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Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

Symbolism is a clever technique used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his infamous novel The Scarlet Letter. Some of the symbols that are conveyed in this novel are very easy to decipher. However, some of the symbols could be hard to unmask. Therefore, the reader is forced to analyze the material thoroughly in order to get a full meaning of the message which Nathaniel Hawthorne is trying to get across. Symbolism in this novel is not a technique used for the purpose of stumping a reader, it is rather used for the purpose of making the novel more profound and interesting. One would say that Nathaniel Hawthorne achieved this goal impressively.

He not only introduces certain symbols, but he also uses them throughout the book allowing them to take on various meanings. In addition, he not only portrays objects and people as symbols, but he also uses symbols in some of his characters names. If one were to look closely at the names of the characters, one would be able to decipher the characters personalities. For instance, when reading a name like Dimmesdale or Chillingworth one would know that these characters are not happy campers. If the reader is confused by the plot, it is helpful for the author to reveal the characters traits by providing symbolism in the names.

By using symbolism, Hawthorne creates characters that emphasis a certain trait, which gives them a more human quality. Dimmesdale (the minister) and Chillingworth (the doctor), as mentioned before, are two examples of characters who include symbolism in their names. The name Dimmesdale, as one can see, possesses the word Dim in it. This should give the reader a clue as to how this characters mood is. In this novel this character is a very unhappy and gloomy man. As for the name Chillingworth, one can see that it possesses the word Chilling in it. This would tell a reader that this character is spooky and one to be scared of.

Using symbolism in characters names is a clever and interesting technique. The letter A (the scarlet letter) is one of the symbols that is most obvious, yet one of the most profound. It is the literal symbol of the sin of adultery. However, throughout the novel this letter takes on different meanings to different characters. For instance, the scarlet letter is a reminder to Dimmesdale of his own guilt, but to Hester the letter is a symbol of humiliation. Furthermore, to Pearl the letter A is something mysterious, while to the Puritans of the town it is just a form of punishment.

Some of the other important symbols in this novel, The Scarlet Letter, are the scaffold, the forest, and of course, Pearl. The scaffold is a very significant symbol because it is the place where sins are openly acknowledged. Hester Pryne stood upon this scaffold while the Puritans of the town looked at her in disgust, knowing of her sin. Dimmesdale however equally guilty of this same sin did not stand upon the scaffold beside Hester. Even though guilt-ridden of this he knew at the time he could not reveal himself as her lover. He was unable to confess.

Therefore, Dimmesdale later knew that this is the place where he must go for redemption. The forest, on the other hand, is a symbol of evil and darkness. It was thought that this was where witches met and where people signed their souls away. However, it is also a symbol of freedom for Hester and Pearl. This is where Hester could take off her letter A from her chest and let her hair down. It is also where Pearl could run around and play. Pearl is a character who is portrayed as a living symbol of her mothers sin of adultery. Like the scarlet letter, Pearl is a reminder as well as a consequence (punishment) of Hesters sin.

As she got older, she constantly tormented Hester with questions about the scarlet letter. She also refused to come to Hester when Hester threw the letter A on the ground. She refused to come to Hester until she put the letter back on. Although Pearl seemed like she was a punishment for Hester, she actually became her salvation. Although only a few symbols have been mentioned, symbolism proves to be a major aspect in this novel, The Scarlet Letter. By using symbolism, Nathaniel Hawthorne not only challenges the minds of many but also sends out important messages concerning life.

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