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The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne used symbolism a great deal in many of his works, including Rappachini’s Daughter and “The Ministers Black Veil”, but most prominently in The Scarlet Letter. There are differences between Hawthorne’s symbolism and “conventional” symbolism, Hawthorne flatly stated what his symbols meant on the uppermost level, when some other authors “beat around the bush” as to the real (or ‘subliminal’) meanings of certain characters, settings, and important events. The most important symbols in this book are the prison, the rosebush, Pearl, and the color red. The first significant symbol is introduced in the very first pages of the novel. The Cornhill prison, where so much of this novel took place in or around, is “marked with weather-stains and other indications of age”(Hawthorne, 45) as it was built along with the first burial ground when the Puritans first settled in Boston. The prison is a great deal more than an edifice in the center of town, it shows the harshness and severity of Puritan law. These people ventured to a new land, and immediately set up a form of punishment and containment for breaking the law. The severity of punishment was shown in Hawthorne’s mentioning of Anne Hutchinson, who was banished to Rhode Island for preaching Antinomianism. The Puritan laws were very impermeable, as seen through Hester’s own punishment. At times too harsh and unforgiving, the punishments rarely fit the crime... yet the Church and Puritan way of life refused to abandon their traditional beliefs and offer a more reasonable and fitting solution. It was just the way of life though, strict and specific rules that were punishable by the most cruel manners. There was also a rosebush that lay in the shadows of the prison which became a very significant symbol in The Scarlet Letter. The fact that it was dominated by the cold, harsh prison showed that the presence of authority obliterates things ...

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The Scarlet Letter . (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 09:41, August 22, 2014, from