The Scarlet Letter

Which are the three important symbols from this narrative and why?


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The prison door conveys an intense image of the Puritanical severity of the law. Hawthorne describes the prison in The Scarlet Letter as old, rusted, yet strong with a "door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes" (34). This is representative of how the laws of the Puritans have lasted through time and are taken very seriously. Also, the description shows that there is an inability to break free from the regulations. Another thing the passage demonstrates is that the Puritans have no tolerance of deviance.

The symbol of the scarlet letter upon her bosom has a substantial influence on Hester's existence. An image of the magnitude in which the brand impacts her is exhibited when Hester looks into a convex mirror, "the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance" (Hawthorne 74). Because of the scarlet "A" Hester was ostracized "(i)t had the effect of a spell, taking her out of ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself" (Hawthorne 39). As a badge of Hester's sin, the scarlet letter makes others in the community feel superior to her. The "A" also exemplifies the hidden shame of the community, "sometimes...she felt an eye-a human eye- upon the ignominious if half of her agony were shared" (Hawthorne 60-61). Hester was not the only sinner in the community; others would look at the brand and sympathize with her,but they would never fess up to their sins nor forgive Hester for hers. Preachers would single Hester out as an example of sin, "Clergymen paused in the street to address words of exhortation" (Hawthorne 60). As Hester took off the letter in the forest she felt free, "(s)he had not known the weight, until she felt the freedom" (Hawthorne 140). Her beauty was revived, as was her passion, and the sun shone brightly upon her. Even though Hester felt an immense liberty, Pearl did not allow her to keep the "A" off.

Pearl is quite possibly the most important symbol in The Scarlet Letter. She is the scarlet letter come to life. Pearl is sent to punish Hester just like the badge of shame given by the magistrates. Pearl is the product of Hester's sin and embodies the shame of her adultery. The meaning of Pearl's name is a significant representation of what she is, "as being of great price-purchased with all she had-her mother's only treasure" (Hawthorne 62). Hester gave up everything to have Pearl, most importantly her respect in the community. Pearl places disgrace upon her mother by violating moral codes set by the Puritans, including "(skipping) irreverently from one grave to another" and "(throwing) one of the prickly burrs at the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale" (Hawthorne 93-94). When Hester threw aside the scarlet letter, Pearl would not come to her. This is because essentially when tossing the badge of shame away she is throwing Pearl away. When Hester figures out that the reason Pearl will not come to her is because she is not wearing the "A," she says, "Bring it hither!" and Pearl replies, "Come thou and take it up!" (Hawthorne 146). Pearl will not bring the letter to Hester, because she is teaching Hester and Dimmesdale that passions overrun them without thinking of the consequences, but more importantly she is making them take responsibility for their actions. Pearl's mission given by Providence is to make her father announce his guilt, until doing this she cannot know herself. When Dimmesdale stood upon the scaffold, revealed his sin, and died, "Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled" (Hawthorne 176). On that day "a spell was broken" and Pearl "developed all her sympathies" (Hawthorne 176). Finally, Pearl's role as the scarlet letter come to life was complete and she could go on to live a normal life with her mother. Pearl accomplished her God-given mission and helped to bring peace to her mother and her father.