The Scarlet Letter

what is significant about the rosebush?

chapter 1

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Outside the building, next to the door, a rosebush stands in full bloom. The narrator remarks that it is possible that "this rosebush ... had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson, as she entered the prison door." He then plucks one of the roses and offers it to the reader as a "moral blossom" to be found later in the story.

The rosebush itself is an obvious symbol of passion and the wilderness, and it makes its most famous reappearance later when Pearl announces that she was made not by a father and mother, or by God, but rather was plucked from the rosebush. Roses appear several times in the course of the story, always symbolizing Hester's inability to control her passion and tame it so that she can assimilate to Puritan society. Pearl too is marked by this wildness.

Hawthorne cleverly links the rosebush to the wilderness surrounding Boston, commenting that the bush may be a remnant of the former forest which covered the area. This is important, because it is only in the forest wilderness where the Puritans' laws fail to have any force. This is where Dimmesdale can find freedom to confess in the dark, and it is where he and Hester can meet away from the eyes of those who would judge them. But the rosebush is close enough to the town center to suggest that the passionate wilderness, in the form of Hester Prynne, has been creeping into Boston.

That the rosebush is in full bloom, meanwhile, suggests that Hester is at the peak of her passion, referring to the fact that she has given birth as a result of her adulterous affair. The narrator’s comment that the rose may serve as a "moral blossom" in the story is therefore a note that Hester's child will provide the moral of the story.