Use of Symbols in The Scarlet Letter
In World Book Dictionary, a symbol is defined as something that stands for or represents something else, especially an idea, quality, or condition. Symbols can be objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent ideas or concepts. In the novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, there are many symbols that are throughout the novel. While symbols can be created, such created symbols are subjective and must be given meaning within their context and because the context is different among individuals and societies and can vary over time. Some symbols that are used in the novel The Scarlet Letter is the scarlet letter, the meteor, Pearl, the rosebush next to the prison door, and the scaffold.
The scarlet letter is a symbol that is a symbol of shame, Instead it becomes a power of identity to Hester. As time passes the letter's meaning on Hester's chest shifts also. "..that many people refused to interpret the scarlet "A" by its original signification. They said that it meant "Able"; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength" (145). From the beginnings the scarlet letter intended to mark Hester as an adulterer and eventually it comes to stand for able. It marks her as a person of importance. As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter XII, a red "A" appears in the night sky. "..looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter -the letter "A"-marked out in lines of dull red light" (140). To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should wear the mark of shame just as Hester Prynne. The meteor is interpreted differently from the rest of the community. The community interprets the A as "Angel" which means that Governor Winthrop has entered heaven. The Puritans looked to symbols to confirm divine sentiments.
Although Pearl is a character in The Scarlet Letter, she is a main symbol also. Pearl is a living version of Hester's scarlet letter. She is the consequence of her mother's actions and transgressions. She is a reminder of Hester's sin, and is more of a punishment than a blessing. "Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often dropped her work upon knees, and cried out with an agony which she would fain have hidden, but which made utterance for itself, betwixt speech and a groan, `O Father in Heaven-if Thou art still my Father-what is this being which I have brought into the world!' And Pearl, over hearing the ejaculation, or aware...