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Symbolism in ‘The Scarlet Letter’

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  1. Introduction
  2. Totally self confidence and the lack of any sense of guilt or shame
  3. Hawthorne's use of Pearl's relationships with other characters
  4. The purity of Pearl
  5. Conclusion

Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is bursting with symbolism. And, while they do not place a high value on subtlety, these symbols are very effective vehicles for the story's most prominent themes. Perhaps the most prominent is the conflict between what Hawthorne clearly believes is a need to eradicate guilt and the Puritan practice of using public guilt to eradicate sin. Especially effective is Hawthorne's ability to use the characters, themselves, as symbols. Hester Prynne's daughter, Pearl, is an excellent example of this.

[...] For example, Pearl senses that something is causing anguish in Dimmesdale. She also senses that it is somehow related to her mother's scarlet letter. Dimmesdale, like Hester, bears a symbolic mark (and possibly a physical one), but unlike Hester, he bears his on the inside. He allows his guilt to fester to the point of actually making him physically ill. While Dr. Chillingsworth is tending to Dimmesdale's ailment, he sees Pearl playing in the adjacent cemetery, and remarks, ?There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for human ordinances or opinions, right or wrong, mixed up with that child's composition.? He then asks, in Heaven's name, is she? [...]


[...] Symbolism in Scarlet Letter' Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is bursting with symbolism. And, while they do not place a high value on subtlety, these symbols are very effective vehicles for the story's most prominent themes. Perhaps the most prominent is the conflict between what Hawthorne clearly believes is a need to eradicate guilt and the Puritan practice of using public guilt to eradicate sin. Especially effective is Hawthorne's ability to use the characters, themselves, as symbols. Hester Prynne's daughter, Pearl, is an excellent example of this. [...]

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