Symbols have a way of enlivening stories and bringing complex themes to life. This is certainly true in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, The Scarlet Letter. Amongst the many symbols in the book, one of the most prominent and powerful is that of a rose bush.
The rose bush appears early on in The Scarlet Letter, when Hester Prynne is standing on the scaffold with her daughter Pearl and being publicly shamed for her adultery. On this day, Hester wears a red “A” (for “adultery”) stitched onto her dress, but she also wears something else: a wild rosebush with seven blossoms. To many readers, this symbolizes hope and new beginnings; after all, roses represent love and beauty. In fact, Hester herself believes that it could be a sign from God—a sign that she will once again find joy despite her current situation.
While some readers may interpret the rose bush as a symbol of hope, others view it more as an indication of suffering. Think about it—the rose bush is wild (not cultivated), thorny (not soft or gentle), and red (the same color as Hester’s scarlet letter). These details suggest that while there may be hope on the horizon for Hester, it will come at a price—she will have to suffer through pain before getting to that point. And indeed she does; throughout much of the novel she has to endure public humiliation from her peers before finally finding redemption at the end.