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Sample essay topic, essay writing: Scarlet Letter - 1528 words
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'Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get,' suggests Tom Hanks in the motion picture 'Forrest Gump'. He utilizes this metaphor to align a box of chocolates as a symbol for life. Symbolism serves as a useful tool to convey a message or point subtly so that the concept lingers in the mind of the reader, who then establishes a relation in his or her mind with that object and the message. Hawthorne uses symbolism in The Scarlet Letter extensively to express the underlying truths about the stifling nature of Puritan society and the dispositions of the characters in the novel.
Such elements as nature, color, and light; the scarlet letter itself; as well as the scaffold, where the three pinnacles of the plot occur, operate on a firm foundation of symbolism.Nature, color and light are used as symbols throughout the novel to illustrate several areas of the story (Waggoner 154). The prison door, for example, was described as being composed of "oak and iron" and its coloring "sad" and "gray", symbolizing the rigidity of the Puritan society against sinners (Waggoner 154). The rosebush situated outside of the prison door is like a "moral blossom" growing amongst the bitter weeds of society, in the "most unlikely of places" (Hawthorne). The placement of the rosebush in such a dank, improbable position as outside of a place housing sinners (the prison), imparts the fact that such an element of beauty and innocence is nevertheless able to be born out of a station with such an ill aura. Pearl is symbolic of the rosebush in that she was spawned from the same evil air of sin (Waggoner 156)
However, her purity is just as real as that which comes from a origin of virtue (Waggoner 156). She is often associated with roses (Waggoner 156). For example, in the governor's she cries and pleas that she must have one (Waggoner 156). In addition, her very name is an indication of the symbol she conveys (Waggoner 157). Like a pearl comes from the mangled, impure exterior of the oyster, Pearl comes from the equally impure and squalid exterior of the sin her parents willingly committed (Waggoner 157).
Another nature related symbol comes in the forest. The forest itself holds its own variety of symbolism. "Freedom" is one expression of the forest. There is no reason for Hester and Dimmesdale to be secretive among the trees where no one can witness their union (Matthiessen 299). Hester can unleash all that keeps her in captivity (Matthiessen 299).
She "takes off the formal cap that has confined the dark radiance of her hair and lets it stream down on her shoulders" and even, for the first time in Pearl's life, removes the Scarlet "A" from her breast (Matthiessen 299). There in the forest they can just be the lovers that they were before the birth of Pearl, the living, incriminating symbol of their sin, and "stand watching their child for the first time together" (Matthiessen 299). The forest is also used to symbolize the "moral wilderness" of the three characters (Internet 1). Pearl navigates the forest quite well, Hester has some trouble piloting herself through the trees, and Dimmesdale is completely bewildered (Internet 1). The river within the forest possesses some devices of its own (Internet 1; Ragussis 65). The water is used to symbolize truth and reality, for when Pearl gazes into the river and sees that the features reflecting back at her resemble those of Dimmesdale, it is the truth of her origin that she is witnessing (Ragussis 65).
Michael Ragussis agrees that, "Pearl is the only visible clue that links him to his crime", thereby revealing a verifiable truth (65). These symbols are used by Hawthorne with a guileful intonation that expresses these many aspects of the novel. "Unnatural vegetation", "unsightly flowers", and the absence of light are employed to represent "moral evil" (Waggoner 154). Sinners are associated with weeds and wilting (Waggoner 154). Chillingsworth is often compared to such unattractive growth (Waggoner 154). Hester, because of her struggle between her remorse and her love, from what is right and what is wrong, is connected with both black and beautiful flowers and her features are dark yet possess a natural, striking beauty (Waggoner 155). Dimmesdale is related with no growth at all, for with his inward struggle his growth as a person has come to a halt (Waggoner 155).
Dimmesdale and Hester's love is compared to a "black flower" for it was propagated out of sin (Waggoner 155). At one point during the novel Pearl places burrs and aligns them along the border of the scarlet letter on her mother's chest. This uses the scarlet letter itself as an indication of the harshness of Puritan society as seen by the reader (Kaul 13). All of these instances are examples of how darkness and loathsome vegetation can be used to represent ill ethics.Light, bright colors, and flowers are frequently used to symbolize "moral goodness" (Waggoner 154). The rose is often a symbol for love and promise (Waggoner 154).
