Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter Flashcard Example #9905

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Prison door
represents “the black flower of civilized society”: Hawthorne is using the prison building to represent the crime and punishment which are aspects of civilized life.
The grass plot
“much overgrown with such unsightly vegetation” as another brief symbol of civilization corrupted by the elements which make prisons necessary.
Wild rose bush
” it may serve… to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow.”
The letter “A” itself
Its initial form as a red cloth letter standing for the sin of adultery, that A is little more symbolic than a man’s initials, but Hawthorne makes much more of it before the book ends. (2) The letter appears in a variety of forms and places. (3) The letter acquires a variety of meanings. Even as the original mark of adultery, the scarlet letter has different personal meanings.
The meteor
As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold in chapter 12, a meteor flashes an ‘A’ across the sky. Dimmesdale feels it symbolizes that he should wear the ‘A’ on his chest. The townspeople believe it means angel in honor of Governor Winthrop who had died. The differing interpretations reflect the belief that personal experience filters symbolic meaning for each individual.
The letter “A” to the puritan community
A mark of just punishment.
The letter “A” to Hester
A device of unjust humiliation.
The letter “A” to Dimmesdale
A piercing reminder of his own guilt.
The letter “A” to Chillingworth
A spur to the quest for revenge
The letter “A” to Pearl
A bright and mysterious curiosity.
Scaffold
Not only a symbol of the stern Puritan Code but also becomes a symbol for the open acknowledgment of personal sin; it’s the place to which Dimmesdale knows he must go for atonement, the only place where he can escape the grasp of Chillingworth, for the devil.
Night & day
Used as a symbol for concealment
Forrest
1. As a place where witches gather, where souls are signed away to the devil, and where Dimmesdale can ” yield himself with deliberate choice… to what he knew was deadly sin,” it’s symbolic of the world of darkness and evil.
2. As a place where Pearl can run and play freely, a friend of the animals and wild flowers, and where even Hester can throw away her letter, let down her hair, and become a woman, it’s symbolic of a natural world governed by natural laws as opposed to the artificial community with its man-made Puritan laws.
3. As a place where darkness and gloom predominate and where one can find his way only by following a narrow twisting path, it’s symbolic of the “moral wilderness” in which Hester has been wandering.
Brook
1. Because of its unknown source its travels though gloom, it’s suggestive of Pearl.
2. Because of its mournful babble, it becomes a kind of history of sorrow, to which one more sorrowful tale is added.
3. When Pearl refuses to cross the brook to join Hester and Dimmesdale, it becomes to the minister “a boundary between two worlds.”
Characters
The minor characters in the novel are almost purely symbolic. The Puritan worlds of church, state and witchcraft are personified in the figures of the Reverend Mr. Wilson, Governor Bellingham, and Mistress Hibbins, respectfully; it’s interesting to note that Hawthorne mentions all three of them in connection with each of the scaffold scenes. The groups of unnamed somber and self-righteous Puritans in the marketplace are clearly representative of Puritanism generally even down to the detail of the gentle young wife who saves Hawthorne’s condemnation of the Puritans from being a complete one.
Detailed criticism of the Puritan way of life
Hawthorne is building up an elaborate picture to show his contempt of a society which could be so intensely intolerant of individuals and their slips from the path of virtue. The women in Chapter II (to the best of our knowledge, representative of Boston womanhood) are vicious in their criticism of Hester. They regret she is not to die- or, at least, to be branded on the forehead with a hot iron. Consider Hester’s good deeds to the poor (nursing and sewing): the very ones she helps generally throw bitter words in her face. Later in her life, Hester is a respected member of the community, for the passage of time and her good deeds help people to forget her sin of adultery.
Pride ; intellect
Chillingworth is a scientist-physician, proud of his achievements. When he finds Hester in her distressed condition of the scaffold, he rejects her. His pride is hurt. Here is a struggle between the head (study, reflection, and speculation) and the heart (his former affection for Hester). If he were to allow his heart to win the struggle, he might still be capable of future happiness. But, as is often the case he brings suffering on himself because of his disregard of the basic laws of human affection and brotherhood.
The evil of isolation
(That is, being separated from others physically, mentally, socially, or morally). Because of her sin of adultery, Hester is isolated from others in the community. She is not allowed to sew certain objects (such as new brides’ veils), for her tainted hands would soil them. She has no idle chatter with others. She is either ignored or taunted by parents and children alike. Many examples could be cited to point out the isolation of Dimmesdale (secretly suffering with remorse and a bad conscience) and Chillingworth (eagerly pursuing the victim of caused the various types of isolation), not only from other children, but also from her mother (to a great extend_ and from her father (until near the end of the story.)
Obsession for revenge
Chillingworth, in the process of destroying the minister’s soul, destroys his own and ruins any chance he may have had for happiness. Revenge destroys Chillingworth the avenger, more completely than it does his victim, Dimmesdale.
Guilt which is hidden
Guilt which is admitted openly, such as Hester’s daily wearing of her scarlet symbol, eventually is cleansed out of the system. But that which is hidden (such as Dimmesdale’s) succeeds only in exciting remorse, a bad case of conscience, and eventual hypocrisy. The Puritan belief in confession as a means of purifying the soul applies troubled conscience bothers him almost as much as the “red stigma” (unhealed would on his breast) over which he often places his hand. Actually, Hester’s wearing the scarlet letter does not make her sin (as it was supposed to do). It only makes her submissiveness, and the Puritan community is happy and contented that it has the upper hand over her. In like fashion, Dimmesdale’s “red stigma” represents his deep regret for the sin, but it is not a proper substitute for public confession.
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