The Scarlet Letter 4 Essay, Research Paper
The Scarlet Letter
Hyatt Waggoner, a noted Hawthorne scholar, says, “The Scarlet Letter is Hawthorne s most widely read and admired novel and is also the one that has inspired the most inconclusive debate . . .” (Waggoner 118). Much of the trouble in interpreting The
Scarlet Letter stems from the fact that the story is highly symbolic.
The Scarlet Letter opens with the stark image of the throng of people surrounding the prison door. Hawthorne creates a mood by using the, “sadcolored,” garment and, “gray, steeplecrowned hats,” to give the reader a feeling a gloom and sadness. Among these dark, sad images Hawthorne interjects the wild red rose. As Hawthorne puts it, “to symbolize some sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow” (McMichael, 1033). The prison is symbolic of moral evil which would be sin and the cemetery is a symbol of natural evil which would be death.
It is commonly agreed that the colors are used extensive in The Scarlet Letter as symbols. This is illustrated by the scene by the prison door, but the use and importance of the symbol grows as the book moves along. Pearl, is often identified with the color red, which Waggoner identifies as evil. Pearl is not an evil child in the true sense of the word, but she is a reflection of her parent s immorality and their love. The color red, along with images of bright glow show Pearl to be the product of a moment of passion between Hester and Dimmesdale. Just like the red rose at the start of the story, Pearl is meant to relieve the sorrow and misery.
The most famous symbol is of course the scarlet letter itself. Called, “The Elaborate Sign,” by Waggoner, the letter A exhibits itself a number of times and in a number of ways throughout the story. The A may appear on Dimmesdale s chest, it appears as Pearl, in the sky as a huge letter formed by a comet; in the mirror at the Governor s mansion; and on Hester s tombstone (McMichael 1150).
The letter itself is red, which at first glance would seem to confirm Mr. Waggoner s theory that red in the story is a representation of evil. A case can be made, however, that even in the letter A that red is symbolic of hope and spirit. The scarlet letter is at once both the source of Hester s shame and disgrace and the source of her strength. Not only does it suggest the seed out of which Pearl grew, but it is a symbol of Hester doing the right thing in being humbled for her indiscretions.
In conclusion, whether or not Hawthorne would intentionally picture a woman and a sinner as a Christ figure is not a question that can be answered within the scope of this paper. The similarities are too strong to ignore. The red of the A is representative of Christ s blood. Hester, like Christ, went to her cross in satisfaction of another s sins. The problem of Christ being sinless and Hester not is solved by Hawthorne, as he portrays Hester as the highest moral character in the novel.