Symbols And Symbolism In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

2614 words - 10 pages

Thesis Statement and Outline

Thesis Statement: Nathaniel Hawthorne used symbolism to bring meaning into his book
"The Scarlet Letter."

I. Symbolism
A. Definition
B. Style

II. Symbolism in characters
A. Hester
B. Dimmesdale
C. Chillingworth
D. Pearl

III. Symbolism in objects
A. The scarlet letter
B. The scaffold
C. The forest
D. The brook

IV. Symbolic relations between characters and objects
A. Characters and the scarlet letter
B. Characters and the scaffold
C. Pearl and the forest

Nathaniel Hawthorne used symbolism to bring meaning into his book "The Scarlet Letter." Generally speaking, a symbol is something that is used to stand for something else. In literature, it is most often a concrete object which is used to represent something more abstract and broader in scope and meaning. Symbols can range from the most obvious substitution of one thing for another to creations as massive, complex, and perplexing as Melville's white whale in Moby Dick ( Dibble, p. 77 ). In The Scarlet Letter the symbols and the ingredients of the story come together "in a seamless unity in which each manifestation of the letter illuminates an aspect of the characters' or the community's evolving experience ( Brodhead, p. 159 ) .

In Hawthorne's use of symbols in The Scarlet Letter, we observe the author making one of his most distinctive and significant contributions to the growth of American fiction. Indeed this novel is usually regarded as the first symbolic novel to be published in the United States ( Dibble, p. 77 ) . Hawthorne attempts to spread a revelation into imagined characters and scenes, to transfer the realization of the symbols into a warmth that will animate the entire story. The author creates by transforming fact into symbol, that is, into meaningful fact.

Facts that he cannot see as meaningful fact may be

disregarded. He is at liberty to manipulate his

materials, to shape them freely into meaningful

patterns, so long as he does not violate the truth

of the human heart ( Waggoner p. 69 ) .

 

It is in the four major characters that Hawthorne's powers as a symbolist are brought into fullest play. Each of his major characters symbolizes a certain view of sin and its effects on the human heart ( Dibble p. 80 ) . Hester Prynne is warm, alive, human - so much so that it is difficult to determine just where Hawthorne's sympathies lie. She is a queenly figure who may have gotten her name from the biblical Esther. "Queen Esther is a woman of courage, beauty, dignity, selflessness. Hester Prynne has all these qualities ( Bloom, p. 121 ) ." She seems a virtual saint, a woman who walks in humility and patience but to others she is an unbending woman of pride, who glories in her sin. This glorifying of her sin is expressed the symbol she is forced to wear. Hester practices the art of symbolic overlay by which her community gives meaning and...

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