Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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Writers of literature, especially those in the genre of stories, used different types of themes and symbolisms to represent an idea and concept that is not directly mentioned by the writer. Most themes especially about life, human nature and society are implied rather than explicitly stated. It’s the writer’s choice if he or she would want to use figures, objects or characters to illustrate an abstract idea to create various realizations on the part of the readers. The aesthetics of literature depends on how the writer seamlessly and creatively associates symbolisms to the themes of the story.

In the story Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, he used the title as a symbol itself, the characters, and the Biblical allusions as a point of comparison to the consequences of sins happened in the story. The Scarlet letter is used as a significant symbolism of shame that often identify the main protagonist, Hester. The “letter” word in the story functions as the reminder of her sin. Hester’s adultery receives harsh judgment and retaliation from the self righteous Puritan community. Her sin excludes her in the society or in a pattern known as unity versus exclusion in literature.

Hester single mistake in the past made her an outcast who automatically separated her from ordinary social interaction. In the beginning of the story in the episode of the marketplace, the “scarlet letter” “was so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of the spell, taking her out in the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself” (Robinson 104). Here, Hawthorne already revealed how the scarlet letter symbolizes Hester’s authenticity as a character and fate.

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The letter becomes “the object of severe and universal observation” in the Puritan community (Robinson 114). Moreover, Hester’s presence in the “crowd had been of such deep social interest” not because of her as a character but because of what the scarlet letter says about her past (Robinson 138). The Scarlet Letter symbolizes the community’s system of judgment and punishment that greatly used symbols and externals to question one’s morality. The scarlet letter in the story is a figurative thing intended to represent sin and a mark of shame.

This figurative object went to her after the adultery she committed with Dimmesdale. The setting of the story belonged to a Puritan community who strictly follows the standard of morality. Hester’s adultery from this kind of society received harsh judgment and retaliation from the Puritan community. Despite the painful judgment, Hester chose to stay in the community because running away would be an acknowledgment of society's power over her. Scarlet Letter embodies Hester’s identity that was determined to create her own individuality rather than allowing others to determine it for her.

She chose not to conform to the society’s rules and standard. She knows deep inside that she is more than her sins. Her sins were all part of her but the journey of life still continues. Scarlet Letter illustrates Hester’s acceptance of her sins. She admitted though that the letter is a mark of shame but removing the letter or running away would be an acknowledgment of society's power over her. Hester was a symbol for hope, restoration and transformation. The judgmental community unconsciously transformed and challenged her character to be compassionate and capable woman.

Her pains made humble. Her innate good nature was fully expressed from her challenging yet sorrowful faith. The scarlet letter as a symbolism is all in connection to the twists and turns of the story as well as to the character. Pearl, Hester’s daughter also noticed that, her mother wear a scarlet letter among all the grown up women in the community. “Mother”, said the little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom… It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet! “Nor ever will my child, I hope”, said Hester. “And why not mother? ” asked Pearl, stopping short… “Will it not come of its accord, when I am a grown woman? ” (Robinson). In this conversation, it highlights the reality that the scarlet letter is intended to represent sin and Pearl as a child doesn’t fully comprehend her mother’s peculiar situation. Pearl’s innocent and pointed questions create suspense since it makes the characters feel uncomfortable. Moreover her character illustrates perception and honesty that separates her from the corrupt minds of the adulthood.

Pearl’s innocent questions motivated those people around her to think and to reflect on the truths that are often overlooked. Pearl herself is the embodiment of the scarlet letter and Hester accordingly clothes her in a “beautiful dress of scarlet, embroidered with gold thread, just like the scarlet letter upon Hester's bosom” (Robinson). Pearl illegitimacy in the story and as a product of sin mysteriously takes the consequences of her parents’ guilt. The story of the “The Scarlet Letter” can be compared to some of the stories mentioned in the Old Testament.

The plot depicting the extreme portrayal of Puritanism can be compared to the way old people from the Bible regard shame, rules and order. Just like Adam and Eve, Hester and Dimmesdale’s sins particularly adultery separated them from the divine and community (the way Puritan community perceives it). Sins excluded and alienated them in the society. Dimmesdale and Hester’s state of sinfulness led them to personal growth, sympathy and speculation about human nature and larger moral questions.

At the end, the inner wisdom that Hester accumulated from the judgmental community greatly benefited her character and sense of individuality. The scarlet letter for Hester according to Nathaniel Hawthorne in one of his interviews after the creation of this wonderful story “was her passport into regions where other women dared not to tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss”. Though the setting happened during Puritan community but the themes are timeless- judgmental society, personal responsibility and unconformity.

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Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2017, May 04). Retrieved from

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