thaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter Scarlet Letter essaysUse of Symbols in The Scarlet Letter
In World Book Dictionary, a symbol is defined as something that stands for or represents something else, especially an idea, quality, or condition. Symbols can be objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent ideas or concepts. In the novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, there are many symbols that are throughout the novel.
While symbols can be created, such created symbols are subjective and must be given meaning within their context and because the context is different among individuals and societies and can vary over time. Some symbols that are used in the novel The Scarlet Letter is the scarlet letter, the meteor, Pearl, the rosebush next to the prison door, and the scaffold.
The scarlet letter is a symbol that is a symbol of shame, Instead it becomes a power of identity to Hester. As time passes the letter's meaning on Hester's chest shifts also. "..
that many people refused to interpret the scarlet "A" by its original signification. They said that it meant "Able"; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength" (145). From the beginnings the scarlet letter intended to mark Hester as an adulterer and eventually it comes to stand for able. It marks her as a person of importance. As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter XII, a red "A" appears in the night sky. ".
.looking upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter -the letter "A"-marked out in lines of dull red light" (140). To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should wear the mark of shame just as Hester Prynne. The meteor is interpreted differently from the rest of the community. The community interprets the A as "Angel" which means that Governor Winthrop has entered heaven. The Puritans looked to symbols to confirm divine sentiments.
Although Pearl is a character in The Scarlet Letter, she is a main symbol also. Pearl is a living version of Hester's scarlet letter. She is the consequence of her mother's actions and transgressions. She is a reminder of Hester's sin, and is more of a punishment than a blessing.
"Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often dropped her work upon knees, and cried out with an agony which she would fain have hidden, but which made utterance for itself, betwixt speech and a groan, `O Father in Heaven-if Thou art still my Father-what is this being which I have brought into the world!' And Pearl, over hearing the ejaculation, or aware through some more subtle channel of those throbs of anguish, would turn her vivid and beautiful little face upon her mother, smile with spirit-like intelligence, and resume her play" (85). Pearl's existence gives her mother reason to live, bolstering her spirits when she is tempted to give up.
The narrator of The Scarlet Letter chooses to begin his story with the image of rosebushes next to the prison door. The rosebush symbolizes the ability of nature to endure and outlast man's activities. "This rosebush, by a strange chance, has been kept alive in history; but whether it had merely survived out of stern old wilderness, so long after the fall of the gigantic pines and oaks that originally overshadowed it-or whether, as there is fair authority for believing, it had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison door-we shalled not take upon us to determine" (42).
The narrator mentions various significance to the rosebush, never admitting or denying them.
The scaffold is a place of public condemnation for Hester Prynne. Whenever the scaffold is mentioned, it signifies ignominy and alludes back to the sin of adultery. "Walking in the shadow of a dream, as it were, and perhaps actually under the influence of a species of somnambulism, Mr. Dimmesdale reached the spot where, now so long since, Hester Prynne had lived through her first hours of public ignominy.
The same platform or scaffold, black and weather-stained with the storm or sunshine of seven long years, and foot-worn, too, with the tread of many culprits who had since ascended it, remained standing beneath the balcony of the meeting house. The minister went up the steps" (132). The scaffold is a place of public confession for Revered Dimmesdale. Whoever mounts the scaffold draws attention of the public.
In the novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, there were several symbols used in the novel. The scarlet letter was meant to be a symbol of shame but it became a power of identity for Hester.
The meteor, for Dimmesdale meant he should be wearing the scarlet letter just like Hester. To the town, the meteor meant "angel" which meant that the Governor entered the gates of heaven. Pearl was a symbol that was a living version of her mother's sin. The rosebush by the prison door represents the ability of nature to endure and outlasts a man's activities.
The scaffold is a place of public confession and alludes back to the sin of adultery.