Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

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In the novel, a symbol is utilized to convey a deeper meaning. The scarlet “A” is the primary symbol acknowledged by both criticism and myself. This letter stands as a tangible representation of the sin of adultery. Throughout the narrative, the “A” is depicted in various forms. One such form that captivates Pearl Prynne is the gold-embroidered “A” on Hester Prynne’s attire.

The immense magnification of Hester is evident through the armor breastplate at Governor Bellingham’s mansion. It conceals and disguises her to an extreme extent. During Arthur Dimmesdale’s vigil, he witnesses a crimson A in the heavens. Ultimately, the letter is exposed on Dimmsdale’s chest in full view of the entire village. Different characters attribute various significances to the A, beyond its original meaning. To Hester, it symbolizes humiliation.

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The letter A holds different meanings to various characters in the novel. For Dimmesdale, it serves as a constant reminder of his own guilt and remorse. Pearl perceives it as something unusual or strange, while Roger Chillingworth views it as an opportunity for revenge. Apart from symbolizing adultery, the letter A can also represent the terms “Angel” and “Able.” It is associated with the celestial figure of an angel appearing in the sky following Governor Winthrop’s death. Additionally, it signifies Hester’s ability to earn the respect of the Puritan society despite her sinful actions. Hawthorne utilizes the prison building to depict the idea of crime and punishment, juxtaposing it with the tombstone that appears at the end of the novel.

According to this statement, the malefactor’s death will ultimately result from crime and punishment. One symbol of positivity is the rosebush located outside the prison, which I perceive as representing an individual with a good nature concealed within the confines of a gloomy prison – a genuine and remarkable individual. In relation to Puritanism, an analyst suggests that Hawthorne uses the beadle as a symbol. I can understand how the Puritans are likened to lesser officials in the Church of England through the society’s compliance with their guidance.

In the Puritan community, Hester is subjected to scorn for her adultery, which is considered a severe sin according to their strict moral code. The Puritans also play a dominant role in the punishment she faces. In addition, the novel consistently presents a contrast between the Puritan world and the natural world. The symbolism in the story is further conveyed through the setting and the characters. The setting creates the overall atmosphere of the book, while the characters shape and define its essence.

The town’s atmosphere is completely grey, from the skies above to the clothing worn by its people. This pervasive darkness signifies the presence of hidden truths and mysteries. Typically, darkness is associated with a realm of wickedness. Conversely, the daylight is a symbol of revelation, where everything is laid bare. The introduction of color also brings about a sense of joy.

The sun is full of happiness and has a guilt-free existence. Running in the forest, Pearl captures and absorbs this radiant energy. However, Hester remains untouched by the sun due to her sin displayed on her breast. Throughout the novel, the scaffold is repeatedly mentioned for a significant purpose.

The scaffold serves as both a representation of Puritan values and as a symbol of personal guilt. Dimmesdale recognizes that he must confront his sins there and escape from Chillingworth’s control. On the other hand, the forest holds significant symbolism, with three possible interpretations. It can be seen as an ominous location where souls are damned to the devil.

The forest is a symbol of darkness and gloom. Hester has been searching for a guiding path through this forest for years. It is also a place where Pearl can freely run and play, and Hester can relax without society’s judgment. Furthermore, the brook holds symbolic significance in various ways.

The brook, an unknown source that flows through obscurity, babbles to Pearl about a history of misery. Eventually, it becomes a boundary, separating two worlds. Pearl refuses to cross the brook, remaining on the side of the natural world while the other side represents the Puritan orb. Hawthorne’s use of character symbolism is evident in this distinct manifestation of his overall symbolism.

Within the world of the Puritans, the Church, State, and Witchcraft are embodied by Reverend Mr. Wilson, Governor Billingham, and Mistress Hibbins, respectively. These figures are all connected to the scaffold, which serves as a platform for Puritan punishment for sin. Interestingly, the name Pearl itself carries symbolic weight, as it alludes to something of great value. In this particular scenario, that value is tied to Hester’s reputation and her place within the community.

Pearl is also a symbol of self-containment, reflecting her parents’ sin through her impulsive comments and unrestrained behavior. Each character in the novel wrestles with their own sin, seeking redemption through acts of goodness. The Scarlet Letter is rich with symbolism, allowing the reader to connect the narrative to familiar experiences.

According to my source, the critic believes there is an excessive amount of symbolism in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. However, I challenge this viewpoint by asserting that the novel is wonderfully written for its era and contains precisely the appropriate level of impactful symbolism.

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Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. (2019, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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