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Symbols And Symbolism In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1243 words - 5 pages

Symbols in The Scarlet Letter

 
   In nearly every work of literature, readers can find symbols that represent feelings, thoughts or ideas within the text.  Such symbols can be found in The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Hawthorne's book about an affair between a woman named Hester and a minister named Arthur Dimmmesdale is full of feelings of sin, guilt, hate, secrecy, and honesty.  There are many symbols within the novel that can be interpreted to represent the key topics of the book.  Each of these symbols is an important part of the story, and connects to the situations that occur around them.  The main ideas of the novel are represented by recurring symbols in the text; the scaffold, scarlet letter, and forest.

 

The scaffold is a platform in the center of town, where criminals are put to death, and people guilty of minor crimes, put to shame.  "It was, in short, the platform of pillory, and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its tight grasp and thus holding it up to the public gaze." (p.56)  In the beginning of the story, Hester Prynne is forced to stand on this platform for several hours as her sin is made publicly known.  Hester "sustained herself as best a woman might under the weight of a thousand unrelenting eyes."(p57)  Because she lives in a puritan society, Hester becomes an outcast after her sin is made known.  She has to live the rest of her life in shame and guilt because everyone now knows that Hester has committed adultery.  Later in the novel, Dimmesdale comes to stand on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl.  He is quite literally deteriorating from feelings of remorse and shame for what he did to Hester.  He is abashed because he cannot bring himself to admit his sin to the public, but instead keeps it hidden.  He admits this to Pearl as they stand on the scaffold. (p.158).  The third and final time that the scaffold portrays feelings of guilt and shame is in the last chapter.  Dimmesdale finishes his sermon and climbs the scaffold stairs.  To the dismay of the watching crowd, he makes his confession "with a voice that rose over them, high, solemn, and majestic -- yet had always a tremor through it, and sometimes a shriek, struggling up out of a fathomless depth of remorse and woe." (p287)  The events that occur at the scaffold make it the perfect symbol for the impressions of shame and guilt throughout the book.

 

The scarlet letter that Hester is forced to wear because of her sin serves as a reminder, that the truth cannot be ignored.  Hester's sin makes her an outcast from society, the puritan people don't want to be associated with a sinner.  Hester is left to live alone in a cottage with no one for company but her little daughter.  The reader may ask him or herself why Hester did not simply remove the letter, and move to a different town where no one knew her and restart her life. ...

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