The Use of Symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

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The Use of Symbols in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Throughout the novel, The Scarlet Letter, the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses a few key symbols to represent major themes in the book. The most obvious and well known, as it is in the title, is the scarlet letter Hester is forced to wear. Three other symbols are the scaffold, the sun, and the forest.

To begin with, the most important and influential symbol in the entire book is the infamous scarlet letter, hence the title, The Scarlet Letter. In the second chapter, Hester walks out of the prison, wearing the infamous scarlet letter ‘A’. During the first few years of Hester’s punishment, the letter was a daily reminder of shame. In chapter five, Hawthorne writes,,
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Throughout the book, there are various meanings to the scarlet letter. It means different things to different people – a sign of wealth to the butler, curiosity for Pearl, guilt for Dimmesdale, rebelliousness, revenge or motivation for Chillingworth, and betrayal of one’s spouse, to name a few. Regardless, the true duty was to punish and teach a lesson, neither of which the letter performed successfully.

The scarlet letter is only one of the symbols representing Hester’s shame and punishment. Another one we see early in the novel, at about the same time we see Hester wearing the scarlet letter for the first time in public, is the scaffold on which she stands after walking out of the prison. In the second chapter, Hawthorne writes, "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 tight grasp, and thus hold it up to the public gaze. The very ideal of ignominy was embodied and made manifest in this contrivance of wood and iron." These few sentences pretty much sum up the significance of the scaffold in the story. The scaffold, like the scarlet letter, to the Puritans, is a place of public shame for those persons who decide to break the Puritan Law. It represents the sin of the person standing upon it and it shows the Puritan way of dealing with sin.

Among the other symbols

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