dimmesdale having an intimate conversation in the confines of the society in which they live is incomprehensible. Yet here, in the forest, young girls, and middle-aged men and women may throw away all reluctance and finally be themselves under the umbrella of security which subsists and pull out secret thoughts and gloat like misers delighting in a hidden stash of gold. The forest brings out the natural semblance and natural personality of the individuals who use it correctly. When Hester takes off her cap and unloosens her hair, a new woman emerges.
The real Hester is seen, who has been hidden this whole time under a shield of shame. Her eyes grow radiant and a flush manifests upon her cheek. The beautiful, attractive individual who is not afraid to show her hair and not afraid to display her beauty. For Hester, it allows her to let her hair down and remove the scarlet letter from her chest making her a real woman and member of society once more. It’s Hester’s moral wilderness.
The sunlight, which previously shunned Hester, now seeks her out, and the forest wants to glow. Dimmesdale has also gains life, if only for a short time, and he is now hopeful and energetic. This side of Dimmesdale has not been seen for a long time, and most likely will not be seen again. Usually a forest signifies the immoral in Hawthorne. Whereas civilization watches and scrutinizes an individual’s actions, the forest is the place where any event may occur, contradictory to the common immorality forests signify. Even Hester removes her letter for a brief time, but Dimmesdale will not agree to reveal himself to the citizens, thus she places it back on her bosom before returning to the city. Their actions are not as deviant as the devil worshipers in his short stories, but the church deems that they are partaking in an immoral act. In fact, he prefers the openness and freedom the forest represents over the strict, repressive element of Puritan civilization.
In the eyes of Hester and Dimmesdale their act was not immoral. They both agree in that dramatic scene in the forest that their act had a consecration of its own. They follow God’s law, or Nature’s law as one prefers, and in Hawthorne’s eyes that transcends Man or Society’s law. Thus, the forest, Nature’s dominion, strikes one as the only place where true passion and honesty reside. The forest has and will always be the home of darkness and evil. There, Hester conceals her secret sin with Dimmesdale, and Hester’s true evil spirit is present.
The prison, cemetery, and the rosebush in the first chapter have different meanings. The cemetery and the prison are negative values representing evil, while the rosebush has positive values that represent righteousness. The prison is the symbol of moral evil in Puritan society. When contrasting with the cemetery, Hawthorne is suggesting that this moral evil will bring death to civilized society. This idea supports his description of the prison as a black flower of civilized society.
The rosebush contrasts the prison and cemetery in a colorful and beautiful aspect. Unlike the dismal prison and cemetery, the rosebush lives wild with no bounds by society. It is an aspect of nature that should be admired and not judged. It may be to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow, as Hester or Pearl throughout the novel. The rose was symbol of love and life, to which Hester bore in her child Pearl.
Pearl is a delicate petal to which brings much beauty and hope into the lives of others. She also says that her mother plucked her from a wild rosebush when she asks where she came from. Dimmesdale bares no connection to the rosebush other than the planter of the seed. The town population assumes that if still alive, she must now have been in the flush and bloom of early womanhood. The scaffold occurs in the beginning, middle, and end of the novel. Hawthorne uses this symbol as an open acknowledgment of individual sin and to divide his novel into three parts.
Just as it rises above the market place, it rises above the regular structure of the novel. All the three incidents on the scaffold are the high points in novel. Symbolically the scaffold represents the strict moral code of the Puritans. It displays Hester’s act and her punishment and the only place where Dimmesdale is safe from the reach of Chillingworth. It also represents acknowledgment of sin.
It is here that both Hester and Dimmesdale acknowledge thei …