The Scarlet Letter: Symbolism

British Literature Matt Gordon 9-22-96


Symbolism in literature is the deepness and hidden meaning in a piece of
work. It is often used to represent a moral or religious belief or value.
Without symbolism literature is just a bunch of meaningless words on paper. The
most symbolic piece of work in American Literature is Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s The
Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne\'s use of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter is one of
the most significant contributions to the rise of American Literature.
Much of Hawthorne\'s symbolism is very hard to find but several symbols are
also obvious. In the first chapter Hawthorne describes the prison as "the black
flower of civilized society". The prison represents the crime and punishment
that was incorporated in the early Puritan life. He also contrasts the prison
with the tombstone at the end of the novel by suggesting that crime and
punishment bring about the end of civilized life. In the same chapter he
describes the overgrown vegetation of weeds around the prison. The weeds
symbolize how corrupt civilization really is. He also points out a positive
symbol, the wild rose bush. This represents the blossoming of good out of the
darkness of all civilized life.
The most important symbol which is carried throughout the novel is
undoubtedly the scarlet letter A. It initially symbolizes the immoral act of
adultery but by the end of the novel the "A" has hidden much more meaning than
that. The "A" appears in many other places than on the chest of Hester Prynne.
It is seen on the armor breastplate at Governor Bellingham\'s mansion. At night
while Dimmesdale is standing on the scaffold he sees a bright red letter A in
the sky. While Pearl is playing near the bay shore she arranges some grass in
the form of an A on her own breast. But one of the most important A\'s is one
the spectators see burnt on Dimmesdale\'s chest.
The letter A also has a variety of meanings. Originally standing for the
sin of adultery it has a different meaning for each character. The Puritan
community considers the letter a mark of just punishment. Hester sees the
letter as a symbol of unjust humiliation. Dimmesdale sees the A as a reminder
of his own guilt. Chillingworth sees the A as a quest for revenge to find the
adulterer. Pearl is very curious of the letter and sees it as a great mystery.
The A also stands for "Angel" when it is seen in the sky on the night of
Governor Winthrop\'s death.
Symbolism shows the greatness of an author\'s ability to supply meaning to
his work. It also shows the pride an author takes in his work. Nathaniel
Hawthorne\'s use of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter shows his greatness to
produce a novel of the highest possible caliber. These are the reasons why
Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s The Scarlet Letter is American Literature\'s most famous
symbolic novel ever to be written.

Category: English