Scarlet Letter\'s Use Of Symbolism To Show Psychological Effects Of Sin


Word Count: 1177

"The act…gross and brief, and brings loathing after it." This was
said by St. Augustine, regarding immorality. This is discovered to be very
true by the main characters in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s
story of a woman (Hester) who lives with the Puritans and commits adultery
with the local minister (Dimmesdale). In his novel, Hawthorne shows that
sin, known or unknown to the community, isolates a person from their
community and from God. He shows us this by symbols in nature around
the town, natural symbols in the heavens, and nature in the forest.
First we see two symbols in the town that show how sin isolates people.
In the first chapter we see a plant which stands out, "But on one side of the
portal, and rooted almost at the threshold, was a wild rosebush, covered…
with its delicate gems" (Hawthorne, 46). This rosebush is like Hester, for it
too stands out as wild and different. She wears her scarlet letter among the
solemnly dressed Puritans as this rosebush wears its scarlet blossoms
amidst a small plot of grass and weeds. They both stand separate from their
surroundings. Later in the book we hear a conversation between
Dimmesdale and Roger Chillingworth (Hester\'s unknown husband). They are
discussing the origin of a strange dark plant that Chillingworth discovered. "I
found them growing on a grave which bore no tombstone, nor other memorial
of the dead man, save these ugly weeds that have taken upon themselves to
keep him in remembrance. They grew out of his heart, and typify…some
hideous secret that was buried with him…" (Hawthorne, 127). Here we have
a special case of one who was not discovered by men to have sinned during
their lifetime. However, having avoided punishment in life, this person has
been isolated in death. This person tried to keep wrongdoing a secret, hiding
it within himself. Yet the sins committed could not be kept secret,
evidenced by their final disclosure shortly after death. There remains nothing
honorable to show where this person lies, but rather mutant weeds that grew
out of the blackness of the person\'s heart. The final resting place of the
wrongdoer has now been separated from other graves as the sins are
manifested by natural powers.
The next area is symbols in the skies. Our first instance occurs during
the second famous scaffold scene. Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl are atop
the scaffold when, "a light gleamed far and wide over all the muffled sky. It
was doubtless caused by one of those meteors…the minister, looking
upward to the zenith, beheld there the appearance of an immense letter-the
letter \'A\'-marked out in lines of dull red light" (Hawthorn, 150, 152). This is
God\'s condemnation of the two sinners, most especially Dimmesdale.
Hester has already been discovered and is receiving her punishment by
wearing the scarlet letter branding her as an adulteress and keeping her
socially isolated. Dimmesdale, however, hides his sin from people.
Because of this, heaven here openly condemns him with natural phenomena,
and shows that he is no longer welcome in heaven. Another symbol from
above shows Hester estranged from society. " \'Mother,\' said little Pearl, \'the
sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is
afraid of something on your bosom…Stand you here, and let me run and
catch it\'…Pearl…did actually catch the sunshine, and stood laughing in the
midst of it…until her mother had drawn almost nigh enough to step into the
magic circle too …As she attempted to do so, the sunshine vanished"
(Hawthorne, 180). This too is a heavenly sign from God. Although Hester is
undergoing punishment, she has never repented (we see this when she later
attempts to get Dimmesdale to run away with her). Because of this, God
will not grace her with his smile of sunshine. Pearl on the other hand, who is
young and pure, is able to freely romp about in it.
Last to be discussed are the natural symbols that we encounter in the
forest. When Hester meets Dimmesdale in the forest, all the sorrow of the
past few years since their sin is brought up. Their natural surroundings begin
to reciprocate their pain, "The boughs