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Symbolism In The Scarlet Letter Essay

1206 words - 5 pages

In the novel "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne symbolism is used to represent the evolution of the characters primarily that of Hester Prynne. Two of these symbols as they are used repeatedly create underlying truths telling their own story of growth and understanding as sunshine and the letter "A" bring to light who Hester Prynne truly is.

The first and perhaps the most obvious use of symbolism in the novel follows the progression of meaning of the letter "A" that Hester is forced to wear on her chest. From the beginning the "A" is a recognized symbol of adultery. There "on the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread..." lies evidence of her sin and impurity for all to see. Though she is forced to wear it she, throughout the book will continue her life and attempt to allow other people to see her as someone other than the label that lies so clearly on her chest.

Hester begins to serve the sick, poor and troubled by charitably offering her time to attend to their needs. The townspeople, who before were quick to judge her, began to respect her. Hawthorne describes the evolution of Hester as able by saying, "such helpfulness was found in her-so much power to do and power to sympathize-that many people refused to interpret the scarlet `A' by its original signification. They said it meant Able..." Hester refused to give in and allow her personality to always reflect that of an adulterer but of someone who indeed was worthy of respect and affection. This progression of meaning adds a great deal of significance to the novel by suggesting that one should not always be judged by their appearance as Hester is with the scarlet letter embroidered on her clothing, but should be viewed based on encounters and actual perceptions rather than initial judgments.

Again near the end of the novel Hawthorne continues to further portray Hester as an able- bodied human being rather than the adulteress she is originally seen as by the townspeople. The letter further develops its meaning and creates a new importance even stronger than the significance before. Hester begins to find her true self before the scar of the letter was placed onto her clothing and to her esteem continues to change along with the meaning of the "A" that adorns her clothing. Hester realizes then that, "the angel and apostle of the coming must be a woman, indeed, but lofty pure and beautiful, and wise moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy" as she "glanced her eyes downward at the scarlet letter. And after many years a new grave was delved after a sunken one..." Yet again we see that the letter further changes its meaning and proves to be not a shameful one, but one that allows her to see herself as a positive influence in the community again.

Hawthorne also uses the sunshine as a predominant symbol in the novel. He uses it to represent purity and hope numerous...

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