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Symbolism In The Scarlet Letter

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Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter

ЈЫAbstractЈЭ: The Scarlet Letter, one of the American writer Nathaniel HawthornЎЇs most outstanding representative works, makes him known all over the world. It is regarded as the first symbolic novel in American literature because of the ingenious using of symbolism. This paper researches the features of symbolism originally used in this novel to make the novel clear to the readers.

ЈЫKey words ЈЭ: The Scarlet Letter, symbolism

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Introduction

In the matter of literature, the definition of the literary device, symbolism, can simply be defined as being the art of practice of using symbols especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations1. Symbolism is a traditional artistic form. It began as a literary movement that developed from Romanticism in France in the second half of the 19th century. In the tragedy of ancient Greece or the symbolic opera in Middle Ages Europe, the using of symbolism in the development of literature can be found everywhere. Symbolism is also a major feature of Romanticism. As a famous writer of Romanticism, Hawthorne is skillful at the using of it in his works. His work The Scarlet Letter has some originality when he uses the symbolism based on carrying on this traditional art and shows its own distinguishing features.

1. The ambiguous nature of symbolism

Many symbols Hawthorn used in this novel have more than just one symbolic meaning. Using symbolism in this way manifests the ambiguous nature of it. Among them, the meaning of the scarlet letter and Pearl are typical cases.

1.1 The Various Symbolic Meaning of the Scarlet Letter ÐŽoAÐŽ±.

In this novel, the symbolic meaning of the scarlet letter emerges on after another, its meaning shifts as the plot and characters develop. The letter ÐŽoAÐŽ± begins as a symbol of crime. It later becomes a symbol of alone and alienation, and finally it becomes a symbol of able and admirable.

1.1.1 Adulteress

Obviously, the letter ÐŽoAÐŽ± is originally a symbol of her adultery against Roger Chillingworth. When Hester Prynne becomes pregnant during the absence of her husband she is accused and convicted of adultery. Her sentence is to wear a scarlet letter ÐŽoAÐŽ± on her bosom to let everyone know that she is an adulteress. This is the puritan way of treating her as criminal, of adultery. Society condemns her for her sin, without knowing anything else, with the letter ÐŽoAÐŽ± when she walks through the streets, as if she is some sort of demon from hell that commits a terrible crime. This letter is meant to make Hester feel shameful and unwanted. ÐŽoHere, she said to herself, had been the scene of her guilt, and here should be the scene of her earthly punishmentÐŽ­ÐŽ±2 But Hester simply accepts the sin and its symbol as part of herself. She is so strong-willed a woman that she bravely wears a badge of humiliation, and faces publicly criticism.

1.1.2 Alone and Alienation

After Hester is released from prison, she settles in an abandoned cabin on a patch of infertile land near the outskirts of the city. Hester is alienated from everyone, including the town fathers, respected women, beggars, children and even strangers. She becomes an outcast from society. ÐŽoHowever, there was nothing that made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came to contact, implied, and often expressed, that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere, or communicated with the common nature by other organs and senses than the rest of human kind she stood apart from moral interestÐŽ­seemed to be the sole portion that she retained in the universal heart.ÐŽ±3 Hester has no friends in the world, and little Pearl is the only companion of her lonely life, so the scarlet letter ÐŽoAÐŽ± also is a symbol of the words ÐŽoaloneÐŽ± and ÐŽoalienateÐŽ±

1.1.3 Able and Admirable

Later, the scarlet letter ÐŽoAÐŽ± changes its meaning into being able and admirable. As time passes the community begins to interpret the ÐŽoAÐŽ± on her bosom as meaning ÐŽoableÐŽ± rather than ÐŽoadulteressÐŽ± because Hester does beautiful needlework and she is ÐŽoso kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comforting to be afflicted.ÐŽ±4 ÐŽoThe letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness is found in her so much power to do and the power to sympathizeЎЄthat many people refuses to interpret the scarlet letter ÐŽoAÐŽ± by its original signification.ÐŽ±5. The townspeople begin to accept her and believe that the badge served to ward off evil. They even decide that they are allowing her to remove it. Eventually Hester grows to be quite admirable amongst the people of the town. ÐŽoNever afterwards did it quit her bosom. ButÐŽ­the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the worldЎЇs scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too.ÐŽ±6 Hester finally overcomes the shame of her sin through the purity and goodness of her soul.

1.2 Pearl

Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne, is one of the most complex and misunderstood symbols in the book. Pearl, throughout the story, develops into a dynamic symbolЎЄone that is always changing, from being a living scarlet letter, to an unsolved mystery, then to the social moral.

1.2.1 Living

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