While thumbing with the chapters that The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, you may wonder why you’re analysis it in the very first place. On the surface, it’s hard to relate to–it is written about the Puritans in colonial America, after ~ all. Not exactly in track with your life, right?

It’s time to take out your fine-toothed literary comb and also start come pick with the content. When you find and start to understand the symbolism in the novel, the starts come become more relatable.

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Don’t issue if she not good at searching down symbolism rather yet–I’m right here to give you 4 tips for dissecting symbolism in The Scarlet Letter.


Know What You’re working With–What is Symbolism?

Before we obtain into the awesome advice I have for you, it’s crucial to know first what symbolism is exactly.

Symbolism is a person, place, or thing that represents an summary concept.

Literature is absolutely saturated through symbolism, yet you can find examples in genuine life too. The heart, for example, symbolizes love. (Fun fact: in ancient Rome and in Biblical texts, the liver was the organ connected with love. Imagine saying, “I love friend from the bottom of my liver!”)

Symbols can acquire a bit more complex, though. Because that instance, the federal government or the President could represent freedom, leadership, and also democracy come some. But to others these things can symbolize be oppressive or a country’s decline. The very same person, place, or object have the right to symbolize various things come different human being depending top top the interpreter’s background.

In literature, a symbol’s meaning is usually made more clear–though the can readjust throughout the story as the characters develop and the instance changes. Because that the purposes of the instances I’ll point out below, I’ll call that kind of prize a transitional symbol.

Because icons aren’t constantly representative of just one idea, the explanations over probably aren’t sufficient to acquire the principle of symbolism to yes, really sink in. For this reason let’s acquire into symbolism in the Scarlet Letter finish with tips and examples to really bring the suggest home.

The list listed below is by no way an exhaustive one. There are plenty of icons in The Scarlet Letter the you have the right to really sink your literary teeth into. This are just a an excellent place to start–a kind of boost to obtain the an innovative thought procedure going.


Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter pointer 1: Colors are Usually a an excellent Place to Start

Photo by Lloyd Morgan via flickr

Three colors beat a huge role in The Scarlet Letter–red, black, and also gray.

Red symbolizes sin.

The scarlet A (which we’ll obtain into much more detail around later), the note on Dimmesdale’s chest, and also Pearl–who put on red clothing–are all representations of the sin that Hester and also Dimmesdale have committed.

Black and gray represent death, sin, evil, and the opening life the the Puritans.

Late in the novel, Hester and also Dimmesdale fulfill near a black forest over i m sorry hangs vast gray clouds. The black and also gray in this situation represent the guilt applied by the strict rules that the Puritans. The gray clouds (and the lovers’ guilt) lift once they start discussing plans to run away together, and the sun shines on Hester’s hair.

Hawthorne provides the Black guy throughout the publication as a symbol of evil, sin, and also the Devil. The scarlet A and the mark on Dimmesdale’s chest room both claimed to be placed there by the black color Man–though no one really knows just how Dimmesdale gained his mark.

Symbolism inThe Scarlet Letter guideline 2: concentration on Characters

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The four main personalities hold an excellent symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. These personalities are:

HesterPearlDimmesdaleChillingworth

Hester is a price of goodness and independence.

Despite a rocky start and being branded a sinner, Hester is a symbol of goodness and also independence. She is forced to be independent by raising Pearl ~ above her own all while gift ostracized by she community. Instead of being burdened through the letter on she chest, she learns to live over it, sewing clothing for the poor and also giving assist to everyone who needs it.

Pearl is a symbol of the liberty of wild nature.

Pearl, Hester’s daughter, is the illegitimate an outcome of a love affair. As mentioned above, she symbolizes Hester’s sin come the rest of the Massachusetts just Colony and to the reader. Yet soon, the reader discovers Pearl’s wild nature and she i do not care a price of the freedom of wild nature.

Dimmesdale symbolizes hypocrisy.

And even he to know it. If Hester bear the brunt of society ridicule, Dimmesdale is just one of the many well-liked people in the colony. The Puritans view him together holy and also pure, also though he sinned and didn’t admit to it. He also distanced himself from Hester for seven years. He felt guilty over this and whipped himself, but it wasn’t until the finish that the admitted to being Pearl’s father.

Chillingworth representsevil and also Satan.

Chillingworth is just one of the most noticeable symbols in the novel, representing evil and also Satan.He desires revenge for what Hester did and also goes ~ above a hunt because that Pearl’s father. As soon as he finally figures out the her dad is Dimmesdale, Chillingworth tortures him. When Hester and also Pearl check out Chillingworth and also Dimmesdale together, Pearl warns Hester not to get too close come the Black male or the may acquire to castle too–linking Chillingworth come the black Man.

Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter reminder 3: explain the Setting

Two settings oppose each other and carry out much in the way of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter.

The city Square Symbolizes Puritan spiritual Values

The city is choose most at an early stage northeastern towns–featuring a square in the middle with a prominent church. The straight lines that the town, the visibility of the church, and also the pillory in the center of the square all symbolize the Puritans’ strictness and adherence come religion.

The woodland symbolizes freedom, particularly freedom from Puritan law.

The lover Hester and also Dimmesdale space able come meet easily in the forest, without neighbors judging, and Pearl is free to play and be her wild self.

Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter pointer 4: when in Doubt, Look in ~ the Title

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Image by James R. Osgood and agency via Wikimedia Commons

Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter couldn’t be any more obvious than the scarlet letter itself. However while the fact that it’s a price is readily apparent, what it symbolizes might not be.

As I pointed out above, the scarlet A symbolized the sin the Hester and also Dimmesdale, at least at first. However the scarlet letter is just one of those transitional metaphors i was talk about.

As Hester prospered to accept her outcast status, the A concerns symbolize other different. It i do not care a price of identity and independence. Hawthorne eventually references both the words “able” and also “angel” to describe Hester–two indigenous that, by no coincidence, both start with the letter A.

Hester’s ability as a seamstress and her good nature room what people start to know her for– instead of her adultery. The townspeople also speak of letting she take the A off her clothing, however at that point, the scarlet letter is currently a part of Hester’s identity–not oppressive, however liberating.

Final think on Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

As I stated before, there are many much more examples the symbolism in The Scarlet Letter, and I encourage you come find much more on her own. Here are some typical themes to look out for that will aid you identify and explain this symbols:

Freedom vs. OppressionGood vs. EvilSin vs. Purity

If you need some more ideas, examine out these example essays on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter. Hope they can give you ideas around how to tackle your own assignment.

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