The Scarlet Letter

How does the use of the church, prison, and graveyard as symbols indicate a Biblical view of human nature?

Ch.1: The Prison-Door

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They are literary allusions to the passages in the biblical books. Hawthorne uses prisons and graveyards as symbols of the infinite justice of God. Hawthorne wishes to point out the Puritan view of Mans' capacity for sin even in a Utopian society. It also highlights the pious existence of those who heed God's laws.

The prison door is described as having never known "a youthful era," i.e., innocence (1.2). It’s made of iron and is a little worse for wear, if you catch our drift. Yet, the wild rosebush that grows at the side of the portal is its saving grace. The rosebush represents kindness and forgiveness to the prisoners who must face either a prison sentence or a death sentence (1.2). The iron door seems to represent all that is strict and unrelenting in Puritan society, while the rosebush seems to represent the concept of "grace" or forgiveness. In Christian thought, grace is "unmerited mercy," that is, forgiveness of sins even though forgiveness is undeserved. Since the prison is a place of darkness and sin, the beauty of a wild rose bush growing in such an unexpected place is a symbol of grace. We encounter this prison door and this rosebush in the very first pages of The Scarlet Letter, and both objects seem to tell us that, even in a place of such cold and rigid law, there is hope and there is love.


Static symbols in the novel are the Reverend Mr. Wilson who represents the Church and Governero Bellingham who represents the state.