In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, The Scarlet Letter, the rosebush plays a significant role as a symbol. It is used to represent hope and beauty, as well as love and forgiveness. Understanding the symbolism of the rosebush in this novel provides a deeper understanding of the themes presented.
The first time we encounter the rosebush is when Hester Prynne steps out from prison after spending her punishment for adultery in isolation. On seeing her, “a gleam of sunshine—the first one [Hester] had beheld for so long—passed across her face … But it was gone too quickly for her to know it; and then an ugly cloud—the ugliest that ever was seen—covered up the light” (Hawthorne). Immediately afterward, Hester notices that a wild rosebush has grown around the prison door while she has been inside, representing hope and beauty even in her darkest hour. This imagery highlights how even during our darkest times, we can find hope and beauty if we search for it.
As time passes, Pearl grows into adulthood and begins to see herself in terms of morality instead of simply as an innocent child who doesn’t understand why her mother wears such shame on her chest. Pearl visits Hester at the scaffold. When Pearl sees that there is still a wild rosebush growing around the prison door despite their absence, she expresses how she believes that both she and Hester have been forgiven for their sins because nature continues to provide new life around them despite all they have done wrong.