The rosebush outside of the prison door is a promise that good occurrences do emerge from bad situations (Waggoner 154). Pearl is usually associated with flowers and sunshine to convey her youth and innocence from "moral judgement"(Waggoner 154). While playing in the forest Pearl is described as being, "Picked out by a beam of sunlight, with some wild flowers in her hair.." (Matthiessen 299). Pearl often plays with the flowers that grow around she and Hester's home. Hester is also associated with flowers and light, as in the forest when she lets her hair flow free a stream of sunlight envelopes her (Waggoner 155). Although Hester is also associated with weeds and dark vegetation, she has paid her penance and, despite her sin, she has a good soul (Waggoner 155).
The beauty and happiness associated with light and flowers make these symbols very appropriate in their placement.The scarlet letter has many more meanings than the reader may initially conclude. The obvious meaning of adultery can be associated with Dimmesdale whose initials are the "the first two letters of adultery", but not so to Hester (Ragussis 65). For Hester the letter represents both "able" and "artist" but never adultery (Internet 1). A.N. Kaul states that, "Hawthorne, in fact, uses the very symbol with which society identifies Hester, as a means of reversing its view of her. To the Puritans..the meaning of the A is clear.
But not so to the humane critic of the Puritan view of life" (13). However, to Dimmesdale the "A" does represent adultery. The scar on his breast in the shape of an "A" was, according to F.O. Matthiessen, " 'the effect of the ever-active tooth of remorse,' gnawing from his inmost heart outward" (298). To Dimmesdale his sin is a constant reminder through these symbols (Matthiessen 298).
Another representation of the letter is in the very life of Pearl ( Ragussis 64). Pearl is portrayed by Hawthorne as "the scarlet letter endowed with life!" (Ragussis 64). She is the reason for the scarlet letter's existence for she is the condemning proof to Hester and Dimmesdale's "crime". "Pearl is a living hieroglyphic or abbreviation because she is made out of her parents' linguistic half-truths and deceptions" (Ragussis 65). Pearl, like the scarlet letter, is a "public sign of [Hester and Dimmesdale's] most private acts" (Ragussis 65). So, in essence, Pearl is synonymous with the Scarlet Letter (Ragussis 65). The letter embodies different meanings for different characters within the novel to give each a specific symbolical meaning.The scaffold holds the protagonistic role of being the location of the three most climactic scenes of the novel.
Because of the events upheld at the scaffold it comes to symbolize a place of truth and clairvoyance (Matthiessen 295). "There Hester endures her public shaming" (Matthiessen 295-6). Hester suffers her penance upon the scaffold in the opening chapter of the book, revealing the truth of her sins by displaying the elegant letter upon her breast (Matthiessen 296). "Midway through the book, the minister, who has been driven almost crazy by his guile but has lacked the resolution to confess it..is joined by Hester [upon the scaffold], and there they are overseen by Chillingworth" (Matthiessen 296). Yet another truth is revealed to Chillingworth, when here he now realizes the identity of Hester's partner in crime (Matthiessen 296). "At the end, the exhausted and death-stricken Dimmesdale totters to confess his sin at last to the incredulous and only half-comprehending crowd.." (Matthiessen 296).
As the novel comes to a close the last and most bitter truth comes out in the open as Dimmesdale makes his confession to the town, thus being relieved from his terrible guilt and exhausted by life, "die[s] in Hester's arms"(Matthiessen 296). The scaffold holds a very important function in the novel through its protagonistic role. All of these aspects of the novel combine together to shape this classic story life and love. Without Hawthorne's abundant use of symbolism The Scarlet Letter would be nowhere near the literary masterpiece it is today. The messages he conveys make the reader think about things in a new deeper way sometimes without even realizing it.
Through his utilization of symbolism the reader is given a deeper look into the dynamics of the characters, Puritan society, and in several cases life itself.
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