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The Scarlet Allegory: The Symbolism Of The Scarlet Letter

1044 words - 5 pages

Throughout history, imagery has been used in literature to provide an emotional depth and prevalence to literary works that would otherwise be lost in time. The Scarlet Letter is an emotional, Puritan-era novel that focuses on the harsh and controversial topics of adultery, sin, hypocrisy, and judgment. The Scarlet Letter tells the sentimental story of Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman who has been condemned to wear a scarlet A after she commits adultery and creates an illegitimate child, Pearl, with the holy Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale. The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, employs a unique and nonpareil style that incorporates antiquated words, thought-provoking symbolism, and rich irony. ...view middle of the document...

Because of the scarlet letter’s symbolism of sin, Hester is a scapegoat for the hypocritical members of the Puritan society who bask in the guilt of their secret sins. The townspeople criticize Hester’s actions in order to feel better about their private sins that they refuse to confess to. It is said that “if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom” (39). The scarlet letter’s existence causes Hester to become a living metaphor for confession and public sin, two subjects that Hawthorne incorporates in order to develop the idea of societal hypocrisy that The Scarlet Letter explores.
As the novel progresses, the scarlet letter symbolizes Hester’s illegitimate child, Pearl, by being a material representation of her. Pearl, in turn, takes on a role of symbolism herself by personifying the scarlet letter. Much like the scarlet letter, Pearl is a product of sinful passion because of her conception. Pearl is described as a child who “could not be amenable to rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being, whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder” (42). Hester is constantly reminded of the sinful acts that caused Pearl’s creation as she raises her in the judgmental nature of the Puritan society. Pearl’s relationship with Hester contains not only maternal love and adoration, but also guilt and anger. Hester loves Pearl dearly, but her presence in Hester’s life constantly reminds her of the sin she committed. Hawthorne expands this idea by claiming that “God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in Heaven!” (41). Like the scarlet letter, Pearl is a direct and inescapable embodiment of consequence and sin.
As The Scarlet Letter progresses, Hester’s scarlet A is viewed in a completely different light. As time passes, the...

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