The Effective Use of Symblism in The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The novel, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne is an intriguing account of a Puritan community that experiences a breakdown in beliefs. The story deals with a woman, Hester, who commits adultery with a Calvinistic minister resulting in the birth of a child (Martin 110). As compensation for her crime of passion and her refusal to name her lover, Hester is sentenced to wear an embroidered scarlet letter on her bosom. It is this letter, or secret sin, that becomes the emphasis of the novel and assumes many different roles (Martin 111). Hawthorne starts the novel by portraying the literary reality associated with the different aspects of the letter (Martin 110). From the start, "Hawthorne seems to say, this is a scarlet letter; because of that, it is capable of further meaning. The letter will have to carry the burden of the tale" (Martin 111). Hawthorne's use of symbolism is fully developed in the multi-meanings hidden in the scarlet letter through a variety of characters.
The scarlet letter represents different ideals to different people and should be given the proper consideration (Martin 114). In the Puritan community, the letter is viewed as a moral obligation to inform others of Hester's sin, one that they feel should be "dragged out into the sunshine" (Hawthorne 43). They believe the letter symbolizes psychological and religious truth. The Puritans are " a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical, and in whose character both were so thoroughly interfused, that her mildest and severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful" (Hawthorne 40). It is said that "meager, indeed, and cold, was the sympathy that a transgressor might look for, from such bystanders at the scaffold" (Hawthorne 40). The Puritans are firmly against Hester's actions and feels that she has disgraced them along with herself. They feel that she must take responsibility for her actions. The effect of her punishment however is not what the Puritans had hoped to achieve. Hester's sin has grown from that of passion to one of purpose. Even with Hester's sympathetic attitude, she was not filled with regret and therefore the letter had not done its task (Martin 122).
To the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, the scarlet letter contains a whole new meaning. He views the letter as a constant reminder of his sin and cowardice. His guilt continues to grow as a result of his not being able to come forth in front of the community and take responsibility for his actions. His guilt and sin become magnified by his inability to stand beside Hester at the scaffold. Dimmesdale, also is ironically charged with questioning Hester and trying to convince her of the importance of identifying her fellow sinner (Hawthorne 52). He begins to feel more and more grief and it begins to affect his mental and physical state. He soon becomes weak; however, it is...