Symbolism in literature is the deepness and hidden meaning in a piece of work. It is often used to represent a moral or religious belief or value. Without symbolism literature is just a bunch of meaningless words on paper. The most symbolic piece of work in American Literature is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne’s use of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter is one of the most significant contributions to the rise of American Literature.
Much of Hawthorne’s symbolism is very hard to find but several symbols are also obvious. In the first chapter Hawthorne describes the prison as “the black flower of civilized society”. The prison represents the crime and punishment that was incorporated in the early Puritan life. He also contrasts the prison with the tombstone at the end of the novel by suggesting that crime and punishment bring about the end of civilized life. In the same chapter he describes the overgrown vegetation of weeds around the prison. The weeds symbolize how corrupt civilization really is. He also points out a positive symbol, the wild rose bush. This represents the blossoming of good out of the darkness of all civilized life.
The most important symbol which is carried throughout the novel is undoubtedly the scarlet letter A. It initially symbolizes the immoral act of adultery but by the end of the novel the “A” has hidden much more meaning than that. The “A” appears in many other places than on the chest of Hester Prynne. It is seen on the armor breastplate at Governor Bellingham’s mansion. At night while Dimmesdale is standing on the scaffold he sees a bright red letter A in the sky. While Pearl is playing near the bay shore she arranges some grass in the form of an A on her own breast. But one of the most important A’s is one the spectators see burnt on Dimmesdale’s chest.
The letter A also has a variety of meanings. Originally standing for the sin of adultery it has a different meaning for each character. The Puritan community considers the letter a mark of just punishment. Hester sees the letter as a symbol of unjust humiliation. Dimmesdale sees the A as a reminder of his own guilt. Chillingworth sees the A as a quest for revenge to find the adulterer. Pearl is very curious of the letter and sees it as a great mystery. The A also stands for “Angel” when it is seen in the sky on the night of Governor Winthrop’s death.
Symbolism shows the greatness of an author’s ability to supply meaning to his work. It also shows the pride an author takes in his work. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s use of symbolism in The Scarlet Letter shows his greatness to produce a novel of the highest possible caliber. These are the reasons why Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is American Literature’s most famous symbolic novel ever to be written.
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