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The Scarlett Letter Essay

3560 words - 14 pages

Individual and Community through Symbolism in Feminist LiteratureJust as depiction and dialogue and stratagem work on the exterior to move the story along, symbolism/ imagery works underneath the exterior to fasten the story's outside action to the topic. Early in the progress of the imaginary story, symbolism was often formed through parable, giving the factual event and its figurative equivalent a one-to-one correspondence.After all is said and done, examined, explored, analyzed, and allegorized in The Scarlet Letter; the letter itself remains undaunted and intact at the end of the romance: "On a Field, Sable, The Letter A, Gules." It seems to outlive all the controversy and uncertainty concerning it and remains unto itself a kind of icon: intact, red, "one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow. . . ." Hawthorne ends other romances and tales similarly, especially "The Minister's Black Veil" and The House of the Seven Gables. In all three instances the last thing we see, or read, is the initial image or symbol around which the entire narrative has gravitated: the Black Veil (1836), the Scarlet Letter (1850), and the House of the Seven Gables (1851). Such a phenomenon indicates that in these very conspicuous cases in Hawthorne's fiction, image precedes idea, a fetishized object precedes the moral issues and confusions that characters ascribe to it, and what we will call the psychology of idolatry may lie at the root of Hawthorne's vision of the American romance.It is as if Hawthorne continues to focus on or isolate these images or icons because they remain enigmatic. They still exude some strange kind of power over the author, the reader, and the text. Something continues to reside in them, or there is a quality in them that the text cannot fully explain. Whether the black marks on the page signify a yawning absence or whether the written image conjures up a glowering or mysterious presence, the upshot remains the same. The thing itself--the veil, the letter, and the house--or the words that both embody and disembody it has somehow "outlasted" the narrative sequencing of the text. The "object . . . has an unquestioned physical presence in the fictional world," writes Theodore Ziolkowski in his 1977 study or literary iconology. These are "things with a tangible reality in the context of the literary work: not the abstract sensation of fear, but the fear-inspiring bear itself" (8, 17). That tangible reality, as Robert Scholes suggests, may emerge from the very act of reading itself: "Are we nothing but our codes? I think we are more, though it is not easy to say exactly what this `more' may be. We should at least consider what lies behind the power of the icons themselves . . ." (26).How Hawthorne responds to such objects, I think, indicates a great deal of the kind of fiction he came to write. That response also reveals his own cultural and social blindnesses as well and may connect directly to the wrestling with various images and...

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