Discuss Nathanial Hawthorne and the use of symbol

Discuss Nathanial Hawthorne and the use of symbol


Symbolism is the way a person uses objects, words or objects to present abstract ideas. They can be words, actions, characters, or objects to have a symbolic meaning. Readers will have a better perspective to understand the deep meaning and pay attention to symbols that are used. The use of symbolism in the Scarlet letter enables people to have the will and courage that can help them to break the traditional constraints and help them to pursue equality and freedom in modern times.Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, just like different romantic novels, opens the mind of the reader to various views of the real and ideal life.

The main details of the novel’s character and plot are used strategically to show multiple aspects of life. Some of the aspects of life that are repeated and demonstrated in this novel are the difference between society and nature. In this novel, Hawthorne brings out various romantic ideas to show the effects of nature’s freedom and purity on individuals.


The settings in this novel are symbolic. The village in Puritan with all its scaffold and market is a place of stringent laws, concern with punishment and sin, and also self-examination. The humiliation of people and penance are symbolized by the use of the scaffold, which is the only place that Dimmesdale can go to recompense for his guilt and escape the clutches of his tormentors. The community in general that watch from the beginning to the end symbolizes the Puritan rigid point of view with unquestioning respect to the law (Zheng 2017). The state and the church are also forces that are contented upon in this colony, as is found out by Hester. They depict Dimmesdale as a figure of public approval. Chillingworth is seen as a man to be revered, and Hester is seen as an outcast. The gloom of the community is apparent and omnipresent.

The forest also signifies a natural world that is controlled by logical rules and laws as compared to the Puritan community that has its human-made regulations and regulations. In this environment or society, Hester is able to down her hair, discuss plans with Dimmesdale of being away from the stringent rules of the Puritans(Zheng 2017). Concerning the forest, the brook offers “a boundary between two worlds.” When Hester beckons Pearl to cross this boundary and enter the Puritan world, he refuses. Conversely, the forest is that place where Hester finds herself in when she is compelled to wear the sign of her sins and guilt.

Hester resides in a small house that is surrounded by massive trees near the forest. The author wants to communicate to the readers that Hester is always disconnected from something ordinary, which is very much removed from the ethos of a man. The forest mystery signifies Hester’s mystery(Zheng 2017). Its obscured dangers also mean the fears in her mind and that of the common man who banishes her from the society that she lives. Also, it symbolizes the “moral wilderness she had long been wandering.”


The main character of the novel Hester is herself, an e symbol of a martyr. “She was patient – a martyr, indeed….” (87). In this case, a martyr is a person that sacrifices her life for the benefit and cause of many people. The epitome of martyrdom in this case is Jesus Christ. There have been many martyrs prior and since but Hester serves to be exemplary in that regard. In this novel, it is not wrong to imply that Hester is a martyr. For instance, she willingly sacrificed her life and never uttered a word concerning her partner in the sinful way or act (Cai 127). When everybody around her tried to inflict her heart with Pain and condemning remarks, Hester chose to be silently praying for her enemies. She accepted all these and believed that it would assist her purgation, thus, “…she forbore to pray for enemies, lest, despite her forgiving aspirations the words of the blessing should stubbornly twist themselves into a curse” (87)

Hester also named her child Pearl since she believed that she was the most precious gift for her. Hester asserts that Pearl was bought at a great price, “purchased with all she had – her mother’s only treasure.” The creation of a pearl involves a tedious, intensive, and painstaking process(Cai 127). The process is also rare and was the reason why they named the child as Pearl.

Pearl also plays a significant role in this novel. She acts as a pivotal symbol in many ways. At the basic level, Pearl is a living testimony of the sins and sufferings of her mother and the living symbol, “It was the scarlet letter in another form: the scarlet letter endowed with life” (105). From the beginning, Pearl is not born as a normal child. There is a feeling of supernaturalism that surrounds her and is presented in many ways(Cai 127). This will compel readers to not only think of her role as Hester’s daughter but that she stands for something bigger and greater. She says, “In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose element was perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder, or with an order peculiar to themselves., amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered” (93). The sentences above throw light on the essential nature of Pearl. She is the symbol of independence and revolution. She also signifies art that is beautiful and brilliant ….with an order peculiar to themselves.

It can also be concluded with the weight of evidence that Dimmesdale is used in the novel to symbolize repentance. At the later stages of this novel, it can be understood that the man is Hester’s partner as far as sin is concerned. The man is in an advantageous position as a priest, thus being saved from the infamy that Hester faces in her life. He knows the mistakes he committed but does not admit in public. The internal torture that is evident in his physique deteriorates his health. Thus, the deteriorated physical health is symbolic of the trauma that he is undergoing.

On the other hand, the forest is meant to symbolize a palace where witches meet and where souls are signed to Satan. Dimmesdale could “yield himself with deliberate choice . . . to what he knew was a deadly sin. The forest, in this instance, signifies the world of evil and darkness. Hibbins understand on sight those that would stroll “in the forest “or to put it in another way, do Satan’s work in secret. When Dimmesdale exits the forest having a plan of escape in his mind, he receives temptations many times during his journey to the village. Therefore, the forest is the symbol of temptation of man. The author states that a man chooses to epitomize Hester’s sin with a cloth letter. He asserts that “God represents the sin with a human child”……. (91-92). Pearl’s existence, compared with the scarlet letter, implies the idiosyncrasy in the way of punishment for the Puritans.

The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathanial Hawthorne, is full of symbolism. The symbols are used everywhere in the book to the extent that an effort to count them can result in a text as large as the book itself. However, this work is one of the hand-picked and most exceptional illustrations of American literature in its use of symbolism in the most incredible manner.

