Symbolism at it’s best is limitless in conveying a feeling, mood, or atmoshphere that words alone can not define. It can trigger emotion, persuade the reader to question everything they know thus far, or inflict thoughts that, in the most twisted sense of the story, would seem barely justified. Symboloism reaches out to the reader in numerous ways, but no matter what the effect, it’s almost always starts as something subconscious. In Nathanial Hawthorn’s novel, ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ there is an immense ammount of symbolism; the structure and flow of progression are both held back by this element.
The subtle way Hawthorn uses this is incredible; he takes us to such a place where everything and everyone is suspect and subject to thorough examination, as things are not always what they seem. Other times, however, they are in fact exactly what they seem; usually too little too late. By the time the truth is laid outright, the truth had already been known; symbolism is subconscious. At times when there is no truth to be uncovered, it is the world created by this world of various entities, in a matter of symbol, that lies dormant in the back of the readers head.
Being fully and inescapably aware though, from a place deep inside, of the uncertanties and illusions that are not being focused on, instead only hinted at. The mind’s eye is where symbolism wraps it’s ugly tentacles of doubt and discretion, whether realized by the reader or not. ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ demonstrates this characteristic impecibly. The scaffold where Hester stands in front of the public is symbolic of penitence and God’s judgement. Dimmesdale on the other hand, can not bring himself to stand on the platform and confess his sins, because of it’s comparison to judgement day.
The first time he brings himself to stand upon the scaffold, seeking relief from his secret sin is under the cover of night, as if he could hide his sin from the people, or even God. In the end Dimmesdale does stand on the scaffold in the light of day to public confess his sins. This took courage, as the platform represented weakness in the eyes of God. Across from the prison Hester was sentenced to there is a rose bush; the single beautiful thing in a world of sin and shame. In the book when Pearl was asked where she came from, she states that she was plucked from the rosebush.
The recurring theme of the rosebush is representative of salvation. To those in prison it is a symbol of hope, but when Pearl says that she is the rosebush, it’s symbolic in that only the only hope Hester, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth have for salvation can be found in her. The roses, and Pearl, are symbolic of a light in the midst of the darkness of Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin. At the climax of the story, Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale meet in the forrest, seeking resolution and retribution.
The forrest is symbolic of the light and darkness in nature. The evasive darkness represents the gloom and unhappiness that is Hester’s life. Rays of sunshine fall on Pearl, but Hester is kept in the dark, which is symbolic of Hester’s inability to find peace, or even a dull ache of warmth in her life. This darkness is dispelled when Dimmesdale reaches the forrest, and they make plans to flee from Boston together. To represent her new freedom, Hester throws away the scarlet letter and lets her hair down.
Simultaniously, the forrest is illuminated by sunshine to flood out the darkness. In ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ symbolism is used to maintain ambiguity; the reader is free to feel and assume and reach their own conclusion. The intricities and interweavings of these symbols and themes is astounding; reaching no certain conclusion they are all left open for interpretation. The representative elements of this story are where it gains it’s depth. Possibilities are endless in this masterpiece orchestrated by Mr. Hawtorn.