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The Dual, Blurred Symbolism of The Scarlet Letter

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Introduction

The Dual, Blurred Symbolism of The Scarlet Letter In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne creates a startling vision, rife with meaning and symbolism. The book is unique in that Hawthorne leaves the reader in a state of flux; there is no "bad guy," there is no definite conclusion, good is not triumphant over evil. The finish of the story does not end in "happily ever after," but in a feeling of inscrutability; the loose ends are tied, yet left open for the reader to image what comes next. "The Scarlet Letter's strange power over its contemporary readers derives from its unresolved tensions"(264). There are no clearly defined roles of good and evil, only lesser and greater forms of both, with which the characters have to deal with. Hawthorne asks his "readers to sympathize with Dimmesdale and Chillingworth as "mutual victims"(272). The book is one of human and moral weakness; Hawthorne hopes "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"(54). The abundant symbols in the volume are constantly evolving and developing, creating different mood and tone shifts within the text. The scarlet letter takes on many forms throughout the book, meaning both "adultery" and "angel," and a myriad of other significant tokens. A close examination of the text reveals the major role metaphors play in the tale. The patterns within the writing evolve and develop; henceforth the meanings of these metaphors also evolve and change. ...read more.

Middle

There are numerous smaller, less prominent, yet powerful symbols. The rose bush in front of the jail is a prime example. The red flowers contrast strikingly with the somber and oppressiveness of the prison and its "beetle-browed and gloomy front"(53). Nestled among the weeds that surround the jail, the rose is a symbol of strength and beauty, among a desolate, foreboding landscape. It has survived for years in a inhospitable climate, surrounded choking plants, and noxious weeds. The rose among the weeds can be seen as a metaphor for Hester. She is "a figure of perfect elegance... ladylike, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days"(57). Hester is the rose among the "grim rigidity" and "severity of the Puritan character"(54); she is the only spot of color in an otherwise gray society. As the reader delves into the text of The Scarlet Letter, it becomes apparent that there are not the clearly defined roles of good and evil. The novel does not dwell in the realm of black and white, but in the indiscernible shades of gray that perpetuate in the real world. This is not to say that there is uniformity in the players, or that they all are of the same moral character. There exist those who are inclined to good and those who are inclined to evil; what is plain in the book is that there is also evidence of evil within those who are good and vies versa. ...read more.

Conclusion

is the expression that is revealed upon his face. Chillingworth is now sure of the identity of the other adulterer; he then takes almost a certain glee in being able to press and torment the poor preacher at any time he wishes. The tormenting continues throughout the book, until the time of Dimmesdale's death. When Dimmesdale reveals himself as the other bearer of the scarlet letter, he breaks Chillingworth's hold on him. Now the vengeance that was sustaining Chillingworth has disappeared, and he no longer has a reason to exist. Shortly after the death of Dimmesdale, Chillingworth also dies. His transformation is a perfect example of the evolution of a person moving through the stages of a sort of moral development. Transforming from scholarly physician, to cruel inquisitor, to sadistic torturer, and finally to a defeated and broken old man. Yet Hawthorne does not leave everything happily ever after, because it quite simply cannot be done. The scarlet letter will forever brand Hester, even if the stigma diminishes in time; she has lost her only true love, and, in essence, became his widow, and lives out her days in solitude. The Scarlet Letter is truly an astounding vision. The constantly evolving symbols and metaphors imbibe in the reader an abundance of tumultuous feelings, and logical thought. The unique way Hawthorne blurs the line between good and evil leaves the reader feeling, at times, wanting and fulfilled. This duality is present throughout the book, and is one of the reasons why The Scarlet Letter is still so heavily examined over one hundred years after its penning. ...read more.

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