The importance of symbolism in this novel can be underscored by because even the initial or first chapter of the book called The Prison House meticulously uses symbolism, starting with the example of the wild rose bush. The first chapter gives a vivid description of the grim appearance of the premises and the prison house. In the premise or prison-house, everything is darkly portraying the nature of the business that occurs in the premise. Still, the wild rose bush, to everyone’s surprise, is the exception because of its fragrance and beauty. Hawthorne calls the existence of plants nothing but an “a strange chance,” implying that even the huge pines and oaks which originally overshadowed it has dropped out and did not stand the test of time.

The small plant has endured it all thereby offering beauty and fragrance to the heartbroken and those that were condemned as prisoners. This reminds people of nature’s token of appreciation and its divine kindness and pity. Hawthorn is compelled at the threshold of the narrative and is obliged to pluck some of the flowers and convey it to the readers. He further adds that “It may serve, let us hope, to symbolize, some sweet moral blossom that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.” (50)

To substantiate this statement, the wild rose according to the author signifies hope and the kindness and divinity of nature. After making such a compelling beginning, there comes an array of symbols where the most essential ones are discussed. The title of the novel itself is called the “Scarlet letter.” In this title, ‘A’ is, without any doubt, an elongated and elaborate symbol of ignominy (Zheng 2017). The letter is an organic symbol whereby the whole novel is established. It symbolizes sin of “strange phantoms of guilt, the sinking of the heart and unaccountable misfortune” (304). Also, just right from the time Hester exited the dark prison into the open world, the people around were quite sceptical about it.

Another crucial symbol of the book is the basis for the book title itself. Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter is connected to her dress and looks like “in fine red cloth surrounded with elaborate embroidery with fantastic flourishes of gold thread” (Hawthorne 60). That letter in itself is said to have contain “the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself” (Hawthorne 61). Conversely, the letter appears to be the ultimate point of Hester’s figure. The letter has also various meanings that depend on the context of time. It is a sign of penitence, adultery, and penance. It portrays the suffering of Hester and her loneliness and also offers her renewal. In this novel, it first appears as the real material object in the Custom House Premise. Eventually, it turns into elaborately gold-embroidered A over the heart of Hester and is magnified through the armor breast-plate found at the Governor’s mansion in Bellingham. Hester, in this situation, is hidden by the vast, magnified symbol like her feelings and life are hidden behind the sign of her iniquities.

Besides, the letter A is a large red in the sky, a feeling of grass decorated by pearl containing prickly burrs. In these examples, the symbol meanings depend on the background and sometimes the interpreter. An example is in the second scene of the scaffold where the community observes the scarlet A in the sky and signifies the dying Governor has turned into an angel. However, Dimmesdale sees it as a sign of her secrets and sin. Initially, the community sees the letter on Hester’s bosom as a sign of just punishment and a sign to stop others from sin(Wang 1252). Hester is a woman who has fallen and has a symbol of her guilt. Eventually, when Hester becomes a regular visitor in homes of sorrow and Pain, the letter A is seen to symbolize “Angel” or “Able.” It has changed and rejuvenated Hester and her meaning in the eyes of the people.

Color and light

Darkness and light, shadows and sunshine, midnight and noon, are all used as symbols in this novel and manifests the same images. Also, colors like black, grey, and red play a vital role in the symbolic meaning of the society, its scenery, and background. The same as the characters, the context and background establishes what type of role the color or light play in the novel (Wang 1252). The first chapter of the Scarlet letter comes to an end with a warning to “relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow” with “some sweet moral blossom.” The opposites are located throughout the novel and set the tone and also explain which side of evil and righteousness envelop the characters.

In chapter 16, Dimmesdale and Hester meet deep into the forest with a “gray expanse of cloud”. The dense and black forest also hems the narrow road. The lover’s feelings that are weighed down by guilt are reflected in nature’s darkness. Most often, there is sunshine that is flickering on the setting. Pearl, on the other hand, reminds her mother that the sun will not show on Hester because of his sins. In this case, the sun symbolizes the untroubled or guilt-free joy, or the approval of nature and the Almighty. It also symbolizes the light of grace and righteousness

Darkness is usually linked with Chillingworth. It is also used to describe the prison in the first chapter. The Puritans in the scene put on grey hats, and the jail’s darkness is relieved by sunshine. When Hester exits the dark and comes into the sunshine, she squints at the day’s light, and her sins are placed for everyone to see. Dimmesdale’s confession comes at noontime, and daylight, in this case, symbolizes exposure. Nighttime is, however, linked to concealment(Lei 2168). Dimmesdale comes out of the scaffold at night to hide his confession from the people. At the end, the grave of Hester and Dimmesdale is in darkness. “So somber is it, and relieved only by one ever-glowing point of light gloomier than the shadow . . .” of course, the light is the scarlet letter that is glowing out of the darkness of the Puritan despair.

Colour plays the same role as darkness and light. The most predominant color is red, which is observed in roses, clothing, pearls clothing, and the letter. Mostly during the night, the letter is linked to evil and darkness (Lei 2164). In other contexts, the letter is related to part of nature, lawlessness, passion, and immigration. The context of the letter determines the meaning. Gray and black colors are connected with sin, gloom, and death. They also signify the narrow road of good through the forest of sin.


Hawthorne’s Scarlet letter is among the prolific novels in American literature. It has been under close scrutiny since its publication by some critics. The novel has produces multiple interpretations and meanings as far as use of symbolism is concerned. By reading the Scarlet letter, readers will understand the deeper meaning with the context of that period which is to affirm the stringent doctrine of Puritanism.


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Nathanial Hawthorne and the use of symbol