Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne

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Hawthorne utilizes symbolism to a significant degree in the book The Scarlet Letter (1850).The scope of this paper cannot deal with every symbol in the book. Consequently, this paper will focus on the key symbols and illustrate their diverse interpretations.

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The Scarlet Letter A

The scarlet letter A is considered to be the most prominent, as well as the conspicuous symbol in the novel. The letter is embroidered on Hesters dress after she commits adultery, and gives birth to Pearl, the illegitimate child. The setting of the novel is in a Puritan society that operates according to Gods laws. The Puritan society is considered to be a refuge for humankind that is without crime and sin. The scarlet letter A is initially found in Hesters clothing in the following quote:

"On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she worewas The Scarlet Letter, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom." (Hawthorne 45-46).

The author continues:

"she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the shame were real." (50)

It is important to note that the implication of the scarlet letter A varies at different instances in the novel. It starts off as a representation of sin, and most importantly, adultery. In different instances, the same scarlet letter A becomes a representation of isolation and loneliness, and eventually it becomes a representation of ability, splendor and angel. The three variations of the meaning of this scarlet letter demonstrate the progressive ownership of Hesters transgression, the lonely life, as well as her capability.

The Scaffold. This should be considered as the second symbol. This is a platform where Hester stands s she puts on the scarlet letter A on her clothing, carrying Pearl for around three hours.

This is found in the following quote:

"It was, in short, the platform of the pillory, and above it rose the framework of that instrument of discipline, so fashioned as to confine the human head in its light grasp, and this holds it up the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and ironher sentence bore that she should stand a certain time upon the platform, but without undergoing that gripe about the neck and confinement of the head." (47).

The scaffold presents a spot of public humiliation for people who choose to disobey the puritan law. The scaffold depicts the sin of the individual standing on it, in addition to demonstrating the Puritan manner of addressing sin. The scaffold, in addition, represents the fate of segregation punishment, as well as shame.

Pearl. Pearl is Dimmesdale and Hesters illegitimate offspring. She should be considered as the living embodiment of the scarlet letter A. Pearl is a representation of the innocence of childhood. She does not discern what the scarlet letter stands for. This is demonstrated when s she shapes a letter A on her clothing. This is found in the following quote:

"Pearl took some eelgrass and imitated, as best she could, on her own bosom the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mothers. A letter _the letter A_ but freshly green, instead of scarlet." (151)

It is evident that Pearl is innocent and does not discern anything. It is apparent that if she understood what the scarlet letter A means, she would not draw it on her clothing. The child is simply mimicking her mother.


Hawthorne endeavors utilize symbolism in expressing the spiritual and social status in the Puritan society, an unpolluted religious community during the 17th century.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, N. The Scarlet Letter. England: Penguin, 1994. Print.

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