Color Symbolism In The Scarlet Letter Essay

, Research Paper

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is story about Hestor Prynne, a woman who commits a sin and is filled with many feelings, including pride, surrounding that sin. Many of those around Hestor’s sin reflect similar emotions and feelings. Hawthorne employs many symbols throughout The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne uses the colors red, black, and white to represent Hestor’s emotions and the emotions of those around her.

The most frequently employed color symbol by Hawthorne is red. Red most obviously represents Hestor’s sin, as shown by her scarlet “A” she is forced to wear. Her scarlet letter, like her sin, is something she must always deal with and is something she can never escape. Pearl, the product of Hestor’s sin, is usually dressed in red clothing, representing the sin. Pearl is also called the names “Ruby,” “Coral,” or “red Rose,” and “a little bird of scarlet plumage,” further extending Pearl as a red representation of Hestor’s sin. Red is employed by Hawthorne to show passion and sensuality. The sin is also represented by the letter “A” being formed in the sky by meteors, and an “A” appearing on Reverend Dimmesdale’s chest. The first encounter with red is the description of a wild red rosebush growing outside the prison where Hestor was imprisoned. This is representing Hestor’s pride and passion, growing in a place not fitting, similar to how Hestor’s passion did not fit in with the Puritan society. As the sunlight shines through a red and yellow window in the governor’s house, a red light shines throughout the room. This is symbolizing Hestor’s passion spreading throughout the Puritan society.

Hawthorne also uses black and darkness as symbols throughout The Scarlet Letter. Black is used to represent evil and hiding. Hawthorne calls the prison the “black flower of civilized society,” meaning it is evil and a place concealing the truth. Frequently Hawthorne makes references to darkness turning to light, suggesting darkness as a state of hiding where the person will not accept life’s experiences and holds back. Pearl’s eyes are called a “small black mirror,” meaning they are empty and filled with sin as they reflect Hestor’s scarlet letter. Hawthorne explains black weeds growing from a sinner’s grave as evil coming out and dying hope. The Puritan’s describe Satan as the Black Man in the forest. Black is used to symbolize the worst and most evil part of an object or person.

Hawthorne employs white and light to oppose darkness as a state of self- containment. White most clearly symbolizes purity. Pearl, who has not committed any great sins nor does she hold herself back from anything, is always portrayed with the light shining on her. When Hestor removes her scarlet letter and faces her sin and pride, the sunlight shines on her for the first time. The sunshine is used to express a moment of enlightenment and change.

Hawthorne uses reds, darkness, and light, to express character’s emotions and the state of their spirit. Red is passion and sin. Darkness represents a poor state with self-denial, as well as representing simply evil. Light symbolizes a state of enlightenment and a refreshed spirit, as well as purity. The color symbols in The Scarlet Letter help to transfer certain themes and ideas to the reader, as they are easily recognized and identified. Hawthorne’s symbolism shows the simplest events of one person permeating throughout a society.


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