Scarlet LetterThroughout The Scarlet Letter, the author Nathaniel Hawthorne uses many literal and figurative items to illustrate the significance of various characters or themes. Coupled with the tangible evidence given, the reader can make many miscellaneous assumptions of the importance of these items to directly and indirectly contribute to the issues of the novel. One cryptic item that symbolizes more than it seems to is the appearance of one of the main characters, Hester Prynne. Hester Prynne’s appearance and hair signify the levels of will and determination she possesses at the moment.
The first example of this implication occurs at the beginning of the novel, during and before the first scaffold scene. Hester’s hair is let down, shining and “so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam.” This hair compliments an elegant, beautiful woman standing tall and proud. During this time, Hester’s emotions, at full integrity, mirroring her appearance. When Hester is being questioned upon the scaffold, her virtue shines through when she refuses to name the partner of her sin.
In the next example, Hester’s pride and stature both seem to dwindle in accordance to her appearance.
Within the next seven years, Hester has gone through a change both physically and emotionally. The book describes the scarlet letter to have absorbed all the rebellious and fiery qualities of Hester, leaving a cold and lonely woman, her tenderness “crushed so deeply into her heart that it can never show itself more.” At the same time, Hester started “hiding” her beautiful rich hair in a cap, therefore practically eliminating her beauty and femininity. As Hester becomes less passionate internally, she becomes less passionate externally as well.
The last example takes place during Hester’s talk with Arthur Dimmesdale in the forest. During their emotional conversation, Hester regains her previous composure, and tries to prove to Arthur that the past can be erased. With the literal simple gestures of pulling off her scarlet letter and taking off her cap, she figuratively obliterated all that had happened before she was forced to wear the scarlet letter. Her womanliness and pride came rushing back as her hair fell back to her shoulders, becoming as she was before the scarlet letter took over her life.
The inward composure and integrity of Hester Prynne is directly reflected by the outward appearance of her hair. Seen by the three main examples in the novel, Hester’s hair is an important figurative symbol that represents the different points where Hester may stand. The entire novel of The Scarlet Letter is filled with many emblematic items, each of which symbolizes and enhances something more easily understood.
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