Hawthorne Literary Symbolism And Hawthorne's Term Paper

Length: 3 pages Sources: 2 Subject: Literature Type: Term Paper Paper: #18679823 Related Topics: Scarlet Letter, Moby Dick, Young Goodman Brown, Symbolism
Excerpt from Term Paper :

The only material similarity between Prynne's scarlet "badge" and Faith's pink ribbons is that both are made of cloth and adorn some type of clothing, i.e., Faith's ribbons are part of her cap while Prynne's "badge" is sewn into her dress as needlework.

The reader is first introduced to Prynne's "badge" in Chapter Two of the Scarlet Letter when she emerges from jail -- "On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter a." Upon being led to her "place of punishment" for committing adultery with Arthur Dimmesdale, all eyes are immediately drawn to the scarlet "A" which "had the effect of a spell, taking (Hester) out of the ordinary relations with humanity and enclosing her in a sphere by herself" (Bell, 163-164). Obviously, this scarlet emblem upon Hester's dress seems to emit a life of its own, much like a flaming torch burning in the darkness. It is also a symbol of her "evil doings," for Hester "hath raised a great scandal... In godly Master Dimmesdale's church" (Bell, 170).

In Chapter Five, this weird property of the scarlet "A" is made even more pronounced when Hester walks out of


seemed, to her sick and morbid heart, as if meant for no other purpose than to reveal the scarlet letter on her breast" (Bell, 185). Notice that Hawthorne intentionally equates Hester's "heart" with the scarlet letter, i.e., both are emblematic/symbolic of the color red, much like Faith's pink ribbons.

Thus, Hester's scarlet "A" "flaming on her breast" represents the penultimate symbol of "the reality of sin" which she will carry to her grave. Also, the scarlet "A" symbolizes Hester's "earthly punishment" for the sin of adultery and all of her purity "which she has lost" as a result of committing "Original Sin" which in the eyes of her Puritan inquisitors can never be forgiven. As Hawthorne puts it, Hester's "badge" of sin and fornication was a mark "more intolerable to a woman's heart than that which branded the brow of Cain" (Bell, 188-190). In contrast to Faith's pink ribbons of purity and "faithfulness," the scarlet "A" of Hester Prynne is one of chastisement and dishonor, a family crest of shame which Hawthorne describes as "On a field, sable, the latter a, gules" (345).


Bell, Millicent, Ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Collected Novels and Short Stories. New York: The Library of America, 1983.

Richardson, Robert D., Jr. "Ralph Waldo Emerson." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 59: "American Literary Critics and Scholars, 1800-1850." Ed. John W. Rathburn. Farmington Hills, MI:…

Sources Used in Documents:


Bell, Millicent, Ed. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Collected Novels and Short Stories. New York: The Library of America, 1983.

Richardson, Robert D., Jr. "Ralph Waldo Emerson." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 59: "American Literary Critics and Scholars, 1800-1850." Ed. John W. Rathburn. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Research, Inc., 1987, 108-129.

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