Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, uses symbolism as a main part of his story telling throughout the first twelve chapters of said book. While they seem very subtle to the inexperienced reader, one must realize the meaning displayed through the use of his symbolism. The representation of Hester’s soul shown through the descriptions of the letter on her chest, the rosebush’s meaning and reflection of what lies in the future for the protagonist and the way that Pearl represents and reminds Hester’s sin to her throughout the novel are symbols that have prominent role in attempting to get several points across in the story without actually coming out and stating them word for word.
“On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth surrounded with elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread appeared the letter “A”. It was so artistically done and with so much gorgeous luxuriance of fancy that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she war?” (pg. 51)
In the Puritan times people wore clothes of an earthy color tone which usually consisted of black, brown, and grayish tones. These tones reflected very much on the way that they tended to act mentally. Life for them was about seriousness, work and religion. Bright red that could be described as it were above is the antithesis to the colors that the Puritans wore, thus leaving the wearer of such a design one with an attitude that could be described as flamboyant or preternatural compared to those of the rest. In wearing this design that was so noticeable and beautiful for what it was, Hester obviously wanted to be noticed by those around her. Hester’s attitude was that of believing that if people were going to notice her for the description of her sin plastered on her chest, they might as well get a show, creating the illusion that she didn’t care what they thought of her. In wearing the design that made the public believe that she didn’t care, she had hopes of making them get uneasy and worry that their punishment was working on her and she wanted the satisfaction of thinking that they were distraught over her lack of distress. In seeing how her letter was of use to her, it is seen how her soul can be represented within the “A”. It is easy to see that her color tone was one color in a sea of others very much unlike Herr’s.
The quote above, referring to a rosebush having lived under unlivable conditions that came out alive and strong in the end reflect s the future path of the protagonist. Hester, once in trouble with the town for an act of evil, looked for salvation in her own soul and in the responsibility of bringing up her daughter. She then lived fairly comfortable, considering what her story was in the Puritan society, with a few minor drawbacks. This is like the fate of the rose, struggling to come up through the pig weeds and vines surrounding it. It’s surroundings that were hard to live with were very much like the Puritans, making life hard for them both. In the later years of it’s life, like Hester living with the tormenting eyes of the Puritans, it comes out on top of the situation that it is put in by out living all of the torment that antagonized it through it’s years of existence.
Hester’s child, Pearl, is a constant representation to Hester of what her sin brought about. While assigned a letter to wear on her chest, intended to cause public torment, Hester can avoid seeing it her self but in seeing and being responsible for Pearl, she is reminded constantly of her sin. In the quotation referring to Hester’s open ignominy, Dimmsdale was stating that the public could see through the birth of the child that Hester had an affair to be ashamed of. Through the life of that child, everyone could see the offspring that resulted from Hester’s affair. In this, Pearl represented to the public all the bad that Hester had engaged in through her sinful act.
Much of the importance that can be found in the story, as well as the foreshadowing found in it, is handled through symbolism. These symbols may be hard to read into at first, but after reviewing the material one finds that they reveal many hidden aspects about the story. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses these symbols as a way of making the story entertaining for the reader and in doing so he uses a lot of them throughout the first few chapters.