Symbolism in ‘The Scarlet Letter’

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In his novel, ‘the Scarlet Letter’, Nathaniel Hawthorne showcases the significance of symbolism in various ways. Amongst numerous symbols that have been displayed in this novel, Scarlet ‘A’ seems to be one of the most outstanding since it is used to signify anguish and sin alongside happiness. Despite the original intentions, letter “A” is endowed with diverse meanings to various individuals. The main reoccurrence throughout this novel is inclined to the fact that people should not let their circumstances or mistakes determine their fate or personality in life. The symbol under focus may seem as a coincidental object, but it is endowed with a deeper and underlying meaning.

After undertaking a critical analysis, it can be ascertained that letter “A” do not have universal symbolic relations with adultery. It was depicted by the Puritans as the first connotation of adultery. The community or societal interpretation of the cosmic “A” denotes an Angel that tends to signify Governor Winthrop’s passing (Hawthorne, 79-86). To Hester the letter represented the aspect of unjust humiliation and alienation. She views the scarlet letter as a gigantic and exaggerated feature that reflected on her negative prospects. This shows the manner the community failed to see Hester’s inner self as a rational being, but rather saw the “A” and the sinner. The women often jested and sneered publicly at her.

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Moreover, Hester’s nature of imprisonment symbolized the aspect of alienation and isolation. Yet again, later in life when Hester shows some signs of humility and humbleness through the act of embroidering other people’s items while still wearing vague colored cloths, the community revised the statement to depict that her “A” meant able. For Dimsdale, the letter tends to represent his agony and guilt since it torments him constantly throughout the novel (Hawthorne, 114). This is something reminding him how Hester usually suffers for him and his undeclared sin. On the other hand, Pearl saw the letter as a positive and mysterious thing representing her existence and true meaning of life. As one of the final touches to the garb of her mermaid, Pearl picks some eel-grass while imitating the vigor behind her mother’s decoration. In this case, Pearl’s formation of the letter shows her greater urge to act and behave like her own mother. Therefore, according to Pearl, the letter in scarlet “A” means life (Hawthorne, 173). This is the reason Pearl shows Hester this letter in green, with the aim of trying to display the letter’s sense of goodness and life. It also seems to be representing the innocence, as well as the importance of Pearl’s future life as a sinner’s daughter.

As depicted by the letter, the Puritans went an extra mile of despising Hester based on her sinful symbolic nature. Their perception led them to shun her for several years even after the end of her prison term. Hester could have even opted to live a lonely and depressed life with Pearl, her daughter, but rather decided to accept her wrongdoings and sin and transformed to be a mentally and socially stronger woman. Upon her release after several years of imprisonment and societal rejection, she started practicing needlework to boost her and her daughter’s livelihood. Therefore, this act made the Salem people to begin recognizing her talent for garments and embroidery. In this case, they slowly started respecting her unique talent and hence scarlet “A” that initially stood for an “adulterer” began fading away to denote an “able” woman (Hawthorne, 179). Hester also went an extra mile of supplying apparel for ceremonies, inaugurations, babies, and even funerals. Besides, letter ‘A’ adopted another significant symbolic meaning the moment Pearl went down the seashore to design a green letter “A” from the seaweed. This perspective was evidently symbolic for her sinless early life since she is still “pure” and “green.” Contrary to Pearl’s Scarlet ‘A’, Hester’s “A” symbolizes her numerous sins that have piled up for many years she has thrived in life.

All in all, it can be ascertained that the Scarlet ‘A’ is a primary symbol of various behavioral and character standings based on the prevailing circumstances. For instance, the manner the community initially took Hester into consideration was indeed valid. She was a public sinner who clearly demonstrated the impact of punishment on human nature and sensitivity. The society rather depicts her as a fallen woman and a culprit deserving the humiliation of her wicked choice. She is one of the main characters in this novel who struggles for recognition based on the symbolic nature of the letter just like other individuals’ struggles with their ethical choices. The only paradox lies on the fact that Puritans tends to stigmatize her with a sinful mark. It is something that demeans her to a depressed and lifeless woman with gray characteristic color and suppressed femininity and vitality (Hawthorne, 163).

Thus, Hester’s several years of punishment leads to a sharp transformation of her inner struggles from being a Puritan branding’ victim to being a decisive woman with great personality and hard work. The scarlet letter ‘A’ became her passport to the regions whereby many other women never dared to tread. Since Hester’s character is tied strongly to the symbolic nature of the scarlet letter, she represents a public sinner who transforms and picks up the pieces from her sorrowful experience to understand other people’s sense of humanity. The symbol generally shows that human beings who tend to suffer life-changing experiences and great losses in life often ends up becoming great survivors with enhanced sympathy and understanding for other people’s losses.

  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The scarlet letter: 1850. Infomotions, Incorporated, 2001.

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