The Scarlet Letter

The Destruction of an Unconfessed Soul

In the first chapter of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a solitary rosebush stands in front of a gloomy prison 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" (Hawthorne 56). Serving as a symbol of beauty and solitude, this rosebush foreshadows the dismal tone that will preside over the remainder of the novel and illustrates the beauty of confession and growth in contrast to the suppression and decay apparent within the prison. Hester can be compared to the rosebush due to her growth and inner beauty following her confession of having committed adultery and because she shows passionate and brazen countenance in the face of stern rigidity. On the contrary, Dimmesdale is the prison, confining his guilt of having committed adultery within himself and thus allowing the decay of his soul. It is through immense symbolism, contrasting imagery, and Biblical allusion that Hawthorne creates both a critical and gloomy tone while speaking to the ubiquitous theme that unconfessed sin destroys the soul.

Hawthorne employs Hester's scarlet letter, her punishment for committing adultery, as a powerful symbol that...

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