Scarlet Letter

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As a writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne is best known for his use of symbolism. The Scarlet Letter is considered by many to be the world’sfirst truly symbolic novel. A symbol is a person, place, object, or activity that stands for something outside itself, and literary symbols take on their meaning within the context of literature. Of the many symbols in the book the most symbolic ones include the scarlet letter, the meteor, and Hester’s daughter, Pearl. (76)
When the scarlet letter is mentioned or seen by others some of the things that come to mind are shame, despair and solitude, yet its meaning shifts as times passes to become a powerful symbol of identity to Hester.The A’s original meaning stands for adulterer and functions as a physical reminder of Hester’s affair with Dimmesdale.”She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness…” (208) Throughout the book Hester takes responsibility for her actions and transforms the scarlet letter’s meaning to “able.”
The eye of the beholder sees what the beholder wishes to see. This statement holds true for many people today as well as it did in the past, especially when it comes to natural occurrences. As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl, a meteor traces out an “A” in the night sky. To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should wear a mark of shame just as Hester does. “but with no shape as his guilty imagination gave it…” (161) He sees it as a divine sign from heaven telling him that god will not forgive him for his sin until he admits to it. The rest of the community however interprets the meteor differently. “Nothing was more common, in those days than to interpret all natural phenomena as a supernatural source.” (160) The community thinks the meteor stands for “Angel” and marks the Governor Winthrop’s entry to heaven. Yet “Angel” is an awkward reading of the symbol. The puritans commonly looked to symbols to confirm divine sentiments.(